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Fashionistas, help, please? Summer office wear for a fairly formal office.


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I work as the "right hand" for the president of a small institution who keeps telling me that I speak for him -- he considers me to be more than an admin assistant. In that role, I definitely have to dress professionally.  When he is dressed down (the occasional Friday), he wears a blazer. My closest professional colleague, the VP of Operations, normally wears a suit.

In my previous job, I could wear cute colored ankle slacks (colored jeans fabric) with a pretty, matching tunic. Here I feel the need for something more "serious".  

I haven't a clue how to dress now that it's hot summer.  I normally prefer slacks and something that is hip-length over them, but I prefer something somewhat tailored. (Not a lot of loose, blousey fabric.) 

I tend to wear grays and blacks and khakis, but could try a lighter colored pant, as long is the top looked professional. (No thin, see-through pants, please.) 

Thanks for anyone accepting the challenge!  :-) 

ETA:  I prefer longish short-sleeves or 3/4 sleeves vs. cap sleeves or sleeveless, and can't stand the stickiness of polyester and stretchy fabrics, like a lot of the "career" tops are made of. That's why I'm having trouble finding tops. 

Edited by Halftime Hope
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Can you share the industry?  That will help.  Banking and law call for a different level of formality than other fields. 

In general dresses are better for summer. Sheath dresses can be great, more structured than the flowy tops you hate. They can be great with a lightweight blazer or cotton sweater on top inside.  

In general a just below-knee length is flattering and professional. You can go more feminine if you wish with regard to cut.

Color probably depends on the field. 

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I'm not a fashionista, but would recommend figuring out tops & bottoms that you can mix & match . . . rather than having individual full outfits.

I wear sheath jumpers & pair them with either short-sleeve or long-sleeve white cotton top underneath.
Spanx can help with the formal look (smoother) . . . but is tough in the summer!
I would likely have both comfortable and formal shoes under my desk, to suit the occasion.
Also suggesting possibly shopping at nice thrift stores initially, so this doesn't break your bank.

Looking forward to hearing what others say!

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Lawyer here. I own my own firm but lease space from a larger firm with a semi-formal dress code, so we mostly match them as a matter of courtesy. 

The following general thoughts are likely to be controversial. I am not going to debate the with anyone who disagrees. But here goes:

1. Support staff would never wear a suit, nor ever be expected to. By "support staff," I mean admins, paralegals, accountants, etc. Lawyers rarely wear suits these days unless they are going to court or something similar. 

2. Ankle slacks and a dressy blouse are probably still fine IF the pants are a dressier fabric--thin wool, crepe, etc., and definitely not denim (even colored denim), khaki, cotton, etc. And nice shoes! Always nice shoes.

3. Sheath dresses also fine. There are tons available in all price points. No hose.  If you don't like your legs to show, wear pants.

4. Pencil skirts with a variety of tops are always appropriate. As for tops, I don't know what you mean by sticky fabrics; nearly all work tops are going to be polyester or similar, and you are really going to limit yourself if you insist on cotton shirts. I wear flowy (not clingy) polyester tops to work in Atlanta (currently the most humid place on the planet, I'm pretty sure) all summer and am never uncomfortable. 

5. Nice shoes always. I know I said that already, but really--pay attention to your shoes. The support staff here are very fashionable dressers, and when THEY comment on my shoes, I know I've done well. Heels, please, even low ones. 

6. I would not wear sleeveless tops unless you have a cardigan or similar on at all times.

7. As for stores, I would start with Ann Taylor for basics. Nearly anything in the store would work for what you have described. Everything is frequently 50% off, so watch for that.

8. Keep your nails neat. If you have naturally horrible nails like I do, get manicures. Unpopular opinion. So shoot me.

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Vikki Vi black or navy shell dresses are my go to.

I carry a jacket through the heat and wear it in the office for meetings.  If I were a client facing admin, I’d wear the jacket or a jacketish long vest all the time inside.

Hose is iffy.  You don’t really see ‘nude’ hose much anymore.  But I still think it looks better than (my) bare legs, but I wear black hose more often now than I used to.

Very nice, well kept flats are fine, but not casual ones.  Pumps are the gold standard, and if you want to wear flats they should look as much like pumps as possible.

Jewelry should be worn every day but not overdone.  Metal or pearl earrings are great, nothing flashy.  Ditto for necklaces—metal or pearls, nothing flashy.  Avoid piercings beyond 1-2 on each ear.  Cover any tattoos religiously.

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I don't know how much money you have to spend, but the pricey linen pants at JJill look great and are very cool for summer. If memory serves, they come in khaki, navy, and white. I think plain sleeveless shell type tops paired with light weight elbow or 3/4 length shrugs would work, and then dress up with nice jewelry instead of trying to find a lot of blouses that you won't wear the rest of the year. 

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4 hours ago, Beth S said:


Also suggesting possibly shopping at nice thrift stores initially, so this doesn't break your bank.

Looking forward to hearing what others say!

This! I love thrift shopping for allowing me to play with styles. That way I don't feel guilty if I stop wearing something after a few times because it didn't quite look or work the way I wanted. I just drop it off at the thrift store and try again.

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I agree with others for sheath dresses. You could pick up a grey, black, and navy - pair them with different colored cardigans or blazers. Add in scarves and interesting necklaces. Keep it simple. 

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4 hours ago, plansrme said:

Lawyer here. I own my own firm but lease space from a larger firm with a semi-formal dress code, so we mostly match them as a matter of courtesy. 

The following general thoughts are likely to be controversial. I am not going to debate the with anyone who disagrees. But here goes:

1. Support staff would never wear a suit, nor ever be expected to. By "support staff," I mean admins, paralegals, accountants, etc. Lawyers rarely wear suits these days unless they are going to court or something similar. 

2. Ankle slacks and a dressy blouse are probably still fine IF the pants are a dressier fabric--thin wool, crepe, etc., and definitely not denim (even colored denim), khaki, cotton, etc. And nice shoes! Always nice shoes.

3. Sheath dresses also fine. There are tons available in all price points. No hose.  If you don't like your legs to show, wear pants.

4. Pencil skirts with a variety of tops are always appropriate. As for tops, I don't know what you mean by sticky fabrics; nearly all work tops are going to be polyester or similar, and you are really going to limit yourself if you insist on cotton shirts. I wear flowy (not clingy) polyester tops to work in Atlanta (currently the most humid place on the planet, I'm pretty sure) all summer and am never uncomfortable. 

5. Nice shoes always. I know I said that already, but really--pay attention to your shoes. The support staff here are very fashionable dressers, and when THEY comment on my shoes, I know I've done well. Heels, please, even low ones. 

6. I would not wear sleeveless tops unless you have a cardigan or similar on at all times.

7. As for stores, I would start with Ann Taylor for basics. Nearly anything in the store would work for what you have described. Everything is frequently 50% off, so watch for that.

8. Keep your nails neat. If you have naturally horrible nails like I do, get manicures. Unpopular opinion. So shoot me.

This. Note on #8---nails should be kept trimmed--not any of the horrible long styles like coffin nails, etc. 

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In this situation, for my personal taste, I'd pair a conservatively cut skirt made from fine lightweight wool with a crisp cotton business-dress shirt.

The materials and colors would fit into the (narrow) range favored by boss and the men in the office for their suits and shirts. Black/grey/navy/white/blue.

Maybe add some pearls?

A classic business look IMO.

Bill

 

 

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5 hours ago, plansrme said:

Heels, please, even low ones. 

 

2 hours ago, Carol in Cal. said:

Very nice, well kept flats are fine, but not casual ones.  Pumps are the gold standard, and if you want to wear flats they should look as much like pumps as possible.

All the rest of the advice seems fine, but this is the one I have a big problem with. Any kind of heel messes with the entire body alignment, from the knees all the way up the spine, and to require women to do that to themselves to be considered professional is a big issue to me. Squished together toes should never be a requirement for looking professional either.

I'm also with the OP about polyester tops. I know lots of people have no problem with them, and maybe it's some kind of sensory issue, but I can not stand the way polyester tops feel. They have this weird static cling feeling to me and they make me sweat. A lot of rayon does the same, but some rayons I can handle. So rayon might be a possibility, if you can touch it before buying. Otherwise, a cotton button up dress shirt might be the best way to do cotton in a professional way.

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15 minutes ago, KSera said:

 

All the rest of the advice seems fine, but this is the one I have a big problem with. Any kind of heel messes with the entire body alignment, from the knees all the way up the spine, and to require women to do that to themselves to be considered professional is a big issue to me. Squished together toes should never be a requirement for looking professional either.

I'm also with the OP about polyester tops. I know lots of people have no problem with them, and maybe it's some kind of sensory issue, but I can not stand the way polyester tops feel. They have this weird static cling feeling to me and they make me sweat. A lot of rayon does the same, but some rayons I can handle. So rayon might be a possibility, if you can touch it before buying. Otherwise, a cotton button up dress shirt might be the best way to do cotton in a professional way.

Yes. When I worked in the City of London - think Wall Street - in a support role I wore flat leather shoes, a lightweight wool skirt and a tailored non-iron cotton shirt. The shoes were similar to this but in black or navy.

https://gb.ecco.com/en-GB/SALE/Women/product/5642847253/ECCO-SIMPIL-W

Edited by Laura Corin
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13 minutes ago, KSera said:

 

All the rest of the advice seems fine, but this is the one I have a big problem with. Any kind of heel messes with the entire body alignment, from the knees all the way up the spine, and to require women to do that to themselves to be considered professional is a big issue to me. Squished together toes should never be a requirement for looking professional either.

I'm also with the OP about polyester tops. I know lots of people have no problem with them, and maybe it's some kind of sensory issue, but I can not stand the way polyester tops feel. They have this weird static cling feeling to me and they make me sweat. A lot of rayon does the same, but some rayons I can handle. So rayon might be a possibility, if you can touch it before buying. Otherwise, a cotton button up dress shirt might be the best way to do cotton in a professional way.

I agree with you about the health issue with heels, and that’s why I specifically talked about how to pick good flats that look as much like pumps as possible.  Personally I wear Earthies flats—they don’t squish my toes and they don’t have heels and they are a bit cushy.  I would love to live in a world where I could wear Altras all the time, but if I’m client facing continually that’s not necessarily possible unless my shoes are always hidden.

Instead of just saying what not to do, I tried to suggest what to do instead.  If you have other suggestions as well that would be helpful.  I don’t think it’s reasonable to just say no to being professional without some alternative to propose.

Also, while i have not suggested polyester, I will say that it’s a lot different now than the sweaty clingy stuff I used to wear in the 70s like armor.  That stuff felt fake and did not breathe at all.  The newer versions are very different from that.

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21 minutes ago, Carol in Cal. said:

I agree with you about the health issue with heels, and that’s why I specifically talked about how to pick good flats that look as much like pumps as possible.  Personally I wear Earthies flats—they don’t squish my toes and they don’t have heels and they are a bit cushy.  I would love to live in a world where I could wear Altras all the time, but if I’m client facing continually that’s not necessarily possible unless my shoes are always hidden.

Instead of just saying what not to do, I tried to suggest what to do instead.  If you have other suggestions as well that would be helpful.  I don’t think it’s reasonable to just say no to being professional without some alternative to propose.

Also, while i have not suggested polyester, I will say that it’s a lot different now than the sweaty clingy stuff I used to wear in the 70s like armor.  That stuff felt fake and did not breathe at all.  The newer versions are very different from that.

I'm happy to give suggestions 🙂. I was trying to not go off on a whole big shoe thing, especially as I don't know if heels are even an issue to the OP. If she would like suggestions for zero drop flats, I'll be happy to oblige. (One example I like: https://xeroshoes.com/shop/shoes/phoenix-leather/)

I was a baby in the 70s, so I'm not aware of how that polyester felt 😉. I fully believe the current stuff is not an issue for most people--my sister and mom both wear it all the time. I was just identifying with the OP on that issue, because I do continue to have an issue with the current stuff. Maybe I carry a weird electrical charge 🤷‍♀️😂.

Edited by KSera
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11 minutes ago, KSera said:

I'm happy to give suggestions 🙂. I was trying to not go off on a whole big shoe thing, especially as I don't know if heels are even an issue to the OP. If she would like suggestions for zero drop flats, I'll be happy to oblige.

I was a baby in the 70s, so I'm not aware of how that polyester felt 😉. I fully believe the current stuff is not an issue for most people--my sister and mom both wear it all the time. I was just identifying with the OP on that issue, because I do continue to have an issue with the current stuff. Maybe I carry a weird electrical charge 🤷‍♀️😂.

OK, have at it.  What specific shoes would you suggest to look professional and be healthy?

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1 minute ago, Carol in Cal. said:

OK, have at it.  What specific shoes would you suggest to look professional and be healthy?

I added a link above. My top choice personally would be https://xeroshoes.com/shop/shoes/phoenix-leather/. Most of the barefoot shoe companies make a leather dress flat. My feet can't handle other kinds of shoes for long (took me 40 years to figure out the problem wasn't my feet, it was the structured shoes), so that's what I would go with. There are other options for someone who doesn't feel a need to be quite as bound to a minimalist shoe, but just wants a professional flat. I'd just be randomly picking from pictures for these, because these aren't what I wear. Brands like Naturalizer, Born, Clarks, all make shoes like this.

https://www.nordstrom.com/s/born-beca-flat-women/5747506

 

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5 minutes ago, KSera said:

I added a link above. My top choice personally would be https://xeroshoes.com/shop/shoes/phoenix-leather/. Most of the barefoot shoe companies make a leather dress flat. My feet can't handle other kinds of shoes for long (took me 40 years to figure out the problem wasn't my feet, it was the structured shoes), so that's what I would go with. There are other options for someone who doesn't feel a need to be quite as bound to a minimalist shoe, but just wants a professional flat. I'd just be randomly picking from pictures for these, because these aren't what I wear. Brands like Naturalizer, Born, Clarks, all make shoes like this.

https://www.nordstrom.com/s/born-beca-flat-women/5747506

 

Have you tried the Xero flats?  I got a pair of their sandals on clearance a couple of months ago and I absolutely hate them.  They are miserable to wear because of the texture of the insoles.

Clarks hold my toes DOWN, and give me toe cramps.

Bjorn has worked well for me but they do tend to have arch support and if you’re trying to completely avoid that they are not as good an option as Sofft (less arch support) or Earthies (none).  My go to original professional flats were Amalfi Hectors, but I don’t believe they are made anymore.  They had nice wide toes and looked great.  

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Instead of strictly sheath dresses, I like wrap dresses or pseudo wrap style...so there is a gathering of fabric across your middle.

i like them bc it can camouflage your tummy if needed but it also prevents that potential for wrinkles in the fabric (in the same tummy area) that happen when sitting in sheath dresses.

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Haven’t read all the comments... my summer go to’s in a lucky muck office were coolattes (sp??) and linen outfits of any kind—tops with slacks, skirts, jackets, etc. I survived in 120 degree desert heat wearing linen.

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Posted (edited)

I tend to wear solid colors for tops, basic women's dress slacks in a lightweight suit-like fabric, and then dress them up with a classic necklace and earrings; always simple earrings.  

I have long narrow feet and do better with a medium heel than with flats, although I've worn nice leather ankle booties which only have about a 3/4 inch heel. (Those are my pants "go to" footware and I keep them nicely shined.)  I love the Clarks pumps which feel nearly like Danskos but have a trimmer lower.  (they have interesting detail on the top.) 

I wear a jacket with my slacks when I'm sitting in on Board Meetings. (I've picked up a couple of nice designer jackets for cheap on Ebay, of all places.)

This morning I had a conversation with another senior member of the office, and she looked at me and laughed when she saw me. She said she wondered what I'd wear when it started to get warmer, and she was tickled to see that I, too, had opted for a long skirt ( a drapey geometric print with a neat solid black top.) Apparently that's her "go to" for the summer heat. 

Natural nails, trimmed and never polished -- I'm lucky to have inherited my mom's nails. :-) 

Thanks for the suggestions! I think I'm going to look for a light weight linen jacket or two, and I guess I'll continue to wear the slacks.  Will look for some classic fit and flare dresses (wish me luck on length), because it's a rare sheath that does anything for me. 

 

 

Edited by Halftime Hope
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6 hours ago, Carol in Cal. said:

I agree with you about the health issue with heels, and that’s why I specifically talked about how to pick good flats that look as much like pumps as possible.  Personally I wear Earthies flats—they don’t squish my toes and they don’t have heels and they are a bit cushy.  I would love to live in a world where I could wear Altras all the time, but if I’m client facing continually that’s not necessarily possible unless my shoes are always hidden.

Instead of just saying what not to do, I tried to suggest what to do instead.  If you have other suggestions as well that would be helpful.  I don’t think it’s reasonable to just say no to being professional without some alternative to propose.

Also, while i have not suggested polyester, I will say that it’s a lot different now than the sweaty clingy stuff I used to wear in the 70s like armor.  That stuff felt fake and did not breathe at all.  The newer versions are very different from that.

Hey, you have your altras, and I have my Brooks Cascadias! Right there with you! I think we need to at the least demand that women get at wing tips. I have always been jealous of my husband's privilege of buying a good pair of wing tips and wearing them every day never experiencing foot problems. Meanwhile for women.........

I also agree some of the newer polys are definitely better. But if those are still a problem, I am pretty certain JJill has some linen tops in neutral colors that could be accessorized to look really nice. I do love linen for summer. My favorite right now is a linen sun dress that is really pretty and when I play a summer gig that is not formal, I just toss a really lightweight shrug/wrap on, and it looks great. I am so comfy, and get a lot of compliments on the outfit. With a nice necklace and my very dressy, flat sandals, it really works.

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