To all the women who earn their paychecks in corporate offices where matching separates are the norm: Dressing for work doesn’t have to be a boring exercise of taking plain item A and mixing it with basic piece B.
“When it comes to great work wear, it’s all about subtle details that break from the norm ever so slightly,” Miyako Nakamura, cofounder and creative director of MM.LaFleur, told Glamour.
“Mix up colors and fabrics to keep your look from feeling cookie-cutter corporate,” cofounder and CEO Sarah LaFleur added. “Even in very formal offices, you can play without looking out of place as long as you choose pieces that are beautifully constructed.”
1. Play with proportion. The standard suit is pretty easy to sketch in your mind: a classic blazer with straight-leg trousers or a pencil skirt that hits right at the knee. Shaking things up makes everything more interesting while still staying within the safe harbors of accepted office style. Amanda Kraemer, style director at Loft, suggested wearing a cropped jacket over a dress or reversing the equation by pairing a relaxed-fit jacket with a slim, mid-calf skirt.
2. Look for little differences. Some of the strongest ways to add a dose of style are actually the littlest tweaks, according to Nakamura. She suggested trying bracelet-length or wide sleeves, high-waisted bottoms, and center seams that run down the front of dresses and blouses. “Longer skirts aren’t typical office attire, but you can pull them off, especially on a summer Friday. Try pairing one with a high-necked blouse or a super-tailored blazer.”
3. Keep an eye out for familiar pieces with modern silhouettes. “I love the idea of choosing classic pieces that have an easy, modern cut, like a dress with a dropped shoulder or a tailored skirt that hits at midcalf, not at the knee,” LaFleur said. Take a sheath dress, that professional style building block, and then let designers color outside the box just a bit, whether that means a cowl neck or layered cap sleeves.
4. Prints are totally fine. You aren’t destined to a solid-color closet, but there are some Dos and Don’ts of introducing pattern. “Leave the wild florals at home and opt for prints that are small, graphic, and repeat in an organized way,” Nakamura said.
5. Add an extra layer. If work requires a jacket, don’t stress about figuring out ways to ditch it—make it part of a bigger style statement. “I love the look of adding a longer boyfriend cardigan under a more serious structured blazer,” Kraemer told us, pointing out that the additional layer comes in handy when office managers get overzealous with the air conditioner in the summer months.
6. Consider “slightly-off” colors. All the experts we spoke to insisted that you can go beyond black and navy, although staying in the neutral family is wise. “There’s a huge spectrum that looks both beautiful and polished,” Nakamura mused, listing plum, burgundy, olive, and emerald as personal favorites. “Even within those shades there’s so much nuance. Instead of a true gray, I love a lilac-gray or a bluish slate. Slightly ‘off’ shades feel free fresh without being out of bounds.”