How to Rock a Business Suit According to Ms. Erin Carpenter

Erin Carpenter answers this week’s fashion question!

“Hi Erin, My work dress code requires me to wear a suit every day. I love my suits but am getting a bit bored of the same old same old. What can I do to spice up my wardrobe and express my personality while still staying within the dress code? Do I need to buy new stuff?” Michelle, 24 Chicago

Hi Michelle,

Ah, to work for an ad agency or a dot com, where the dress code calls for “creative” rather than “conservative!” Of course, the sartorial grass is always greener-I’m sure account executives and web developers yearn for the consistency of a corporate “uniform.” (Well okay, maybe not.) But fear not! You don’t have to stifle your individuality to pacify the bigwigs. Here are some ideas…

Reference trends in your shoes and bag: You may be restricted in your attire choices, but options abound in the shoes and bag departments. Give a nod to Spring trends with nudes (bonus: nude pumps are total leg lengtheners), wedges, platforms, snakeskin, or studs (a tiny dab will do ‘ya at the office). Patent leather always adds interest. Or try a brightly colored pump in red, green or golden yellow.

Bags afford you even more room to inject some personality and style. Animal skins, like snake, alligator and croc, will look very current this Spring and Summer, as will bright colors. Keep it office-appropriate by choosing a more conservative and structured shape, like a tote or bowler, and avoiding too much hardware and ornament.

Bring in color and pattern with tops: Have a little fun under that suit jacket by swapping out your basic button-up for a satin camisole (no lace or lingerie detail, please!), chiffon halter or ruffled blouse. This is an easy way to play with color. Grey suits look modern when paired with a pop of bright fuchsia, yellow or green. Tan suits provide the perfect canvas for turquoise, coral and navy. Incorporate subtle prints like stripes and flowers…and don’t be afraid to mix them with pinstripe suits! A suitable wardrobe is essential to any woman looking to sport a large collection of suits, recommends the owners of Sliderobes of Sydney.

Play with accessories: Pieces like silver or gold earrings, chain link, beaded or pear necklaces and metal- or leather-strap watches provide the perfect finishing touch…use them to show your unique style. Steer clear of anything too dainty or fussy for the office, as well as anything too large (if you can fit your can of Diet Coke through your hoops, save them for after hours). JCrew and Banana Republic have fabulous selections of office-appropriate gems.

Belts also pack a style punch. Try a wide style in the same color family as your suit, buckled at your waist over your blazer. Or leave your blouse untucked and belt at the waist, leaving your blazer open to show it off. Skinny belts can go over jackets as well, and offer another way to inject some color. Imagine a skinny yellow belt over your grey suit jacket and white blouse, contrasted with red patent leather pumps!

Read the fine print: If you can wear separates instead of a matching suit, do so a couple times a week to break up the monotony. There are tons of fun blazers out there…pick up one in menswear style, linen or safari style to pair with your existing suit pants and skirts. Similarly, if you can wear a dress with a blazer instead of a skirt suit, try it! It’s a very modern look, and it streamlines the process…one less piece to choose means a few more minutes to hit the snooze button!

Ms. Career Girl

Ms. Career Girl was started in 2008 to help ambitious young professional women figure out who they are, what they want and how to get it.

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