Hi GYPO reader! I’m Nikki and I am the girlfriend you call when you need help shopping for work. I am a wife, mother, closet chocaholic, shoe addict, and healthcare administrator with a passion for improving the suit to express your personality. For women who don’t wear suits as part of their daily wardrobe, the idea of buying a suit feels like trying on a bridesmaid’s dress. They feel overpriced, don’t fit well, and you can count on your fingers the number of times you are going to wear it.
Fear not! I am here to help you so that you don’t break the bank and that you let your personality shine.
First, take a deep breath and let’s start with a few suggestions by scenario. TIP: To browse these looks, check out my Pinterest Board HERE.
Scenario #1: The job interview for a business casual job. First, congratulations on the interview! I know this is overwhelming and worrying about what to wear and how you will look just adds to the stress. If this is not a business professional job, you do not have to wear a full suit. Instead, let’s plan 2 outfits with a little different look for each step of the interview process, one for the first interview and one for the call back (because you are AWESOME and you will get a second interview).
In your closet, I bet you have a black, gray, or navy blazer. Pull it out and really assess it.
These are the key thins to look for in assessing each piece from your closet
- If it is pilled, use a sweater defuzzer to touch it up.
- If it doesn’t fit well, talk to a tailor and for less than $20 it can likely be spruced up.
- If you think the buttons make it look cheap, change them.
- If it is wrinkled, steam it.
- If it is stained or dingy, clean it.
NOTE: You don’t have to wear a dress shirt. Alison has suggested a couple of pieces that you might already have in your closet that will work. This Pleione split neck blouse is a great idea for adding some personality under a blazer or this solid colored blouse would also work. (Don’t be afraid to use fashion tape or a safety pin to avoid showing too much cleavage.)
Critical question: Pants or a skirt?
Really, it has to do with your comfort or confidence. The important thing is fit and length. Your skirt should be no more than 2 inches above your knee and be conscious of how it fits when you are seated. Use the same bullets above when assessing your pants or skirt.
Since we aren’t doing a traditional “suit,” don’t match your bottom to your jacket. Gray is a good option paired with navy or black. Another option is a small print like a houndstooth with black. If you are more comfortable in flats, then wear them. Heels should be 3 inches or less. Don’t be afraid to bring in a pop of color with your shoes, but avoid things that look like evening, event or formal wear. Make sure they are clean and polished.
Recycle the blazer and pair it with a printed- pattern dress. HINT: Don’t be afraid of patterns and color – you want your personality to show and the blazer is going to subdue the print.
- This can be a shirt dress, like this.
Another option is a cardigan with a dress shirt and pants or a skirt. The dress shirt gives you structure and the cardigan makes you approachable. Don’t forget the bullet points from above.
Final Touches: Go for simple and polished.
- A statement necklace is a great way to bring in personality if the outfit is a little bland.
- Do not over-spanx yourself (the sucker-upper cutting off your oxygen is a bad idea and the tugging to resituate the uncomfortable garment can draw unwanted attention to it).
- This is not the day to try a new hairstyle or make up routine.
- Spritz a mascara wand with hairspray to tame fly aways, and look like you with your make up.
- Remember to make sure your nails are neat (they don’t have to be painted).
- Bring your smile.
Scenario #2: A mom reentering the workforce and needing to rebuild or update your professional dress wardrobe
I have been where you are. I re-entered a business-professional environment a year after having my son, and I found my body had changed and my favorite suits didn’t work. As all new moms know, there is not a lot of cash lying around for new additions to the wardrobe. I used my closet, inexpensive stores like Target and Old Navy, and quarterly splurge buys.
I shopped my closet first.
I found I had a great ponte knit black dress and a black and white tweed blazer that worked. I also had a pair of gray trousers that still worked. Don’t be afraid to seek out a tailor or consign your closet to give you some spending money to replace your wardrobe. (Mommy Tip: Don’t forget the hair band trick with a slimming cami like Yummie Tummie can help you make your pre-baby clothes work if you are trying to get by.)
I bought one all-purpose black pant suit, and then I was creative to tweak it, using some of the tips in the first section of this article to make it my own.
Alison displays some great pieces that you can use on her Work Wear Style Challenge Pinterest board. Just look at them as pieces to mix and match with your suit.
Survival Tips: If you have to shop
- I actually really like Old Navy’s pixie ankle stretch pant. In the small prints, it has a little something fun visually and looks more expensive than it is.
- You can get a decent blazer to mix and match at Target. They also have some great print dresses to add to the mix.
- For your splurge, shop sales – The Nordstrom semi-annual sale is a great one. They will run Theory and Halogen suits on sale and you can get a great pair of shoes that can elevate an outfit.
- As mentioned above, use blouses you already own.
- Statement necklaces can really change the look of an outfit.
- Scarves are another option (Mommy Tip: I keep a scarf tied to my bag for the day along with a statement pin in case I need to cover a baby’s shoulder snuggle that might have left some breakfast or something else on my blazer)
- Changing buttons can elevate the look of a less expensive blazer.
The biggest mistake people make is not looking comfortable. Each day put on your suit of confidence. You are an amazing asset to that organization and you belong. Confidence is what sells the outfit.
Scenario #3: The special presentation or work event
I recently gave a presentation in Washington, D.C., and I wanted something new without breaking the bank. I actually took a cue from a girlfriend and bought a black and white houndstooth ruana on sale. I paired it with my ponte knit black dress, tights and my red heels and I had more compliments than I can remember. It has become a favorite winter staple and I have paired with my black trousers and a turtleneck as well as black jeans for another conference travel day. By going through my bullet points of making sure my clothes looked new and fit well, no one care that I wasn’t wearing a traditional suit. The confidence of being comfortable in what I was wearing and using the red heels and print to show my personality gave it the appropriate boost.
Another option instead of a new outfit, is a new statement necklace. I recently paired my navy suit with a light blue dress shirt and a pink statement necklace. The pink popped amidst the sea of blue and even though, the outfit is a staple people thought it was new because the necklace changed it. A new shirt or shoes will do this, too. My best tip is go for something colorful or unique to show off your personality.
Thank you for taking time to read my post. I would love to know what you thought and answer any questions you might have. I will try to respond to your comments below.
I am healthcare administrator with over 14 years of experience. I believe you should dress for the job that you want, but I don’t think you have to sacrifice your style and personality to fit in. I have been dressing my friends and colleagues for years. In addition to style, I have passion for Southern Hospitality and Customer Service.
Learn more about Nikki at Southern Service Style
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