Your Wardrobe in Bloom
Uniformity can be great — it’s generally as safe for your professional persona as it is for your pocketbook. And while I favor a minimalist, classic look as the basis of any professional uniform, that chic foundation can be greatly enhanced with a few key show-stopping pieces.
This often comes in the form of a statement necklace or an eye-catching belt, but it can also materialize in non-accessory wardrobe pieces like a floral blouse. A pattern is as good (or as bad) as how you wear it and florals have a classic prettiness that can be sweet and feminine or transformed into something completely different. A print can become a neutral when paired with the right items.
Our pick: Liz Claiborne ¾ Sleeve Floral Blouse, $29.99
- It’s versatile: Having no collar gives you more options than a collared blouse, and is more feminine.
- Fabric: A silky fabric allows you to easily dress it up or down (bonus: this one is washable).
- The fit: Not too flowy or oversized, as some blouses can be, so you don’t lose your shape.
- Semi-sheer but cami included: Opaque enough to be work-appropriate, but sheer enough to be interesting. Any questionable sheerness is accounted for with the included camisole, making it an even better bargain. Or ditch theirs and add your own for extra smoothing or to find a color that better matches your skintone.
This blouse’s pattern is neutral enough to work for most everyone. But if you’re not crazy about the print, choose a color and fit that flatters you and use these 10 outfit templates as inspiration.
Mix Don’t Match
Matching can be overrated. Don’t be afraid to break the coordination mold with your floral blouse by introducing yet another print into the ensemble. A little clashing can demonstrate creativity, but only if you’re brave — and skilled in the art.
If one print is big and bold (like the blouse), combine with a small print in complementary colors and break up the clash with a waist belt. Mix and match small stud earrings for a small hint of whimsy and ingenuity. Contexts in which you need to work with groups and demonstrate your playful side are most ideal for this outfit (as is an open-minded office).
Embellish Femininity Without the Frill
Blouses are naturally feminine, so build on that theme and pair it with the other quintessential feminine pieces: a skirt and heels. Remember that the power is in the details — a little fit-and-flare skirt and a classic-yet-edgy snakeskin heel separates you from the frilly masses. Classic, feminine ensembles are particularly effective in male-dominated offices and when you’re presenting or meeting with clients.
Channel a Style Icon
Skinny black pants, a sleek shoe, a dash of metallic. Audrey Hepburn is the style icon of more than a few women — and for good reason. Her classic look is still as stylish today as it was 50 years ago, so assuming you invest in quality goods, that makes for an impressive price-per-wear. Belted over the blouse, this is a great, effortless everyday look.
Stand Out and Get Heard
Making a visual statement indicates that you have something to say (and something worth listening to). So on days when you need to be persuasive, align your image with that goal and dress accordingly. Tucking your blouse into a long chiffon skirt is professional but not boring, and ankle booties and a metal belt complete an attention-grabbing look that’s a suitable conversation piece for more creative offices.
Awards dinners, charity events, cocktail parties — some work-related occasions call for a little sparkle. So arm your closet with at least one piece that stands out from the conservative crowd. It doesn’t need to be expensive: Solid colored sequins, particularly on a skirt, are often comparable on high- and low-end pieces, both of which add the requisite shimmer for those special occasions. Wear your floral blouse belted over the skirt to de-emphasize the bedazzled effect. Pair it with an off-kilter heel to add a little kick.
Versatility is a virtue — particularly in the workplace — and, while we often associate layering with fall and winter, spring and summer are equally great seasons to demonstrate this sartorial philosophy. Casual summer dresses are often too revealingly risque for the office, but that doesn’t mean they’re completely off limits. Layer a plunging neckline or bare-shouldered dress with your semi-sheer blouse (be sure to ditch the cami), and retain your shape with a fitted waist belt. Keep your layered theme and add several mismatched bracelets (or skip them if you want to watch your budget). Bonus: This dress is even more versatile with its removable straps.
Popped collars, whale pants, an endless sea of Lilly Pulitzer green and pink — these images might dominate your definition of what it means to look preppy. But part of the preppy appeal is its classic staying power. Latch onto some sophisticated versions of basic preppy pieces — like khaki pants, a blazer, and lots of white — and pair them with a floral blouse to add a twist. You’ll look less garish golf club and more uptown elegant.
Yes, this is the Scout motto, but it’s not a bad life philosophy, no matter your age or context. Sometimes it’s about preparing for last-minute meetings or an early deadline. Other times it’s more about the weather, particularly when it oscillates between sunny warmth and a late season blizzard in a matter of days. Prepare your body for these unforeseen vicissitudes by tucking a spring-like blouse into long pants and adding a sweater. But don’t revert back to the depths of winter: Keep the sweater trim to the body and thin, to add just the right layer of warmth. Finish with a striking necklace that serves as your insurance policy polish for unanticipated client meetings.
Live on the Edge
Floral is not the poster print for edginess, but that doesn’t mean you have to be all sugar and no spice when you wear it. Give it some edge with a faux leather skirt and funky jewelry. This is best reserved for offices where fortune favors the bold.
It’s Called a Power Suit For a Reason
Studies show that a blend of masculine and feminine styling is most powerful in the workplace. And there’s a reason the modern incarnation of the suit has been the go-to uniform for society’s powerbrokers since the 19th century (and remember: even an inexpensive suit can look like a million bucks when properly tailored). So don’t try to reinvent the wheel with this one — but don’t be afraid to differentiate yourself while you’re at it: A little peplum detail on the back of the skirt disrupts the conservatism of the suit just enough, while the patterned blouse peeks out of the jacket, without overpowering. Double wrap a long chain to finish the look (then wear the chain long in more casual and evening settings).
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.