I’ve got a tri-fecta work wardrobe dilemma these days:

1. My new workplace is extremely casual.  And honestly, that’s not something I’ve been exposed to super often the past 4-5 years at other various jobs.  Sure, there’s a general type of business casual (which may bring to mind things like khaki pants with nice shirts/blouses) but this place is casual on a whole other level.  Jeans and polo shirts or t-shirts are de riguere and flip flops or sandals are just fine in the summer.  Even shorts this time of year are OK as long as they’re not too short.  We’re all about loose-fitting, cargo style here for those who choose to rock the shorts (we mostly leave that to the guys).  And all of this, believe it or not, is just not the norm in most workplaces around here, even in the casual Pacific Northwest.  We’re far from the more urban vibe of our downtown city where you would likely see more people in suits and ties.  Ties are as rare as white tigers on our work campus – if I spot someone in one I joke that they are either going to an interview or a funeral.

2. I’m working hard to rebuild my savings after all these months unemployed so I’m reluctant to spend a whole lot on new clothes given that, plus the fact I’ve pudged up this past year (Stress?  Poor eating habits?).  This work assignment is slated to last a year and then could get immediately extended another year and so on, but anything can happen in the meantime and I’m just not sure – yet – if I will still be on board a year from now.  I’m looking forward to investing/putting down roots somewhere but as many of you might know it’s been quite a zig-zagged work journey since about 2006. 

3. It’s summer.  And whether I’m size 6 or size 14 I’ve always resisted dropping a lot of cash on summer clothes.  In the Seattle area it’s just not worth it because our summers are pretty short.  Fall and winter clothes are a different story.  Around here you can rock the gabardine slacks, cashmere sweaters, boots, clogs, scarves/shawls pretty much three seasons of the year.  Not to mention jackets:  leather jackets, trench coats, heavier pea coats for the winter and, my all-time favorite, camel hair coats.

So…what’s a girl to do?

J. Crew to the rescue!!

You know, looking back on it now it’s starting to make sense.  Remember a few months ago when I was all pissed off about a comment an interviewer made that I was “overdressed”??  That comment actually came from a different hiring manager at this same company I’m at now.  And now that I’ve been at said company nearly three months (in a different department from that other manager but in the same building if you can believe it), I’m starting to chug more Casual Koolaid and understand the large bubble of this large, well-known company I’m working at.  It’s very much its own world in tons of ways.  Dress code included.

My “overdressed” look for that interview that went nowhere was my typical interview uniform:  a grey Trina Turk light wool short-sleeved sheath dress that buttons up the back and is just above the knee, black Jimmy Choo pumps and very sheer pantyhose.  That look never failed me on countless interviews (well, up until that one time) and I could get dressed in two minutes.  Plus, a dress is a nice substitute for a suit; I tend to run a little warm in body temperature, so not having the extra layer of a blazer or suit jacket is perfect.

So, I admit, I now see how at this particular company that that outfit was too over the top, as understated as it is.  Le Sigh.  And if that was a deal-breaker for the hiring manager, well, I have no words.  But in the end it wasn’t meant to be.  I’m with a different group in that same building and really enjoy my team.  We’re all a little crazy and there’s a common thread of adrenaline junkie woven in between us.

Now, back to J. Crew!  I’ve sung their praises for years both in the catalogue and in the stores.  Classic with a stylish twist.  My only gripe is that everything is cut small, so I have to go up one size from my usual – not very much fun psychologically but in the end we wear our clothes, not the size numbers advertised outside, right?

And the outlet store up at the Premium Outlets – a short drive north of here – has some real gems.  Outlet shopping is very hit or miss but when it’s a hit it’s a HIT.   Case in point some black wool gabardine slacks I snatched up last year.  They’re cut with very flattering wider legs, fully lined and sit right on the hips – $140.  They’re very flowing and slimming and I probably wore them 2 or 3 times a week at previous jobs.

Come to think of it, I wore those slacks at my interview for the job I now have!

But now, they’re just too dressy around our team.  Plus the nice weather and all – well, summer’s been a tad schizo this year but in general it’s warm – makes them too warm.

So…thanks to the outlets plus clearance sales online I’ve picked up a few pieces that are my work mainstays right now:

Khakis!  I found a fun pair that are cargo-style with lots of pockets and zippers and with a drawstring tie at the waist.  And I even saw another woman on campus wearing this exact style too!  My other staple is a cropped pair (the Skimmer pant) which is menswear tailored but capri style.  These are a little dressier but look great with nice flats or high-wedged sandals.  So versatile!  And the fabric is cotton but has just a tiny bit of stretch which makes them even more comfortable.

As we get back into fall and crisper days I’ll be ready to bust out my corduroy pants…found a couple in winter white and a light charcoal grey that are perfect for work.

Shirts and tank tops!  How can you pass up $5 ribbed knit tanks at the outlet store?  I grabbed one in light purple and one in light sea green which are wonderful additions to those I already have in tan, black and white.  These are awesome for layering and I typically wear them under a chambray shirt, about halfway unbuttoned at the top so you can see the tank peeking through.  Chambray is a lightweight denim-looking fabric and it’s come and gone in and out of style over the years as I’ve noticed, but it seems to now be back “in” again so I’m happy to indulge.  The light blue color is very flattering for me with my skin tone.  I added a second chambray shirt in a much paler blue to my collection and recently discovered it has tabs inside the sleeves so you can roll them up and button about halfway up the arm!  So THAT’S what that funny thing was inside the sleeve!!

Denim.  Are you sitting down?  I have not worn a pair of jeans IN ABOUT ONE YEAR.  No joke!  Sounds absolutely insane, doesn’t it?  In fact, I’m surprised none of my co-workers have teased me about how they haven’t spotted me in jeans one single day at work.  And if they did I certainly wouldn’t take offense – we routinely take small jabs at eachother and have very healthy, resilient senses of humor.

So why haven’t I worn jeans in forever?  Back to part of the dilemmas I mentioned first off in this post – I can’t fit into the jeans I currently have (grrrr) AND I am a bit of a denim snob and haven’t wanted to spend a lot on the brands I like.  But given my weight gain I couldn’t fit into them likely anyway, even in the largest sizes.  Yuck.

I finally caved and bought some motivation – J.Crew denim on sale!  I found a pair of jeans in their Destroyed wash, which already has some rips in it and a worn-in look like you’ve had them for years.  I’ve seen this trend in a LOT of denim brands and I really, really like it!  But nothing beats a pair of crisp, dark denim jeans – which is pretty much my signature look in the fall/winter paired up with black high-heeled boots or clogs.  In the meantime, these jeans are calling for me to whittle down that pudge.  They fit fine in the hips/butt, BUT the waist and tummy area is another story.  This was the largest size they had in the ones on sale so time to get to work.  I also found a denim jacket and a denim vest too.  These will be fun to pair up with t-shirts or cashmere later into the season!

So while this corporate campus’ dress code is far from traditional “corporate,” I’m adapting and slowly getting used to it.  Admittedly it’s not how I like to dress for work but you can’t deny the fact it’s comfortable!

I keep true to my love of accessories (shoes, handbags, jewelry) to really personalize these looks to my style.  I’ve spent a lot on shoes and sandals over the years and thankfully have invested in styles that are fairly timeless and classic and (hopefully) add a twist of extra panache to my casual attire.  My Hogan flip flops are amazing and have a crocodile type strap with a gold ornamental loop that’s perfect with my J. Crew khakis (and shorts for home).  The grey Coach flip flops pretty much go with anything, and I really like my high-wedged Car Shoe sling backs (black patent leather uppers with a straw-like wedge heel).  Car Shoe is a sister line to Prada, actually.  I feel better when I’m in heels, not flats, actually as heels give me a longer-legged look (I was ‘blessed’ with super short legs, but that’s fodder for another post).  I keep the higher heels and wedges for days when I don’t have meetings in other buildings.  Heels slow me down when I’m dashing from building to building, laptop under my arm!

Jewelry!  I kinda feel naked now when I don’t have a bracelet of some sort on my right wrist and have a pretty eclectic collection.  Silpada is one of my favorite brands, however it’s a little on the pricey side (yet so worth it) so I am just enjoying what I have in the meantime.  Ummm, but I did splurge a couple months ago and picked up a J. Crew mixed bracelet (the pastiche, which is the picture up top except mine is silvery grey instead of gold). Isn’t it a wonderful cluster of pearls, chains and twisted strands of rhinestones?  It looks great and doesn’t get in the way being on a laptop at work.  A fun conversation piece!

I really like the trend of chunky, semi-precious stones or crystals in jewelry these days…things that are a little bold and brash, not trying to imitate “real” stones by any means.  And I really like pairing up stuff like that with casual looks – I see this a lot in J.Crew catalogues and it’s just fabulous. I also like stacking multiple bracelets or bangles too – love the statement effect!  When the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale came around I scored a fabulous set of hematite bangles in random patterns.  36 thin bracelets for $36!  The entire stack is about 6″ long or so, so I wear about a third of that when I go to work. 

What else do I do to stay true to my style?  I try to keep my hair and makeup simple, yet impeccable.  And I bring a handbag to work that makes me smile.  Kooba, Coach and Louis Vuitton are some of my favorite designers, and I’m proud of my handbag collection.  A collection which remains static for now as I rebuild savings.  Great accessories are great no matter what size we are, right?

That reminds me…I need to get at least one workout this weekend.  Because I’m really looking forward to being able to some day tuck in my shirts again.