Style File: Your Work Wardrobe Questions Answered


Johnston & Murphy

Office-appropriate attire is no longer limited to navy dresses and pinstripe suits, but it’s sometimes a fine line as to what flies in the workplace. Our Members shared vexing career clothing questions, and we’re turning to Deanna Grubbs, Director of Retail Merchandising at Johnston & Murphy, for answers on how to take on the work week in style.

Q. No one likes to iron! Is it possible to avoid ironing work clothes?
– Julie via twitter @Jkchavanne

A. Start by selecting fabrics that naturally have wrinkle-resistant properties – such as jersey, wool, and polyester – quite common in dresses and pants. If you prefer the look and feel of cotton, many brands offer styles that have been specially treated to be wrinkle-resistant. In our men’s apparel line, we have a selection of Easy Care shirts that can literally be taken right out of the dryer and worn wrinkle-free. Poly/cotton blends are more common in women’s shirts, and the blend naturally offers wrinkle resistance. And if you insist on 100% cotton, try hanging your clothes in the bathroom while showering to “steam” out the wrinkles. It’s not as good as a press job, but it’s better than nothing.

Q. Do you have to wear nylons to work?
– Michal via twitter @inkasrain

A. Bare legs are now acceptable in most every work environment. It’s more about the appropriate amount of leg to show versus whether it is covered or not. Keep dresses and skirts no more than a few inches above the knee. Tights and leggings (especially worn with boots) are good, stylish alternatives. If you’re in one of the few hold-out industries like law, accounting, or finance where it’s still in question, and especially if you work at a conservative firm, check into your corporate dress code policy.

Q. Can jeans work at the office? How, and what do you pair them with?
– Meredith via twitter @mgendreau

A. This is also dependent on your specific dress code policy. Outside of a written policy, it has definitely become more acceptable to wear jeans at the office. The key is to keep the look polished. It looks sharp when the denim is a dark, uniform wash and has a tailored or trouser-like fit. Pair it with a blazer (for both men and women) or some type of jacket or cardigan. Layers add interest, as do accessories like fun jewelry or scarves. Heels work great to round out the look and still be professional.

Q. How do you deal with the fact that it’s warm outside, yet icy cold in your average office?
– Lainey via twitter @seriouslyrad

A. Layering is key. Pair cardigans, blazers, or even a denim jacket with short sleeve or sleeveless tops. An oversized scarf or wrap is also a great option, like our pleated scarf from the spring collection. These are great to keep in your office in neutral colors like black and ivory.

Q. Any suggestions for when you wake up and nothing seems to fit?
– Abby via twitter @Supershopgal

A. These are the days when I go for a relaxed dress, preferably empire waist or A-line. Another good option is a long shirt or dress paired with leggings. Fabrics like jersey are good because they are generally more full and flowing. Avoid anything too fitted. And try to wear black – we all know its slimming effect. Another good option: Layer with a longer cardigan or jacket. Great shoes or jewelry also draw attention away from your figure or clothing and toward other parts of your body.

Q. How can you avoid looking like you’re wearing the same thing over and over?
– Katherine via twitter @WhiteySox

A. Accessories and layering are keys to making the same wardrobe items look different. Don’t be afraid to mix patterns, colors, and materials. You often look more stylish and fresh when things don’t really match. Belts are great over cardigans or to change the looked of a belted pant. Styles like our Skinny Snake Print or Tortoise Patent Belt or Wide Woven Belt offer fun texture and color while looking very professional. Try different shoes, maybe a metallic, snake, or tortoise patent for a different look. It’s also nice to try a natural leather or cognac style with black or navy to freshen it up. Jewelry or scarves are inexpensive ways to completely change the look of an outfit.

Q. What shoes are cute but functional?
– Cera via twitter @cerasmith & Bonnie via Facebook

A. Flats are perfect, and they are very trendy right now, which means there are plenty of great options in the market. Big trends are novelty materials like metallics, exotic prints like snake or croc, and animal prints. Studs, jewels, and cutouts also dress up a flat. Another great option is a style with a wedge heel or a chunky mid-heel. Both provide comfort and stability with a little lift, which is functional and flattering. Finally, if you are a die-hard heel-wearer, platforms are the way to go. These are very hot right now, so there are lots of great options from pumps to peep-toes to strappy sandals. They look higher than they actually are, making them more appropriate for all-day wear. Try to find styles with added cushioning in the ball area of the foot and rubber on the fore-part of the outsole. All of our Johnston & Murphy women’s shoes have these features.

Q. How short is too short (for skirts)? How high is too high (for heels)?
– Catherine via Facebook

A. For an office environment, keep skirts no more than a few inches above the knee (this also happens to be the most flattering length for most body types). You have a little more leeway with heel heights. Four inches is probably the maximum that most people can wear and walk in comfortably all day. Most importantly, stick with whatever heel height you feel the most comfortable in.

Q. I can never find good dress pants for work….suggestions?
– Rory via Facebook

A. Lightweight, tropical wools are a great material choice for both men and women. For men, stores like Brooks Brothers, Jos. A. Banks, and Banana Republic all have nice options. Department stores also have a good selection of styles from their private label brands. For women, also look for lightweight wools or polyester/synthetic options from stores like Banana Republic, Ann Taylor (triacetate fabric), J.Crew, and even Express (the Editor pant offers a professional look). If you want to make an investment, Theory pants are some of the best in the market.

Q. It’s been so hot lately that I hate having to wear a jacket to meetings. If you have a client/prospecting meeting, is it appropriate to not wear a jacket to the meeting? For example, if I wore a sleeveless dress or slacks paired with a dressy blouse with capped sleeves and left out the jacket, would that be “business” enough?
– Jennifer via Facebook

A. As long as the rest of your outfit is professional, you shouldn’t have to wear a jacket. A dressy blouse with capped sleeves or a shirt dress or wrap dress are perfect. You can also try a lightweight cardigan over a tank paired with pants or a skirt for a lighter look.

Q. I’m relocating from Portland, OR to Tampa, FL and will be taking on a fairly high-profile management position. My wardrobe has been completely “Portlanized” over the past few years. Think, black, grey, and navy with lots of pants and “sensible” shoes. What are some easy ways to inject some Florida color into my wardrobe while still remaining professional?
– Meghann via Facebook

A. You have two things going for you: You have a great starting point with a base of neutrals, and you’re going to another relatively casual market. Try a new selection of tops to go with your basic pants. Look for fun patterns and colors with feminine detailing like ruffles or dressy fabrics like silk. These will instantly update your look. As we move into fall, use cardigans or light jackets to wear with these same blouses and pants. Bright colors like rich greens, olives, dark berries, burgundies, purples, rusty oranges and yellows are forecasted to be strong in fall. All of these work well with your neutral base. Add a few peep-toe pumps to your wardrobe for a professional option that is appropriate for the Florida climate.

Q. Can you advise people on alternate yet appropriate interviewing attire? As a recruiter I feel awful having people wear full-on suits to interview on 98 degree days (especially men who tend to sweat more).
– Melenee via Facebook

A. The key words to keep in mind are “tailored” and “polished.” Professional doesn’t mean a suit these days. It means a well put-together outfit. For men, it can be a nice-looking shirt and dress slacks or a suit with an updated shirt sans tie. But guys need to pay attention to the details too – polished shoes, matching belt, and socks. Details make a difference. For women, use cardigans or novelty jackets to create a light, more interesting professional look. Dresses or skirts are other good options in the summer heat.

Our Johnston & Murphy Boutique opens Thursday, July 22 at 11AM ET.

July 21, 2010