The Swagger Coach: Putting on the Ritz – an Office-friendly Fashion special

swagger coach
Fashion is fun. Simply put, not only is it a lot of fun, its also one of the easiest ways to make a statement without ever opening your mouth. I’m a lucky, lucky gal to work for a fashion company which embraces all sorts of fashion. Here at Fresh Collective, there is no set-in-stone dress code for our retail staff, and I thank my lucky stars for this every day. You’ll notice, on any given day, that many of our folks are indeed dressed in head-to-toe Fresh gear, but this is because we’re the first to see these clothes, and we often fall in love with them while trying them on… even before they hit the sales floor! Plus, we know and love our designer friends and love giving them our business. We’re customers too! When was the last time your usual chain-retailer offered to have a garment customized for you? When was the last time you were in a big-box store and a designer approached you and thanked you for trying on their garment, and then asked you for feedback? Never, that’s when.

I love a pencil skirt and a blazer as much as the next gal, but I’m not the kind of girl to get gussied up in office wear for sport. Life is good when your wardrobe can be as creative and funky as you like. Its also nice to come home, flop down on the couch and not have to immediately slither out of a suit as though it’s trying to eat me. As much as I enjoy being fashionably free, most of my friends work in corporate environments, which requires modest, straight-laced outfits and that often limits creativity and expression in dressing. Its all-too easy to get caught up in the over-structured, oatmeal-coloured world of crisp lines and classic cuts, and some of us simply fall into this pattern for lack of inspiration, concern over maintaining professionalism, or even inexperience with mixing professional items with more casual ones. A friend of mine suggested writing this week’s blog about dressing for the office, but keeping your sense of self and pushing the bar while still dressing appropriately, with class and style. Janet, this one is for you!


First thing’s first: The “office” has been redefined over the last decade. While the word “office” once conveyed greyscale cubicles, navy pantsuits and buttoned-collar tops, it can now refer to a relaxed environment, some welcoming pets, casual clothes and mid-day social activities for staff members. Depending on your field, your place of work could indeed be quite welcoming of jeans, comfy clothes and sensible footwear. Take a look around you, and use your better judgement to establish the “feel” of your environment. Dressing in a way which reflects your surroundings and team is always appropriate, but dressing just a bit more neatly will convey your attention to detail and commitment to presenting yourself in a flattering light. Coming to work looking groomed, collected and neat reflects your ability to look after yourself, and this is a trait which most managers, supervisors and bosses value, as you’ll likely be able to pay due attention to projects, tasks and finishing touches you’re assigned. Regardless of what kind of environment you work in, there are definitely ways to incorporate unexpected elements of fashion and design in your wardrobe, even if you are one of the few who have to abide by strict and modest guidelines.
As far as fashion goes, there are a zillion gurus out there who preach the wonders of certain strategies and themes in dressing and adorning your body. Personally, I take a bit from each of them, and roll it all up into one big fashion advice ball. One of my personal favourite teachings, though, was from the all-knowing, omnipresent Stacy London, who is known for her femme-chic yet powerful and no-nonsense approach to dressing. On one particular episode of What Not to Wear, she scolded a frumpy woman as she stood in front of the wraparound mirror and claimed that no one noticed her. No one noticed her because she never gave them reason to notice her, and it was sad to see the woman (who was lovely, really, but totally unkempt) express such apathy over her appearance. In a cut-away segment, they showed clips of the woman’s boss being interviewed, and he expressed that there had actually been complaints from other workers who would observe the woman coming to work in sweatpants, sports-team t-shirts and rubber shoes, even though her job description involved recruiting, hiring and general HR duties. She didn’t define her work environment as “professional”, as it was a rather relaxed environment. She knew that her appearance probably left the wrong impression on people who came to the agency to find work, and were greeted and processed by a woman who looked as though she had been abducted from her home at 3am, rolled up in blankets, and dropped at her office bleary-eyed and swathed in fleece. Stacy showed the woman an endless combination of outfits the incorporated comfy, dark-wash jeans in a slack-like cut, relaxed, stretch blazers which wore more like cardigans and simple tops with fun necklines to jazz up the most casual of combinations. While she showed off the garments, she taught the woman about 5 key elements of creating a memorable, captivating outfit that communicates confidence and style. I loved these rules, and wanted to share them, with my own fun twist, for you guys to chew on this week.
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FIT

Blouse by Monikova

Blouse by Monikova

YOUR CLOTHES HAVE TO FIT. They have to fit. There are two routes to getting clothes to fit you perfectly. Both start with the essential understanding that, if a garment is not the perfect fit off the rack, it is NOT an issue with your body, and it is NOT an issue with the garment. No one yells at the square peg for not fitting in the round hole. The issue is simply that the garment is not constructed perfectly for your body… yet. Now, your options are either to search for garments which DO fit your body perfectly, or to alter the garments you find and love to fit you. I’d suggest the second option, to save you from passing up on great items which could be showstopping on you, if a few simple tweaks are made. Clothes that fit well create balance and proportion on your frame, and make the difference between looking sharp and looking frumpy. Hem those pants. Nip that too-baggy waistline. Crop those sleeves.
Play it safe: well-tailored jackets, proper-length skirts and pants, dresses which are shaped proportionately
Push the Limits: Architecture-inspired seams, added volume in choice spots (shoulders, hips) retro-influenced waistlines and necklines, bias hems.


SPARKLE
Sugar Rush Summer Romance Collection

Sugar Rush Summer Romance Collection

Unless you work in a mine, your workplace has a light source. It could be those evil fluorescent lights in your office or the natural warm sunlight which comes streaming in your windows (stop pressing your nose against the glass and just go for a walk, people are staring). What catches light better than a little twinkle? Jazzing up simple outfits with a string of glittering beads, wearing a top with a glittering pinstripe, or wearing a flashy, bright ring will update your look and add a bit of glamour while respecting office dress code. One of the guys, my butt.
Play it Safe: Simple necklace, crystal earrings, a hammered brass cuff bracelet, beaded necklines, metallic-toe shoes
Push the Limits: Subtle glitter-woven garments, sparkly embellishments on lapels and pockets, a blinged-out bib-style necklace over a classic oxford shirt, studded details, bejeweled hair fascinators



TEXTURE

Top by Mandala Design

Top by Mandala Design

Fun fur, pleather pants, and fishnet anything have NO place in a professional environment. None. Scrap that idea now. Done? Okay, good, now we can move on to incorporating fun materials and textures into your wardrobe. Keeping shapes classic, you can get a lot of bang for your buck when mixing and matching fabrics. Keep more playful materials office-friendly by balancing textured pieces with simpler ones, and play them up for night-time!

Play it safe: Linen in fun colours, pairing two contrasting fabrics in the same colour family (pale pink chiffon and cotton twill, or ivory lace and satin), items with accents and decals in fun textures and overlays
Push the Limits: A leather blazer paired with simple bottoms, layering sheers, snakeskin shoes, layering two contrasting fabrics in contrasting colours (red leather with royal blue silk, yellow flocked cotton with violet crochet knit) A stiff peplum top, or panels of various textures incorporated into a skirt



COLOUR

Wrap dress from Address Apparel

Wrap dress from Address Apparel

Everyone can wear colour. the brightness, saturation and amount of it worn are up to you. Colour is a BRILLIANT way to add a splash of fun to an otherwise boring outfit. Picking out garments and accessories in fun colours can also breathe new life into what you own already, and can play up your natural features, like your beautiful blue eyes, your chestnut hair, or your porcelain/freckled/gloriously tanned skin.

Play it Safe: Vivid shoes, colourful stacked bracelets, a playful headband, a pop of colour on your earrings, a bright hued top under a classic suit
Push the Limits: Contrasting primary colours (red jacket with a blue skirt and yellow shoes) tone-on-tone layering in slightly different shades, Matching garments to makeup (turquoise blazer with a bold streak of the same colour lining your eyes, or a mandarin orange lipstick which matches your pants) colour-family stacking (all pastels, all brights)



PRINTS

Printed pants from Brenda Beddome

Printed pants from Brenda Beddome

You guys know I love a good print. But how to incorporate a print into office-friendly attire? Simple. Balance. If you work in a creative field, bright, wacky prints can be totally acceptable. If you work in a more conservative environment, subtle prints will be your bff. Prints can add a playful touch, they can draw the eye and shape the body, or they can simply add dimension and interest to solids. Pick your favourite print, pair with matching accessories, and have a blast!

Play it safe: Pinstripes, small polka dots, subtle stripes, soft florals, pairing a print with a basic, layering under/over solids
Push the Limits: Combining two contrasting prints in similar colours (white and navy stripes paired with white and navy dots), double-exposed prints (large polka dots on top, small dots on the bottom), loud prints, allover printed garments, colour-blocked accessories (pink and green printed dress with bold green shoes, pink bracelets and a pink and green necklace) Pairing a print with ANY of the above mentioned (sparkle, texture, colour)

There you have it folks! Challenge yourself to incorporate one of these fun strategies each and every day next week, and see heads turn!

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