BY LINDA BAKER
It’s all too easy to fall into a fashion rut at work. As the autumn season kicks into high gear, we talked to a few stylists about how to stay on trend while not looking inappropriate or overly casual in the office.
Loosen up. Conservative fashion rules have gone by the wayside, according to Stacey Atkins, personal stylist manager for Nordstrom in downtown Portland. Women wearing hosiery or men in a three-piece suit — “these are no longer requirements in even the most conservative industries,” Atkins says. A female attorney who in the past might have worn a gray pinstripe skirt-suit now looks equally professional in a colorful jacket, blazer or tailored cardigan, observes Gina Crowder, a Portland-based personal stylist. Add to that a knee-length skirt or a pair of pants, “a beautiful silk underpinning and gold or silver hoop earrings.” The result is stylish and approachable yet suitably businesslike, Crowder says.
Update the code. Many dress codes were established years ago and are no longer compatible with current fashion trends. “People are unhappy and they want the codes revised,” says Crowder, who works with companies across sectors to do just that. There is no single solution. “Each company has different needs and goals,” Crowder observes. “The organization must understand who their audience is and what the dress concerns and goals are. Then they need help creating the look.”
Avoid the faux pas. Atkins frowns on men’s jackets that are oversize or improperly tailored. For women, she says, many of today’s trends skew casual — oversize sweaters and track pants. So depending on the office environment, women professionals should add in an element that helps to elevate the look. “It could be something as simple as a killer shoe or a more traditional pencil skirt,” she says. Never forget your audience, adds Crowder. “If you are a public speaker, the first thing you want them to look at is your face. “You don’t want the audience to get stuck on your cleavage or clothing that is inappropriately sheer.”
The must-haves. Layering is all the rage. Atkins and Crowder are especially fond of jackets over dresses. “You can get a lot of mileage out of a very supple, very fitted — but not tight — jacket over a dress,” Crowder says. Atkins singles out the importance of “the third piece,” either a cardigan or jacket in a rich color and/or tweed, or even a leather detail. “It’s the outfit completer and the piece that everyone sees. A jacket can take you from day to night and, in our climate, is a layering necessity.”
Ignore the weather. Unlike their counterparts in Seattle and San Francisco, Portland professionals still put function first, fashion second. A case in point is many women still wear booties rather than stilettos in the rain, Atkins says. “They own the stiletto and have it in their suitcase when they travel. But they’ll wear the bootie at home.” Accessibility is another Stumptown challenge. “The bigger West Coast cities have a lot more availability when it comes to purchasing high-fashion clothing,” says Crowder. But if Oregon has sartorial limitations, the times are changing. Says Crowder: “Women are asking to update their look and become more fashion forward.”