Focus on Versatility
One of the most common requests I get from my personal styling clients is for “outfits” — as in, “I need more outfits!” Wearing an “outfit” implies you’ve got it together, you’re polished and you’ve taken the time to invest in your appearance. The key to having more outfits isn’t simply having more pieces in your closet or keeping a detailed spreadsheet of complex combinations, but rather having more pieces you can wear multiple ways. So instead of focusing on quantity or elaborate fashion formulas, focus on a few versatile items you can wear a lot.
A good place to start is with a neutral shoe, like a nude heel. Nude heels are the perfect work wardrobe staple because:
- They go with everything. In fact, if you had to commit to just one work shoe, the most versatile is not black. It’s nude or tan. Wear it with black, grey, brown, colors, more tan — there are no limits.
- They give you a little lift, and studies show there’s power (and money) associated with elevation.
- They’re classic. Buy a good quality pair without a lot of trendy details — then take care of them properly — and you can wear them for years.
Our pick: Ann Tayor Ankle Strap Heels, $138. Find ankle straps uncomfortable or unflattering? Need more of a kitten heel? There are lots of other options out there, but just keep in mind a few key elements: Keep the heel-height functional and professional, and pick a shoe with as few trendy embellishments as possible — the more neutral the better.
Use your own work environment and personal needs to gauge what’s most appropriate, but here’s some inspiration to guide you in your quest for more office outfits (with fewer pieces).
Embrace the Short Side
As the temperature rises (finally!), so do our hemlines. And I’m not just talking about skirts. Pants get a little shorter, too. How do you crop your pants without diminishing your workplace clout? Balance the casualness of short pants with a feminine heel. Light linens pair especially well with a nude shoe, as it’s less likely than a black one to overwhelm the delicate fabric. Play with complementary neutrals in your top and accessories.
Or... Go Long and Lean
Long skirts and dresses are a nice alternative to pencil skirts and slacks. But wear them with flats and you can look a little casual (and short). Opt for your nude heel instead to dress up your feet, while keeping your lines long and lean. Make the outfit more formal by pairing it with a blazer and metal belt.
Break Up Black and White
Black and white are bold, safe colors for most contexts. But too much of either isn’t the best recipe for personal differentiation. Instead of your go-to black shoes, pair a black and white outfit with nude shoes to soften the look, then add an individual spark with some interesting jewelry. Black and white suddenly got a lot less boring.
Transition to Evening
Metallics are perfect for evening events, but can sometimes be overkill in the office. A neutral heel is a subtle way of keeping the sparkle under control at work when you know you’ll be stepping out after hours. Pair it with a cropped sweater for daytime and for chilly evenings.
Tone Down a Busy Outfit
If you work in a creative or more casual office, prints can be fun, especially in the warmer months. But they can also overwhelm the eye and create too much activity. One way to balance the busyness is with a neutral shoe. Keep other accessories metallic to complement the shoes and add an understated pop.
Master Casual Fridays
Successfully navigating a business casual dress code can be a confusing land mine. Follow the “rule of one” and incorporate only one (or two) more casual pieces into your outfit. For instance, keep the heels and swap out the slacks for dark denim. Pair with a professional black top with interesting detailing (rather than a casual shirt or T-shirt) and demonstrate personality with jewelry. Etsy is a great outlet for affordable, one-of-a-kind conversation pieces.
A monochromatic look is sleek, sophisticated and slimming. And creating a beige monochromatic ensemble is a fresh alternative to all black, and sure to get you noticed for all the right reasons. Make it your go-to for presentations and important meetings when you need to really impress. Keep your accessories in the same neutral color scheme.
Spring and summer are the seasons of air and light. Let your work outfits mimic nature and swap out some darker shades for a lighter look. Silk and soft pastels are sophisticated, yet fresh. A nude heel pairs particularly well with white or light-colored trousers. Their subtlety ensures you’ll keep a spring in your step.
Find Comfort in Polish
A comfortable office — however you define it — lends itself to greater productivity. Unfortunately, we can’t always control many of the external elements in our offices, like the temperature and distracting chatter. But one thing we can control is our dress. Comfort need not equate with sloppiness, however — and it shouldn’t be at odds with polish and professionalism. Find an antidote to comfortable flowiness with your tan heel. Finish it off with a chain necklace that lends a hint of edginess.
Even if you aren’t headed to the Hamptons for a polo match, you can still channel your inner preppy for everyday wear in most office environments. Give your black pants a break and switch to navy in warmer months. If you don’t already have a go-to white shirt in your closet, consider this your formal invitation to acquire one; no wardrobe is complete without it. Your nude heels keep it effortlessly classic. An understated gold necklace finishes the look.
Anna Akbari, Ph.D. is the "thinking person's stylist" and the founder of Sociology of Style, which takes an intelligent look at image-related issues and offers holistic wardrobe and image consulting services. Find out more and follow her on Twitter.