I once read a free-to-use, office guideline presentation on corporate wear. I started fairly enough – dress modestly, don’t confuse holiday clothes with work clothes, and make sure that the fit and form of your outfits are appropriate. Short skirts and shorts were a no-no, while all tops needed to comfortably cover everyone’s chests – men and women included.
And then the presentation proceeded to spend the next 20 slides focusing exclusively on women and how important it is to cover their breasts.
I mean, sure. Cleavage is a contentious issue in some workplaces – sex sells, but if you’re in a high-level corporate office that may not be the angle you’re going for.
But...20 slides. The presenter and the organisation at hand seemed excessively obsessed with how women dressed in the workplace. While the simple ‘modesty is the best policy’ would have sufficed I began to grow increasingly uncomfortable with every subsequent slide. One was on how to avoid ‘accentuating the rear’ in tight skirts. Another was on how short skirts are exactly allowed to be. Another was on how much cleavage was too much cleavage, and so on. Just….eugh.
To follow on from my last post about corporate attire I decided to respond with a personalised list of the clothes I actually purchased once I got a job in a professional office. Following the lead of the more senior women around me I went for neutral colours that suited my complexion, a modest fit, and an even mix of ‘dynamic’ clothes for interacting with undergraduate students and ‘corporate’ clothes for meetings and office days.
My first stop is UNIQLO, which sells a lot of reasonably-priced, high-quality clothes. I purchased a pair of casual pants, a pair of black dress pants, and two collared shirts – one long sleeve, and one short sleeve.
I already own a pair of navy blue dress pants (Target), a black suit jacket (Target), and two linen-look blazers (one beige, one light grey, ZARA) from earlier attempts to curate a wardrobe, so I build on these items for future purchases.
I figured out at a young age that due to my brown hair and fair skin I suit earthy tones more than the staple black-and-white corporate attire that is favoured, so I tend more towards browns and shades of orange whenever I can. Burgundy, wine red and maroon also flatter me quite well given the chance.
As for the cut of my clothes – in my early adulthood I’ve developed an hourglass figure and thus have been advised to look for clothes that are either shift-dress styled, or waist-accentuating. The average suit is waist-accentuating with pants sitting comfortably above my hips, yet when it comes to wearing skirts and dresses to work I have a challenge.
Thankfully vendors on eBay and tailoring services exist, and are more than happy to give you a wide range of choice!
eShakti is an online clothing brand that allows you to tailor your own measurements for a custom-made item. While a little more expensive than my other options these items are made of a better material, and are thus more likely to last longer than my fast-fashion purchases.
(eShakti’s skirts and dresses also ALL have pockets, and you can customise the hem length AND the neckline for increased perfection for your personal style. At the moment they’re testing out the ability to mix and match fabric with your favourite style, so give it a go!)
In addition to my ‘corporate’ clothing line I also invested in some ‘quirky’ items that bring me joy. Namely, an academic-appropriate dress with an owl pattern on the hem.
When it comes to shoes I am very particular with two aspects; Heels must be INCREDIBLY comfortable for me to warrant wearing them, and all of my shoes need to be enclosed with support for my flat feet.
Other essentials for my working wardrobe are my actual leather boots, which allow me easy access to pretty much any work site imaginable (health and safety in Australia requires fully enclosed leather shoes in construction and food work spaces), and a handful of classic pieces. These classics, such as some turtleneck tops and eye-catching scarves, can be dressed up or down, hence their current place in my everyday wardrobe. To keep me warm in winter I have a selection of tights and stockings, some UNIQLO heat-tech camisoles, and some knitted jumpers that layer well under my blazers. For the Australian 40+ degree days I reserve my linen tops and skirts that, while unprofessionally free-flowing and creative for the office, are a lifesaver on a stuffy tram.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m one of those people who can get a tad too comfy in ‘worker’ wear – denim overalls, jeans, and unflattering-yet-comfy-and-durable clothes usually worn by plumbers and fast food workers. Now that my career has progressed a little past moving bricks and standing over an oil fry vat I am also altering my look to something more consistent with that of a woman leaving ‘young adulthood’ and entering ‘mature and professional’. I try to keep my wardrobe under control with a semi-minimalist approach – a few high-quality pieces that I rotate through – but the collection always fluctuates as my work situation and lifestyle changes.
It’s taken my mind a while to catch up to my reality. That’s alright – it’s hard to adjust to climbing the career ladder when you were convinced just five years ago that this would never be possible. Now I’m free to change my look to match my life – and for that I am incredibly grateful.