The Office: Jim's 9 Season Style Transformation | From Slob to Suave
Great Style That Works at the Office
The buzz-phrase back then was "power dressing"—conservative, no-nonsense, authoritative,. Now, though dressing for work is about soft power—the ability to co-opt rather than coerce—which translates more or less into the (far more tempting) assortment of work clothes that are available. Stella McCartney, Dior, Joseph, and Alexander McQueen are always good starting points. Gentle contrasts such as gray and cream, navy and olive, and chocolate and khaki can look more striking (and creative) than a predictable head-to-toe approach.
Suits are much cooler these days, especially those patterned or color-blocked shirts and tunics and their coordinating skirts or pants—which have been a hit on and off the runway for the past few seasons. The newest offerings feature slouchy, wide-legged pants, but if you look better in cigarette pants, then cigarette pants you shall have. And don't assume that the constituent elements all need to match.
Pair your (soft) power suit with the new, office-appropriate (but still leg-slimming) three-inch stacked midi heel. If that sounds a little staid, try a gold one—from Marni or Dries Van Noten. But remember, there'snothingpowerful about a woman who can't walk or who looks trussed up.
Sometimes it's okay to evoke the spirit of a suit without actually wearing one. Miuccia Prada almost always wears dresses—full-skirted shirtwaisters—but somehow they act as her unofficial power suit. A softer, girlier woman might look more potent in pants and heels, or a jumpsuit. Today, successful workwear isn't about following a set of prescriptive rules as much as it is a manifest self-awareness—and finding your own soft-power signature. It could be as simple as Miuccia's fabulous antique drop earrings or CNN chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour's crisp white shirts accessorized with bold neck pieces. Hillary Rodham Clinton—whose wardrobe is a testament to the progress that women's work clothes have made in four decades—does a slash of vibrant lipstick, and always, always, a jacket.
That jacket—tailored or loose and boxy—will prove a worthy wing mate. Single- or double-breasted, cropped or longer, plain or Prince of Wales check-styles pull whatever else you're wearing into sharp focus. If you prefer a more subtle approach, opt for one in a pale pink (it does the trick for Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund), and keep everything else muted, unless you're aiming forLegally Blondeterritory. Experiment with counterintuitive contrasts: Even the most traditional workwear staple can look fresh when done in an unexpected fabrication like leather or patent—a la Louis Vuitton's rust and chocolate tailored leather jackets in velvet is more office-appropriate than one in black leather. (Rick Owens and Alexander McQueen make nice ones.)
The idea is to fit in, but not blend in. Your individuality is one of the reasons you were hired. If you're comfortable in more fashion-forward looks, they can work too. Chandrima Biswas, a London obstetrician, wears pantsuits and fitted (but not tight) dresses by Alexander McQueen, Jonathan Saunders, Stella McCartney, and Saint Laurent, and appears unconcerned that her patients might take her less seriously because of it. "The view that you can't have style and substance is so outdated," she told me. "If what comes out of your mouth is serious, then in the end, people take you seriously." To wit: A love of high fashion certainly hasn't hurt, say, Michelle Obama's image—or that of Amal Alamuddin, the Oxford-educated barrister and future Mrs. George Clooney. Her meticulously put-together outfits (color-coordinated tops and skirts; a trench, trousers, and low heels in shades of beige; pops of bubblegum pink) not only make her seem a less remote figure than some of her peers, but also demonstrate her ferocious eye for detail.
Besides, fashion is admirably workplace empathetic right now, with designers increasingly turning their attention to chic staples. Bored senseless with those trust body-con dresses you've been wearing since Roland Mouret first showed that Galaxy number in the mid-naughties? Switch it up to a tailored sleeveless trench dress—it's much more modern, flattering, and versatile, as it can be worn alone or slipped over a shirt or sweater. Or try drizzling some strong color into your neutrals, like the zingy corals and oranges worked into Derek Lam's simple, well-cut separates for his 10 Crosby line.
Culottes, A-line skirts, and stripy, menswear-style shirts, kimono jackets, and pleated skirts are all runway ideas that can make a seamless transition to the office. Lengths? Something that sits on the knee is elegant, won't let you down, and is a classic that will stay in rotation for seasons to come. One word of caution: Before you buy, check that the hem won't ride up your thighs once you take your seat at the conference table. After all, it's 2014, and no woman needs aBasic Instinctmoment to get noticed.
Thoughtfully chosen pieces that show you're confident in your taste but not attention-seeking are key. You've heard it before, but just a gentle reminder: Don't ever get caught trying to look sexy. And save fashion's extreme minis and crop tops for off-duty. Other, less scandalous things that still don't work at work are linens and thin silks (too vulnerable to creasing). Opt for lightweight wool-silk blends for luxurious-looking sheen, and keep an open mind: Neoprene mixes may seem more suited to street-style photographs, but they can hold their structure beautifully and bounce out of a business-trip suitcase unwrinkled.
And a luxe sweater—check out the ones at Sacai, Derek Lam, Céline, or J.W. Anderson—looks slick and streamlined with slim pants or one of this season's longer skirts. Note: Your best bet for knitwear is chunky, bouclé, or with a pleated chiffon back, and with short or half-sleeves for layering over shirts.
When it comes to accessorizing, polished extras are the way to go. Marni's metal embellished shoulder bags in contrasting shiny leather are a chic option, as are Fendi's 2Jours bags. And Moynat's reversible totes in the kind of supple leather that looks as though it just paid a visit to Dr. Brandt are timeless. The main message here: You want something that looks rich, even if it was easy on the purse strings. (To find one of those eye-wateringly pricey alligator bags, it's worth prowling eBay). A top-of-the-market but discreet bag doesn't just look good year in and year out, it also sends a message about your smarts for investment. That's (soft) power too.
Video: thrift & style | casual office lookbook
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