Lately, I’ve been getting some questions about how to dress professionally but not boring. In other words, how to dress for work without feeling like a total imposter.
Can I first just say how much I love getting questions from you (I got this exact question from the babes who interviewed me on the Wine & Shine podcast)? My biggest wish is to give you something of value and encourage you every day. If I can do that in a blog post about how to dress for work while still showing your personality, I’m happy as a clam.
I’ve been lucky, in my opinion, to work in very relaxed environments for all of my adult life. So you might be thinking: “Daniella, what could you possibly know about my bank branch manager attire??” (Shout out to my BFF Ashlee for being a real-life bank manager.)
I might not have to dress up for work very often, but I did spend three solid years of college wearing dresses that probably should have been shirts, so I think I am pretty qualified to speak on what is not appropriate for work. While we’re on the subject, here’s the lowdown on how to dress for work in your 20s.
How to dress professionally (but not boring)
For this illustration, the best place to start is with a neutral, well-fitting base that you can easily accessorize without worrying too much about matching. (Side note: I am by no means suggesting that you should only wear neutrals to work. This is purely to give you a jumping off point.)
A reminder that neutrals include white, gray, black, brown and navy (deep greens and burgundies could be considered pseudo neutrals, so have at it).
How to dress your body type
If you want to learn more about identifying and dressing for your body shape and finding your color palette, Build a Closet You Love has tons of easy-to-follow info. I’m not saying it’ll totally transform how you get dressed, but, like, it will.
So! If you’re wondering how to start with a simple, flattering base, I’m doing the legwork for you and giving a couple paring recommendations for your body type below. Hoorah!
- Pear: Try black, straight-leg trousers paired with a light gray, empire-waisted, ruffle-sleeved top or a black pencil skirt paired with a cream, flowy, scoop-neck blouse worn tucked in to define your waist. The idea here is to highlight your waist and neckline while balancing out your lower half. Streamlining your hips while adding volume to your shoulders is the goal.
- Apple: Try black, wide-leg or boot-cut trousers with a black peplum top or a light gray pencil skirt paired with a fitted, navy, V-neck blouse. Our goal is to balance out the proportions of a fuller, rounder torso with your slim hips.
- Boy/rectangle: Try dark-wash skinny jeans with a long, gray cardigan layered over a cream scoop neck blouse or T-shirt or a navy high-waisted skirt paired with a deep green sweetheart blouse worn tucked in. We want to create the appearance of curves and accentuate your waist while showing off your lovely limbs.
- Hourglass: Try a navy or dark burgundy long-sleeved wrap dress or charcoal, boot-cut trousers paired with a navy, cap-sleeved blouse. We want to play up your amazing curves while maintaining balance.
- Inverted triangle/wedge: Try a light gray A-line skirt paired with a navy V-neck top or dark wash, wide-leg jeans paired with a burgundy, V-neck blouse and a charcoal, hip-skimming, waist-defining blazer. We’re looking to soften and balance your top half, play up your legs and elongate your torso.
Get thoughtful with accessories
Now that we have the base, it’s time to make it you. When you want to make an outfit your own, it’s helpful to think in terms of texture, pattern and shine. You don’t necessarily need all three at once, but you’ll see how they each play a part.
- Texture: think cable-knit or fisherman sweater, snakeskin, leather, corduroy, tassels, basketweave
- Pattern: any plaid, any animal print, polka dots, whimsical prints
- Shine: think metallic accents, jewelry, patent leather, scuba leggings, glasses
Judiciously combining texture, pattern and shine over your amazing neutral base will help let your personality shine through while giving you the confidence that your outfit is showing off all your best attributes. Amazing, no?!
Choose a completer piece
This is your cherry on top. The one thing that pulls your whole work outfit together. In my outfit here, it’s the burgundy coat (hint: it often is a jacket of some type). If you like bold statement jewelry, maybe it’s a bib necklace. It could even just be a belt!
Here’s how I used each of the above elements in my outfit here:
- Body type: I’m somewhere between a boy (what I used to be) and an hourglass (lifting weights = curves), so I went with black scuba leggings and a black scoop neck T-shirt
- Texture: My leggings have a moto-like stitching and my booties are suede-like
- Pattern: Scarf!
- Shine: Gold bracelet and gold hardware on my bag
- Completer: Jacket