Old Navy striped dress; Joseph Seibel Sandra 10 boots
Dress, Old Navy; belt, J. Crew; scarf, Winners; boots, Joseph Seibel; coat, Calvin Klein; bag, MbMJ (via eBay)

Could it be? I was crazy about stripes this past summer, but I’ve hardly worn them recently. Take this Old Navy dress for example. On paper, it’s perfect. Good weight cotton-spandex blend, 3/4 sleeves, stripes. I should be reaching for it all the time, and I’m not. I made myself wear it last weekend, and I still couldn’t get excited about it. I guess I’m just not feeling stripes at the moment.

I’m actually in the middle of an unplanned closet purge. Like most people, I usually give my closet the once-over twice a year (at the end of summer and winter), but I’m feeling trigger happyΒ right now for some reason, so I’ve been culling right and left. Anything that doesn’t fit well, or is less than good quality, or feels too immature, is getting the boot. Most of the purge is happening in my work wardrobe, and I don’t think that’s coincidental; I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my career trajectory, past and future, and it has made me more conscious of the role my clothes play in my professional image (persona?). As much as fun, feminine prints and colours are a part of my style identity, I’m starting to feel like I need to be more mindful of how I present myself at work. And, yet, I’m torn. I spend so much of my time at work, and the thought of wearing a wardrobe full of neutrals, day in and day out, feels stifling. That sounds silly, I know. On the other hand, as a woman (and mother) in a male-dominated, client-oriented field, it’s important that I put my best foot forward at all times. My love of florals may have to take a back seat.

Have you ever thought about how the way you dress may be helping, or hindering, your career goals? Are your style and professional identity in sync, or at odds? And if it’s the latter case, how do you find a comfortable compromise?

22 Comments on Stripes Ennui

  1. You are the best fashion blogger I read. Most of the other bloggers believe in shopping constantly for something new. I know they are paid to keep pushing new merchandise. You shop your closet, a feature I love. You know how to mix and match to create new outfits from what you already own.

    • Thank you so much, Sandra! That is a lovely compliment, and I’m very happy to hear that you’re enjoying the blog. I hope you’ll keep reading πŸ™‚

  2. Always a concern for me since I work in a male dominated field. My clothes are fairly conservative – any patterned jackets are usually black & white – no floral prints. Or if I am going for color – usually in the blazer and a solid – and I stick to richer colors – not pastels. My real focus though is on shoes, handbags and a bold piece of jewelry (not all three). My leopard print pointed toe boots gets lots of comments from men & women and you can actually see men re-evaluating you – in a positive way actually – that you can carry that off. But never more than 2 noteworthy things – colored jacket and jewelry or shoes and bag (not matching – coordinated). I spend most of my time with lawyers, investment bankers, and c-suite folks to give you a sense of the audience.
    BTW – love love love your shoes and bag! Clothes and accessories are adorable too – I just couldn’t pull most of them off.

    • Thank you! I work in a similar environment to yours, and I definitely agree with your approach … although I have been known to break those rules from time to time in the past. But that is the direction in which I’m trying to get myself to go (somewhat unwillingly, I must admit) – I just need to make peace with the fact that I’m not a 24-year old new graduate anymore.

  3. I try to live by the philosophy: Dress for the job you want. I do sometimes have an overwhelming desire to wear jeans to work, so I don’t always follow that philosophy. But most the time I do. I definitely think that how you dress is really important to your career – it really makes an impression on people. You also never know who you might run into to work, so always dress to impress. I don’t think that means you have to “wear neutrals” and “feel stifled”. I am often impressed with fashion forward business attire.

    • It’s funny, I’m writing a post right now about “dressing for the job you want”. I have issues with that phrase, but I’ll save that for another post πŸ˜‰
      I think it all varies with the field of work. In some fields, being fashion forward is certainly not a bad thing (or even a good thing). In other fields, not so much. In depends on what image you have to project, and who your audience is and what THEIR perceptions are.

  4. I don’t worry too much about how I dress at work, because honestly, everyone else is usually in jeans, so a floral dress is more professional looking. I am more aware of it if I have an important meeting with my bosses or if I’m in person with clients. And then I panic and go buy a new suit.

    • It’s very situational, I know. It’s just that I happen to work in a profession that tends to be on the conservative side. In some ways, that works out (I like to dress “up”), but in other ways not so much (my style is probably less conservative than it should be).

  5. While I agree that some discretion is needed in dressing for work, I also think there is something to the idea of expressing your unique point of view through your clothing too. Chances are high that the kind of person who would think less of you for wearing a work appropriate floral already thought less of you because you’re female in a male dominated environment anyway. So why make your wardrobe less expressive for them? I think that an interesting and expressive wardrobe (within reason, of course) helps to express your character, which I believe can set you apart in a good way. So my vote is to keep the sass in the work wardrobe!

    • Completely agree, Loretta. My major rule for work dresing, especially as I am getting a bit older (and wiser?!), is to make sure that dress/skirt lengths are appropriate.

    • You bring up an excellent point, Loretta. As a woman in a male-dominated profession, I may already have certain obstacles to overcome, and it would suck if my style were to become another one. Until recently, I’ve been all about “expressing myself” (within the limits of the dress code), but now I’m really questioning whether I need to re-visit that stance. I’m very serious about my career goals, and I need my clothes to reflect that too … as silly as it may sound to talk that way about clothes (they’re just clothes!).

      • True – there is something to the idea of conveying some gravitas through your wardrobe. I definitely made a point of dressing to express the characteristics that I wanted to shine a light on, within the bounds of my personal style, also. As an example, if I was working with a client that I wanted to think of me as being particularly creative, I would pile on extra accessories and/or a colourful scarf or something. With you on the hemline dilemma though…why can’t a cute printed skirt be knee length already?!?! Best I could usually do was the brightly coloured pencils at JCrew. πŸ™‚

      • The fact that an organization has a dress code (and many still do) means that your clothing choices are being watched/judged. Much worse for women then for men because of a lack of a standard “uniform” (men’s suits). The higher up you move the less they want you to “express yourself unfortunately.

  6. First, I have to say I love the stripes paired with turquoise.
    Second, I almost have the opposite problem. I work in a very casual lab, but I love to dress up. So I have to find some compromise, like wear heels and nice tops with jeans or wear dresses or shirts I can move in. If I wear a pencil skirt I get comments, so I have to be careful non to be too dressy- or just decide I’ll ignore the comments. But it’s actually nice to be a bit dressed up when an improptu meeting with suppliers/clients comes up, or when suddenly bumpimg into the CEO.
    I think you could incorporate more neutrals into your wardrobe keeping one or two elements that are more “you”.

    • Thanks! I think that’s the approach I’ll be starting with. There is no way I can jump into an “all neutrals” wardrobe overnight. And I may not have to. I think another commenter (SAK) had the best compromise: one or two noteworthy pieces, anchored by neutral, classic, simple pieces. I just have to find a way to rein in my magpie instincts πŸ˜‰

  7. I’m a lobbyist, which is a super male-heavy field, and as much as I also love florals, I try to either only wear very professionally cut floral pieces or go with bold colors/prints instead of florals. I keep my accessories dull: black, tan, or grey cardigan, black or tan shoes, black bag. I work in a state with a non full-time legislature, so I can probably get away with more than I would otherwise be able to.

    • I can imagine that image would be very important in your field, but it sounds like you found a balance that works for you. That’s what I’m trying to figure out …

  8. When I moved to Edmonton for my first “big-girl” job, I actually dyed my (naturally) blonde hair dark, because I was worried that people wouldn’t take me seriously. People who knew me already often asked if I was sick because I looked so pasty – I think there is a special place in hell for whoever invented the stereotype of the “dumb blonde”!

    • Gah, I can’t imagine how annoying the blonde stereotypes must be. Anyway, you’re a Hitchcockian blonde, not a Baywatch one – anyone can see that!

  9. Like apparently many of the other commenters, I am a fairly young woman in a conservative/male-dominated profession (law). I am very torn on the idea of dressing more neutral/conservatively to present a certain image in order to advance. I don’t think I’m able to articulate this well (I’m also typing on a phone so excuse typos), but I feel very strongly that the “establishment” so to speak needs to get used to leaders who look different than they are used to, and that includes clothing. It seems to me that the prevalence of conservative/neutral clothing in boardrooms is directly tied to the fact that there historically have not been very many women in those environments, so maybe we need to challenge those notions. Maybe the people in power need to get used to women, and therefor more varied clothing, in positions of power, rather than us changing our looks to suit them. That said, it’s hard to be first one to push the boundaries. I’ve been told by men in my office that I “look 10 years old” when wearing bright prints (thankfully I am leaving this particular job!) which doesn’t exactly encourage me. Tough topic!

    In other news, this is my first comment since I found you recently through Fran and I really love your blog! Love, love, love seeing other strong women in action.

    • I work in the same field, and so I completely understand that dilemma. I’d rather be successful (within the existing system) than prove a point – or fight the vanguard for change – but at some point that will mean hitting the glass ceiling that’s still inherent in the current system. Further food for thought: I’d rather stand my ground on other issues, not clothes or appearance. Clothes are just clothes, at the end of the day.

      Anyway, thanks for commenting πŸ™‚ I’ll be doing more navel-gazing on this in a post tomorrow, but then it will be back to (style) business, I promise!