To be honest, I always try to steer clear of “professional clothing for women” pieces because I find the whole concept tinged with sexism.
For men, dressing for professional encounters requires a series of relatively easy decisions: tie or no tie. Jacket or no jacket. Loafers or loafers.
For women, it’s more complicated. Historically, the “rules” dictate to look professional, but not too matronly, because the appearance of having children or even the slightest interest in possibly reproducing one day could cost us big. Pantsuits are political. Skirts are risky. If you happen to be large-chested, the traditional button-down and blazer combo can become a kind of button-gap-filled nightmare. Women are so often told how to dress, improve, feel and think, and I’m wary of contributing to the noise.
That said, after stumbling across this article from Refinery 29 — which casually suggested picking up a dress that costs a cool $1,029 for the big day — I knew that things had reached a new low. You shouldn’t have to choose between looking like Catholic school headmistress or paying your rent to get ahead. *Unless, of course, you are applying in become a Catholic school headmistress! In which case, really?!
My golden rule? Limit distractions. Obviously trendier outfits will fly just fine in some industries, but generally, a “less is more” approach will serve you well. That said, anything you choose should be a reflection of your personal style and something you feel great wearing. Just because you’re a CPA doesn’t mean you should be doomed to a life of Brooks Brothers skirt and blazer sets! Friends don’t let friends buy Brooks Brothers skirt and blazer sets!!!! (But they do help out with their friends’ taxes #CallMe)
Some other tips I find helpful:
- Go for a high neckline. Seriously, just do it. Shirts with collars? Perfect. Turtlenecks? Even better. Decorative neck braces? Great conversation starters! I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve watched a woman in an otherwise perfectly sophisticated top gently bend down and expose a lot more than I assume she intended to. In an interview, impressions count, and leaning in can have its consequences — let’s ensure you are remembered for your brain instead of your bra. #NoDisrespectToMemorableBrasThough
- Avoid loose clothing. Y’all know I love a good oversize button-down, but an interview or important meeting is not the time or place to attempt a looser fit. Keep it simple, and get the number of a good tailor if you have been blessed with short legs, like me. Seriously, it will change your life.
- Stick to flats, closed- or peep-toe heels, and loafers. Personally, I prefer heels for professional events, because I like to feel as if I am Reese Witherspoon in the rising action of Legally Blonde as often as possible. A little peep-toe is fine, but anything more than that is a little too lax if you’re still testing out the office culture waters. Similarly, I’d steer clear of boots and booties, especially if you’re not pairing them with tights, and remember that you can always wear Uggs until you make it to the office lobby (in my experience, bearing witness to this switch-a-roo can really make a doorman’s day).
As always, click to shop!
Swap the sweater for a crop ruffle top if you’ve got an event to run to after work!
Roll-up sleeves, close-toe shoes and studs to keep you safe. A pop of print to keep your sane. The pants are sold out but you can shop a similar style here!
Business in the front, party in the bag. (Ruffles all over.)
Never get mistaken for a Free People employee again. These earrings are less than $40!
A quirky pop of color to match that ~*quirky*~ writing style. AND this skirt is less than $100!
Bonus: the sleeves on this jumpsuit double as notecard holders you can use during your pitch!
The perfect cozy winter look that doesn’t sacrifice range of motion. Be sure to peep this $100 Everlane cashmere sweater — available so many colors!
Power pants courtesy DVF (obviously). Plus this awesome sweater is only $30 for Nordstrom Rack!