Q. I should wear blazers to work, but I hate them. I feel like they make me look like a really tall 12-year-old dressed up as an adult. Any ideas for alternatives?
A. You know what? I totally know what you mean. Not about blazers, exactly – like I said, I’ve gone through phases where I’ve worn them with literally everything in my closet – but definitely about the “feeling like a kid dressed up as an adult” thing.
I used to have a job – managing a law firm – for which I was theoretically supposed to dress…you know…like a grownup. I didn’t often succeed in this goal mostly because I was pretty miserable at the time, and one of the ways that my general dissatisfaction with how things were going came out was through a total refusal to behave like an adult and dress in accordance with the job I was being paid to perform…but sure, there were times when I had a meeting, or a trip to court, or whatever, and decided that it would behoove me to pull together a traditionally professional(ish) look.
When those times rolled around, I generally reached for a black Banana Republic blazer and skirt set that I had bought years ago when auditioning for the part of a lawyer, but even though the suit was actually really lovely, whenever I wore it I felt…off. Against the backdrop of that suit my hair looked messy, my makeup seemed all wrong, and my shoes suddenly felt scuffy and ridiculous. Without fail, by the end of the day I’d be tugging at the waistband, pulling my hair into a bun, and swapping out the blazer for my go-to grey sweater.
I felt, like you said, like a little kid dressed up in my mom’s clothing. Like I was auditioning for a part…and that I wasn’t likely to get cast.
Whenever I write about workplace attire, I try to make the point that while you need to respect your job and the corporate culture first and foremost, it’s still important to find little ways to keep yourself feeling like you, so that you feel comfortable in your skin. Confident. Because when it comes to fashion, there is no one-size-fits-all: it’s all about finding the fabrics and the silhouettes that you feel great in, and then tailoring them to suit the requirements of your individual situation.
Even though my job now rarely requires anything dressier than jeans without holes in them, there are times when I need to step it up a bit…but I’ve learned that a traditional suit is rarely what’s going to do the trick, just because it makes me feel hopelessly not-like-myself and awkward. What I’ve found is that the best approach for me (although, like I said, it’s all about what feels right to you and what works for your job) is to choose slightly more relaxed, non-traditional approaches to traditional pieces.
Blazers, for example, don’t have to be black, boxy, or boring: there are so many interesting styles out right now that I’m sure you’ll find something that feels more “you”. I particularly love shawl-collar blazers and ones with long, skinny lapels because they have the easygoing appeal of a great cardigan, and can work with everything from pencil skirts to tailored slacks to your most comfortable pair of jeans on the weekends. If your workplace permits it, try playing around with pattern and texture (although I’d leave the leather-sleeved styles, gorgeous though they are, for Saturdays and Sundays).
If you’re really not into blazers at all, though, you can get a similarly pulled-together effect by topping a shell or collared button-down with a cardigan and a skinny belt (I love the idea of pairing either of the slightly retro styles above – J. Crew on the left and Tory Burch on the right – with a slim-fitting grey skirt).