Accessorizing for Work

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Wow, this turned into a two-month project on getting dressed for work! I hope breaking it down into sections like this is helping you build a work wardrobe that’s Affordable, Appropriate, Comfortable, and Beneficial. Accessories – that’s your jewelry, belts, scarves, and shiny hair-things – are the icing on the cake, and a good way to add personality to what might be a bland dress code. Changing up your accessories is a cheap way to update your wardrobe when you don’t have the budget for new clothes, as a lot of the things I’m going to talk about can be had for cheap, both at retail stores and thrift shops. Here’s a tip: if your neighborhood or town tends to have good garage sales, get some cash out and hit them up one weekend. I bet you come away with a ton of new accessories for a handful of couch change.

Let’s go over some rules for keeping your accessories from getting in your way while you’re working – if they’re a pain to manage all day, they’re not Beneficial.

  • Consider Your Earrings. If you work in an office, there’s a chance you’re on the phone a lot. If you’re wearing large, heavy earrings, there’s a good chance every phone call you make starts with a loud clacking noise as your earrings collide with your phone’s receiver. Consider small earrings to circumvent that, and also to keep them from getting caught in your headset or headphones if you use those. Why make it harder on yourself to do your daily work?
  • Watch The Bling. You love shiny things? Me too! Just remember that too much sparkle can be distracting, and you might be giving off an ‘I’m here to party’ vibe as opposed to an ‘I’m here to work’ vibe. There’s no reason to be boring, but a whole arm full of sparkly bangles is likely better for Da Club than it is for giving a PowerPoint presentation to your boss. Much like with your hairstyle, you want your accessories to help draw attention to you and what you’re saying, not to themselves. Make sure your look is working to showcase you, not cover you up.
  • Hair Accessories and Hairstyles Have the Same Rules. If your adorable hair clip is falling out all day, it’s neither Beneficial nor Comfortable. If your headband gives you a headache after an hour of wearing it, it’s not Comfortable. Give your new hair accessories a trial run on the weekend to make sure they’ll survive the work day and not drive you crazy or have you fixing your hair at your desk all day.
  • Safety First. We all work in different settings, and some of our work environments can make certain types of jewelry a safety hazard. Is your job shredding papers all day? Your flowy scarf might just get snagged in the shredder if you’re not careful. Do you work around animals or kids? Both of those things loooooove to yank on jewelry, so anything dangling and shiny puts you in danger of a certain amount of pain if one of them decides they want to play with your necklace or, God forbid, earrings. If you ever have to get supplies from a warehouse, rings can get caught on warehouse shelving and cause, um, terrifying injuries. It’s important to adjust your look to fit the work you’re doing, so you’re not setting yourself up for a painful or embarrassing experience, or dealing with broken jewelry that was special to you.
  • No Hats! Yeah, I said it. But style maven Lauren Conrad said it way before I did. Hats are pretty much always too casual for a business-casual office. Wearing a beanie because it’s cold or raining is fine, but don’t wear it in the office (even if it’s cold), and make sure you either have your hair pulled back or can run your fingers through it before you start working so you don’t have moppy hat-hair all day.

The main idea here is that you should think about how functional your accessories are, as well as how good they look. If you have a simpler look for work, that’s just fine – jazz it up after hours and really enjoy your off time.

So what should the non-blingy professional lady wear to her business-casual office? Try this: get together one or two of each type of jewelry you like, and rotate through those during the work week. Personally, I hate wearing bracelets, so I don’t have those in my work rotation, but if you do, go for it! Just make sure they’re not getting in the way of your work.

For earrings, I have a pair of pearl studs and a pair of little drop earrings made of sea glass that I got in Del Mar, California, and I pretty much just rotate those two pairs depending on my mood and outfit. Every once in a while I’ll bust out the beautiful Kendra Scott earrings I got last Christmas, but they’re a little heavy and, as I mentioned before, they clack against the phone when I’m making calls, so they’re not my go-to earrings for work (although they are my go-to earrings for everything else because I love them).

One accessory I dearly love is necklaces. In case you haven’t caught on, I get my jewelry from all over the place – half my stash is vintage and belonged to my grandmothers, some of it I picked up while traveling, and quite a lot were gifts. Don’t overlook the chance to score some adorable jewelry at street fairs or tiny local shops when you’re out and about – the ones with stories attached to them are the best, and jewelry is a really easy souvenir to pack in your carry-on.

As for how to style your jewelry, there’s a lot of advice out there, and I highly encourage you to do some research, see what the ‘rules’ are, and then break them as you see fit. Yeah, even my ‘rules’ – none of this is hard and fast, because personal style is just that: personal. It made me feel better at first to learn the guidelines of what necklaces to pair with what neckline, and what hairstyles go best with what size of earrings, but once you have those basics down, don’t be afraid to mix it up and break some rules. As long as you think you look great, that’s all that matters.

So now you’re completely dressed and accessorized for work! Doesn’t that feel good? Next week we’ll talk about makeup…as much as I can talk about makeup, seeing as I hardly ever wear it. If you’re not a makeup person either, but you might want to try it out just for fun, you should check out next week’s post. I’m gonna make it easy on you.

Work Hair

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Because why not open with a dad joke.

Oh, hair. We can’t live with it, and we can’t shave it all off like Britney because we’d probably regret it later. If you’re like me, the idea of spending an hour blow-drying and heat-styling your hair first thing in the morning is just a big bag of ridiculousness, so you generally rock a ponytail and deal with the resulting hair-crease later. It happens, Fledglings, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.

Of course, after a while we all get tired of the ponytail and we want to mix it up, or we have a big presentation/meeting/interview where we need to look good and we’re thinking the ponytail is cool and all, but can we take it up a notch?

Yes, yes you can. Let’s improve our lives with some office-ready hair that doesn’t require heat styling. First, let’s get some rules down for making sure your hair looks professional, and then we’ll apply those to some actual styles.

  1. Keep it out of your face. When you’re at work, no matter what you do, you want people to trust you. It turns out, covering your face is interpreted by Westerners as ‘You have something to hide’ – think about any cartoon bandit or movie bad guy ever. Also, hair in your face is distracting to you and to your audience. Tying it back, at least partly, simplifies your look and lets people focus on your face, and by extension the words coming out of it. If you’re doing any kind of public speaking or leading a meeting or training, your hair should be back.
  2. Keep it low-maintenance. If your hair needs frequent attention all day, because it’s falling out of its ‘do or needing scrunching or getting tangled in your phone headset, you’re gonna look like you don’t have your act together work-wise, and nobody wants to come off like that. Instead, give a new style a trial run on the weekend, to see if it holds up to regular activity or if you’re having to fix it all the time. Don’t get me wrong, popping into the bathroom on your break to fix some flyaways or redo a bobby pin is no big deal, but if you’re constantly having to mess with it, you may want to find a style with more staying power.
  3. Keep it simple. We all want to get creative with our hair – it’s one of life’s many joys. But again, you’re at work to work, and you want to be taken seriously. This means keeping your hair looking nice, maybe even trendy, but not shocking. Unless your work environment is SUPER funky and it’s encouraged, avoid the various crayola-inspired hair trends going around. When I worked in management at a place where crazy hair color and visible tattoos were allowed, I looked around and realized that nobody in management had either of those things, and neither did anybody who was training for management. It was pretty clear that, no matter what the rules said, people with outlandish hair colors did not promote at that company. Right or wrong, that’s the reality at a lot of companies, and Fledglings, you gotta prioritize – do you want to promote, or do you want sunset hair? The choice is yours, and the only wrong one is the one that doesn’t get you what you want. Feel free to say ‘Damn The Man’ and rock your galaxy/unicorn/oil-slick hair if it gives you joy, but be aware of the trade-offs there – if you’re wanting to promote, you could be getting in your own way by looking like a snow cone.
  4. Keep it clean. Yeah, yeah, washing your hair is a pain, and doing it when you’re tired is even more of one. But if you’re prone to oily hair, or if you work out during the week, you’re gonna have to get that grease under control so that you don’t look poorly-groomed or like you have bad hygiene. Itchy scalp? Not profesh. Set aside time to properly wash, condition, and detangle your hair, so that it’s ready for styling and looks clean for work. If all else fails: dry shampoo.

So we need some simple, low-maintenance ways of keeping your hair back while you’re at work. If you have short hair, you’re pretty much set – just make sure it’s clean and styled in a way that you like and that will hold up through the day. But if you have medium-length or long hair, you’re gonna have to tame that beast, and here are some good ways to do it, including bonus pictures of yours truly!

  • Side Braid – A go-to favorite of mine. You can also braid it straight down your back if you want, but I think the side braid looks a little more fun while still looking professional.
  • Low Ponytail – Yeah, this is the one you do every day, but you can mix it up a little as well. Do a small French braid across the front of your head that goes back into the tail, or tease your hair to give it some volume before you ponytail. You can also take a lock of hair in the ponytail and wrap it around the holder to cover it up. Secure it with a bobby pin, and it looks polished but is definitely still a ponytail.
  • Buns – Yet another go-to for me. You can do a high ballerina bun or something less dramatic, but it’s a good option if your hair is greasy, or if it’s really windy out. Just be sure that, however you secure it, it’s going to stay up all day.
  • Half-up – If you want to show off your long hair or keep your neck warm, just pull the top half back and clip or pin it into place. It takes less than a minute, and your hair is off your face so you don’t have to mess with it while you work. This is a softer look, for those who think the all-back hairstyles look a little severe.

All of these styles can be made more elaborate by adding braids, teasing for volume, or curling/straightening your hair beforehand. There are approximately one million YouTube tutorials out there, so pick a style you like and start practicing! It may take you a while to master that sock bun, but you’ll get there, and you’ll be proud of yourself when you make it happen in time for work.

Next week, we complete your awesome work look with some accessories. Office work is pretty jewelry-friendly, but there are some things to consider in order to stay comfortable and get your work done without hassle. Enjoy your weekend, Fledglings!

Bags and Purses for Work

There seem to be two camps in my life: people who don’t own a purse, and people who sneeringly judge people who don’t own a purse, like somehow toting around a bag makes you a real grownup or something. It’s okay, Sneery Judgers. I thought that too when I played dress-up as a kid. But now we’re all grownups, and most of us have realized that there is no right way to be one, none of us actually know what we’re doing, and judging other people is actually a cover-up for how lost and sad the judgers feel all the time. They’ll try to tell you that it’s just fun for them to put other people down, but don’t be fooled. They secretly feel like they’re constantly screwing it up, just like you and I do. When it comes to adult life, we’re all in one big, sucky boat together, and watching someone try to pretend they’re not in the boat with the rest of us just looks silly, and also a little sad. You’d have more fun if you’d just admit you’re in the boat.

Which camp do I fall into? I used to be the no-purse type, but I just can’t bring myself into Sneery Judger territory, because that’s rude. My coping mechanism for feeling like I’m screwing up adulthood is being nice to people, and helping them do better by sharing ways that I’ve succeeded. So I’m kind of in between camps, in that I do think a purse or bag is a good idea…but I don’t think you’re a child or incompetent if you don’t own one. I just wonder how you carry your stuff around when you’re wearing work clothes, which often don’t come with functional pockets, or if they do, they look really bulgy and strange when you put all your crap in them and are so thin that your keys poke you when you sit down.

Chicken Bag
Also, chicken bags exist, so we can’t really take this too seriously.

My defense of purses has little to do with fashion, and everything to do with utility. A profesh lady needs to be prepared for what the day might throw at her, and that means keeping her money, phone, and keys all together so they’re easy to find. It also means keeping any snacks, medication, medical/personal supplies, and your book or e-reader handy in case you need any of that. Don’t go through life unprepared – that only reinforces that feeling of ‘Oh crap I’m screwing this up.’ If you have things on hand to deal with all those little daily hiccups, you’ll feel a lot more relaxed and confident. Let’s look at some different types of bags that are completely acceptable for the business casual office, and some of the benefits of each one.

  • Backpack Purses – The one in that link is the actual purse I actually own right now, but take a look at those other backpack purses too. They hold a near-infinite amount of stuff, and if you’re prone to toting books and water bottles and snacks around with you (hi there), a backpack is a great option. You can put it on both shoulders if you have a long walk to take in order to spare your back, but if you get a stylish one, all that utility and comfort will still look awesome.
  • Bucket Bags – These are like the backpack’s slightly-smaller cousin with one strap instead of two. I’m craving one for summer – This One specifically – I know it’s white and will get dirty, but I just love a bright bag to go with bright summer colors so I’ll figure out how to clean it. If you’re a little more minimalist with your stuff-toting, this is a good bag for you, although they do come in different sizes. I’m sure there are some that would hold just as much as a backpack. Bucket bags often have a set of handles and a removable shoulder strap, so you can adjust it to suit how you prefer to carry a bag.
  • Tote Bags – See, you thought I’d be posting tiny, impractical bags that don’t hold anything, but screw that, I have a lot of junk to cart around. Tote bags are great, because it’s usually just one giant pocket, much like the backpack, but it gives a more chic and less earthy look. So depending on your mood and personal aesthetic, you can get a different look with the same utility. What’s fun about tote bags is how much color and pattern can go onto them, because of the big, flat sides they have. It lets you have fun with it, but they don’t have to look too busy.
  • Satchels – Alright, we’re getting a bit smaller here. This is more what you think of when you think ‘lady’s purse.’ But if you want a smaller bag, whether to keep you from hoarding junk in it or to make it easier to carry and store, this is a good option that still lets you carry a decent amount of stuff. You can also buy more than one bag (I know, I was surprised too), and carry the bigger one when you need more stuff-space, and a smaller one when you don’t. If you’re just meeting people for lunch, tossing your phone/wallet/keys and maybe a tube of chapstick or a tiny umbrella into your satchel is a good way to go. Just remember to put everything back into your work bag before Monday.

So you’ve got some purse options, although that is by no means an exhaustive list – those are just the bags I’ve found to be the most practical options for various office-work scenarios. Now, let me give you some tips for getting the most out of your new purse.

  • Travel Smart. Pickpockets are a real problem in most big cities, and if you commute by public transit, you’re at even more risk of someone swiping your wallet. Don’t make it easy for them – make sure you get a bag that zips all the way closed, or that has a flap that goes over the opening and buckles down. And of course, hold your bag on your lap while you’re on the train or bus, both to keep it clean and under your watchful eye, and because people who put their bags in the seat next to them are big giant jerkfaces who should be publicly shamed for being inconsiderate.
  • Your Bag Should Suit Your Life. Are you messy and/or clumsy? A white or pastel bag may not be for you. Ditto anything that’s really delicate or has a lot of fringe or dangly details. It may look awesome, but if you look at it and think, ‘man, I might snag this thing in a revolving door,’ opt for something a little less heavily embellished.
  • It Should Also Suit Your Style. If you wear all black, all the time, a bright yellow bag could make a cool statement, or it could look out of place. It’s really up to you. The main thing is to stick with a bag in a color that works with your wardrobe, so that you don’t have to own fifteen purses and change them out constantly to match your outfit. There are people who do that, but let’s face it, I’m writing for people who don’t. My black and gray Southwest-patterned backpack goes with pretty much everything I own. It even looks good with a khaki skirt, even though they say browns and blacks don’t mix. If in doubt, take a look at your closet, pick the color that occurs in your clothes most often, and get a bag with that color on it. That way, it always works. And remember: neutrals are always a good bet. Brown, gray, or basic black are hardly ever out of place.
  • Feel Free to Make a Statement. If you’re not comfortable with wearing bright colors, but you kinda want to try one out, a purse is a good option. Same with bold or busy patterns. When I found out that Southwestern patterns were back in stores, I went right out and stocked up, because I freaking love them, and that included my backpack. But they’ve also got nautical looks, stripes, and crazy patterns in the purse section. Choose your life, Fledglings – a purse is your time to shine. Weird leggings with galaxies on them could come off wrong at work, but a purse with the same pattern can just seem quirky and neat. And you don’t bring your purse into meetings, so if you’re needing to show your serious side, leave the Pineapple Bag at your desk and you’re good to go. (For reals, though, that pineapple bag is adorable.)

That’s it for this weekend, Fashion Fledglings! Next weekend we’re talking hair, so be sure to catch that one. Work hair is all about utility, comfort, and professionalism, and you can definitely do that in the twenty minutes you give yourself to get ready in the mornings.

Work Shoes – Demystified

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I mean, I guess work shoes aren’t all that mysterious, but I feel like they can be. Do I have to wear heels? What if I have foot problems? How do I manage the dirt of public transit without suffering the slings and arrows of ruined shoes?

Well, fear not, Fashion Fledglings, it’s time to talk shoes. Specifically, we’re going to talk about how to find cute, comfortable shoes for your standard business-casual office, even if you’re generally a flip-flops or sneakers kinda girl. Affordable, appropriate, comfortable, beneficial shoes do exist for people of all sizes and sensibilities, so let’s go over some basics and look at some links.

  1. To Heel or Not To Heel. Fashion mags and runway shows always have ladies in these spiky heels (SPOILER: it’s because the heels make the models stand and walk all sexy), and when you think of ‘dressing up,’ you picture heels. Even if you’re not a fan of them, you might have one pair stuck in the back of your closet, in case you ever need to ‘dress up.’ So how does a business casual dress code factor in? I say, wear heels to work only if they meet the Fashion Bird Acceptability Test in all four categories. That means that if they’re killing you by lunch time, they have failed the Comfortable part of the test and therefore they don’t get a pass. Don’t wear uncomfortable shoes to work, and the reasons are twofold: A) It’s bad for your health. Uncomfortable shoes can lead to stress injuries and chronic foot problems, and no shoe is worth that. B) Sitting around your office barefoot is SO unprofessional, and there’s really no way to explain how much ‘your shoes hurt but they were so adorable’ to your company president who swung by for a visit and found you with your shoes off. If you can’t wear those heels all damned day without pain, then skip ’em.
  2. Flip-flops? Maybe. This is a good time to read that HR-provided dress code, look at what your boss is wearing, and maybe ask if flip-flops are okay. I’ve worked in offices where ‘nice’ flip-flops – ones that are made of leather or embellished somehow – were completely fine, and I’ve also worked in offices where HR put an unequivocal kibosh on any shoes that go between your toes. Sometimes it’s a safety or health code issue, and sometimes it’s because a bunch of people showed up in dirty drug-store shower shoes because the dress code said sandals were acceptable, and those jerks ruined office footwear for everyone. If in doubt, wear more substantial shoes, but it never hurts to ask. The worst thing they can tell you is ‘no.’
  3. Travel Wisely. Taking the train to work for a couple of years absolutely murdered my poor shoes – running up and down rough concrete stairs, walking on dirty train floors, and dealing with the capricious Texas weather meant that my work shoes were wearing out far more quickly than my budget allowed for. I took a look around, and saw loads of ladies on the train wearing pencil skirts, silk blouses, blazer jackets…and running sneakers. They were obviously wearing their gym shoes while commuting, then changing into professional shoes when they got to the office. I started commuting in some crappy, torn-up ballet flats and keeping some nice shoes in my desk drawer at work. I’d change when I got there, and change back to crappy shoes when I left. If you’re not super into having different shoe options, one pair in a solid color that goes with all your outfits is a good way to achieve this, and them sitting in your desk outside work hours means they’ll last approximately forever, which frees up your dollars to buy more flip-flops for the weekend.
  4. If you Can’t Walk in them, Don’t Wear Them. Seriously though. Falling on your butt in front of your coworkers is embarrassing, but doing it in front of a client or executive will make you want to hide in your cubicle for the rest of the day. Don’t set yourself up for that. Buy shoes that you can walk in, quickly if needed, with confidence and without fear. Make sure you can take stairs and stand for a bit without wobbling. That mincing baby-giraffe walk that some women do when they’re unsteady in their heels is not the way to let your office know how tough, smart, and capable you are.

Professionalism Tip: If your company executives are coming through the building, if new clients or customers are showing up, or if you have a big meeting to attend that day, wear your nicer shoes. That’s the time to look polished, and switching from sandals to some low-heeled closed-toe wedges can elevate your look so that you feel – and everyone else feels – like you belong in that meeting, not like you’re the college-student intern who wandered in there by mistake. Dressing for the occasion says that you knew this was coming, and you put effort into preparing to be there. That goes a long way reputation-wise.

So you hate heels, can’t walk in them, not gonna do it – what’s a Fledgling to do when she wants to look like she’s at work to get stuff done? Let’s go to the internet for some examples.

  • Ballet flats – the BEST go-to work shoes, in my opinion. Flat, comfy, cheap, available in tons of colors and decorations or just plain black. You cannot go wrong here.
  • Low wedges – absolutely wonderful for looking juuuuust a lil’ bit fancy, but not having to toddle around in tall heels all day. I find they even help my foot pain if my heels are achey. Bonus: a lot of times higher wedges are easier to walk in than shoes with a thinner heel (think stilettos), so if you want to add height, a wedge might work better for you in the being-able-to-walk department.
  • Boots – we all need a good pair of boots, whether for bad weather, or just to feel cozy during pumpkin spice season. Some low-heeled, neutral-colored boots will pair great under a dress, slacks, with leggings, without…you got options with boots.
  • Dress sandals – okay, so the jerks in shower shoes made work say ‘no flip-flops,’ and where do we go from here? there are plenty of dressy sandals out there, from earthy to blingy, so take your pick of the comfy options, get/give yourself a pedicure (gnarly toenails are not impressing anyone), and get to work! Summer doesn’t have to mean sweaty feet if you have good sandals.

‘Why are you putting all these non-discount shoe brands in your links?’ I can hear you asking. So far I’ve given links to more discounted stores, so I get it. The main reason is this: You get what you pay for with shoes. Moreso than any other article of clothing, the money you put into your shoes will come back to you in longevity and comfort, and when we’re talking about your foot and back health, that’s worth an investment. If you hate shoe shopping, a really good-quality pair that goes with all your work clothes is all you need, and if you invest in that quality, you won’t have to go shoe shopping until those guys fall apart, which will take a lot longer than the $8 Old Navy ballet flats. I’m not telling you to skip those cheap ballet flats, but I am saying you get what you pay for, and they will wear out after a few months of regular use, which will bring you right back to the shoe store to spend more money and replace them. Do yourself a favor, if you can, and go for a higher-end brand of shoes, especially if you suffer from foot pain or have any medical issues that cause foot problems. You’ll be thanking yourself after a day of running errands when your feet don’t feel like they’re going to fall off.

Alright, here’s my last note on shoes for this week: If you have a medical condition that a doctor has diagnosed (this includes pregnancy), and the only shoes you can wear are non-work-approved, talk to your HR rep and get their sign-off to wear the shoes that accommodate your condition the best. It’s a small thing to allow, and most companies are perfectly okay with it. Don’t suffer for the dress code if you don’t have to, and definitely don’t ignore your doctor’s orders for the sake of the dress code. Not at all worth it when a company is legally required to work with you if you have a medical issue but can still do your job.

Happy shoe shopping, Fashion Fledglings! Next week we’ll talk about bags and purses, and how to go from college student to professional grownup just by getting a new bag.