How to Look Cute in Business Apparel
Everyone put on your Serious Businessperson Pants! This week, I had a special request (via Facebook) from a Sparkler who said:
I'm going to a Model UN Conference and was wondering if you could do a SparkStyle on business apparel soon?
YOU BET YOUR SWEET REAR END I CAN.
Because as much as we all love cozy sweaters and crazy high heels, sometimes you just have to get dressed and do some business. And although, admittedly, it has been a really long time since I had to wear anything businessy—as a freelance writer, my office dress code is more like "No shirt? No pants? No problem!"—I still have a veritable pile of corporate casual knowledge from my previous lives as a publicist and copywriter. So, here it is: a lesson in dressing like a Real Live Adult.
First, unless you're actually embarking on a career in the corporate world, you won't need a complete business wardrobe—in fact, you can probably get away with purchasing just one must-have piece (which we'll get to in a minute) and pairing it with things you already have in your closet. And, of course, there's always the tried-and-true Business Suit! But just for the sake of fun, here are a few different looks that don't require the typical matching slacks and jacket.
1. FUNKY. Try pairing a pencil skirt with tall boots and a fitted shirt. Stodgy workplaces might give you the stinkeye, but a pair of great boots will immediately kick an otherwise-staid outfit into more creative territory. (And hey, if Condoleeza Rice could rock 'em, we should all be able to.)
Skirt, F21; top, H&M; boots, Enzo Agnolini via Marshalls.
2. COMFY. If you don't want to wear heels, that's okay; flats look great with slim, cropped pants and a tailored button-down shirt. The long cardigan is more conservative; a fitted pullover with a shorter hemline would make this trendy.
Shirt, H&M; sweater, H&M; pants, GAP; flats, WalMart.
3. CLASSIC. A drapey blazer and heels give the previous outfit a more grown-up vibe. Honestly, this may be too grown-up, even for me—I feel like this is something Meryl Streep would wear for a movie in which she was playing the glamorous Creative Director of an ad agency, not something a young person wears to work. But with colorful shoes and a fitted sweater? DEFINITELY.
Shirt, H&M; blazer, TJ Maxx; pants, GAP; pumps, Nine West.
HOWEVER. When it comes to buying your first business outfit, there's really just one thing you need. And that, my friends, is the Editor.
I don't normally talk up specific clothes by specific brands here, but trust me: the Editor pant from EXPRESS is magic. It's a semi-stretchy trouser with a low-mid rise, both dressier and more comfortable than a pair of jeans. There's a reason they never discontinue it; it's appropriate for any office, it goes with everything from a fitted tee to a silk blouse, and it looks amazing on everyone. Seriously, look at my butt. Look at it! Are you looking? Okay, now guess what: THAT IS NOT REALLY MY BUTT. That's the magic of the Editor; it comes with the Editor Butt. (How? I don't know, but I suspect they are woven from pure 100% unicorn hair and tailored by tiny elves.) And in combination with the tops you already have in your closet, these pants are your best bet for easy, entry-level business style.
Note: The Editor is also pricier than most things we feature here at $69, but for pants that fit beautifully and will never go out of style, the price per wear becomes pretty reasonable. Or you could wait until they're on sale, which also happens with some frequency.
P.S. Of course, this is just to get you started; like any new addition to your wardrobe, you'll need to try different styles and combinations of businesswear until you find a look that feels right to you. Got questions? Comments? Another request? Leave 'em you-know-where!