Week of requests: dressing for a corporate environment

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“I would love to see your ideas for stylish workwear for the corporate office,” writes a reader who goes by MLP. “I know that’s not your wheelhouse, but I would love to see what you come up with.” This post is, in fact, so far out of my wheelhouse that I have avoided executing it for the longest time because I have so little experience in dressing for a true corporate environment (I’ve only ever worked places where jeans were permissible), and feel I have little to offer. But I’ve received so many requests for my take on this over the years that at last I’m giving in. What follows are pieces I would wear if I suddenly found myself working in an office office. For starters, I know for sure I’d wear a lot of button-downs because I own so many of them already, and they make me look put-together on days that I don’t especially feel that way.

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Of course I have to throw on a few necklaces to keep the button-down from being too boring. Here’s one I’ve got my eye on.

everlane blazer

Throw a blazer over almost anything and it becomes instantly office-worthy.

cigarette pants

If I were to find myself in an office environment again, I’d definitely acquire a good pair of skinny cigarette pants (here is a cheaper pair).

marant belt

An interesting (but, as I always say, not too interesting)  belt is a small, cool way to let a little of your personality shine through.

halogen boot

I’d wear a pair of boots like these, which look like the ones I splurged on here (and here is a sort-of-clunkier version I also like.

marant dress

When I worked in offices, I wore a lot of dresses—mostly simple ones with something architecturally interesting going on, like this one.

sea dress

I think you could get away with this in a more creative corporate environment (I’d probably add a cardigan).

vince dress

I’d layer a shrunken leather jacket over this.

preen dress

It’s on the investment-y side, but this dress makes such a statement and is really flatteringly cut.

jill dress

And you couldn’t beat something like this on days when you want to look especially polished.

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14 Thoughts on Week of requests: dressing for a corporate environment
    Lisa
    12 Jan 2018
    10:30am

    This is kind of adorable:).

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    Clare sebenius
    12 Jan 2018
    10:35am

    As someone who works mostly at home and in coffee houses except those days when I do have to go to corporate offices to see clients, this is a great list. Awesome. So many cool things can be adapted for corporate environments with just small touches. Thank you Kim for inspiring me all the time. Philip Lim, Helmut Lang, Rag and Bone, humanoid and Vince are all great brands (though not cheap) that I go to again and again for the look.

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    JL
    12 Jan 2018
    10:43am

    Yep, this is spot on. I work in finance, however I’m in marketing so I don’t have to wear a suit as we are considered “creatives”. Cigarette ankle pant and blazer is a go-to, but with a silk tee or top instead of button down. I love thin merino v’s or cashmere also. Black-navy-grey-burgundy is my general palette. Shoes and accessories are where I show my style and put most of my work wardrobe budget. Fridays I swap the pants for dark skinnies. TGIF!

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    Amanda
    12 Jan 2018
    11:28am

    Oh boy. Maybe I’ve just worked in a string of particularly conservative offices, but none of those dresses would fly. Maaaaybe the grey knit one one could work. And maybe the blue one, if I had the slit sewn up a bit. Way too high for most offices.

    The pants/button down/blazer, with cool booties, a fun belt and necklace, though – perfect!

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      Candy
      12 Jan 2018
      12:24pm

      I agree Amanda. Sheath dresses were more the rule in the conservative downtown office I recently worked at. The slit on the blue one would be a no-no, same with the deep V-neckline, but those Theory pants, with or without a jacket, plus a silk blouse or top and cool booties —- a big yes.

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    Kelly
    12 Jan 2018
    12:11pm

    Yeah my work environment is pretty conservative, think Ann Taylor and Banana Republic. I’m pregnant and am using it as an excuse to be super casual of late but my office is very square.

    My question is — I like to wear funky-ish blazers with dress pants — if a blazer is made of suit material (and not like a boucle or thicker material) I’m wary of mixing materials, like I would wear the blazer you have above with either coordinating pants, or a totally different material like denim.

    Am I totally neurotic?

    I mean it’s way easier to get cute-ish dress pants that aren’t necessarily part of a suit than to splurge on a full on Alicia Florrick power suit, but I feel like everyone would stare at me if I wore say, a black blazer from one brand and black dress pants from another brand because the weave/color would be off. Thoughts??

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      LeighTX
      12 Jan 2018
      1:26pm

      Black fabrics are hard to match! You’re right, the color is often off. I’m more likely to wear a black blazer with a gray skirt, or one with a pattern.

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      Lorange
      12 Jan 2018
      5:16pm

      I think black on black can work (even if they’re different shades) if the textures are really different. Like a boucle blazer with smooth dress pants, or a ribbed sweater skirt with a smooth blazer.

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    MLP
    12 Jan 2018
    1:53pm

    I love it! Thanks for stretching outside of your comfort zone Kim. I love the dresses that you came up with, particularly the Isabel Marant dress, which ticks all of the boxes (high neckline, long enough hem, not too fitting). You nailed the pant/blazer combo. As I sit in my law office on “casual Friday” and type this, I’m wearing navy ankle pants (MM.Lafleur), a French blue button down (J.Crew) and tan block-heeled suede pumps (Madewell). Nice work! Megan, aka MLP.

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    Dina
    12 Jan 2018
    1:54pm

    I don’t know how to break this to you, but you did a pretty fantastic job?

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    Elle
    12 Jan 2018
    1:56pm

    The Isabel Marant dress, OMG, I’m swooning. And I can afford it!

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    Emma
    12 Jan 2018
    3:15pm

    I love these picks! I love the prints from Sea and that dress is gorgeous. Have you ever shopped at MM.LaFleur? I think you’d like their stuff as well–their focus is workwear. They have a ton of great dresses but my favorites are their knitwear and jackets, and they have some wonderful flowy tops in monochromatic prints. They’ve sort of taken over as my go-to brand since Comptoir des Cotonniers left the US (still recovering from that emotional blow).

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    Karen
    12 Jan 2018
    6:53pm

    Um… I love ALL of it, but as a lawyer I would only wear two of the items to the office — the button down and the dark blazer.

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    Reader
    12 Jan 2018
    7:54pm

    Only the blazer would work in the conservative offices I’ve worked in.

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Kim France

I was born in Houston, Texas in 1964 and have lived in New York City since 1988. I had a long career in magazines, working at Sassy, Elle, New York, and Spin, and in 2000, I founded Lucky magazine, which I edited for ten years.

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