Leaving Office Dress Codes Behind
One of the things about being self-employed I was most looking forward to was not having to think about dressing for the office. Not that our workplace was particularly corporate or stringent, but as a department head and V.P. who sometimes had to attend meetings with other V.P.’s (and SVP’s and occasionally EVP’s), I had to include enough “Business” in my Business Casual attire to pass muster.
In my experience, women in corporate environments are still caught in a bind when it comes to work dressing. In management positions especially, they need to be taken seriously, but are also expected to be approachable, warm and empathetic. Unless the dress code is formal (suits for everyone), kitting up for work requires mental calculations that I think men generally don’t have to wrestle with.
The last few years at the Day Job, I didn’t want to wear skirts or dresses, but straightforward blazer-and-pants outfits felt too masculine. So I added softer elements like scarves and cardigans. I was always hunting for jackets that weren’t literal copies of menswear. I usually wore some obvious jewelry, and relied on accessories to express individuality.
Free-Range Style Reinvention
When I knew I’d be leaving the corporate world, I pictured my future wardrobe as softer, more flowing, more funky, more Bohemian. All of those styles that didn’t feel “serious” enough for a workplace. I assumed I’d want to express all of the sartorial freedom I’d had to squelch in my Monday-to-Friday life.
It hasn’t quite worked out that way. Over the last year I’ve tried flowy and funky and Boho and different silhouettes with more drama, and little of it has actually stuck. I find that what I’m drawn to most of all (besides jeans) are…jackets. I like the cleanness and structure of them. They make me feel polished and pulled-together.
This has made me realize again what a strong psychological component there is to personal style. When I was working in an office full-time, so much of my life was structured and I longed for a looser, freer existence. And perhaps my attraction to softer clothing was a way of expressing that. Now that my time is (mostly) my own to schedule, I find that what appeals are clothes with definition, clear boundaries.
Current Style Forecast: Refined Casual
My style is still casual, but within that framework I now prefer a more refined version of it. I’m moving away from clunky, rough, distressed styles and finishes, and toward smoother, cleaner, slightly more polished iterations.
What appeals to me now is a look that’s feminine but not fussy, shaped but not stiff or snug, simple but not severe. Still softly structured pieces, but a bit more structure than before. (I keep circling back to my new navy jacket as a perfect illustration of this.) Small touches of embellishment and whimsy to lighten it up.
The most surprising turn has been the urge to incorporate more feminine elements into my style. Not frilly or frou-frou, but a chic, subtle femininity, with the occasional touch of glam. (I wonder how much of that shift is due to no longer being in a position of authority in a mostly male environment.) I still admire those women who do “tomboy” style so well, but it no longer feels like something I aspire to.
Though I love that feeling of hitting a style groove, I’m not rushing myself through this style transition period. I’m trying new things, trying to keep an open mind, and trying to trust the process.
The good news is that there’s no expiration date on style. I can take my time, see what feels right, and change course as needed.
Has you style evolved as you’ve gone through major life transitions? Were there changes that surprised you?
Top photo: these brocade mules worn with jeans hit my Casual Glam sweet spot. They’re from Brown’s Shoes, purchased in Vancouver. They do not appear to ship outside of Canada, but I’ve included some similar styles in the showcase below.