Mastering the Art of Casual Chic

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i’d hire these floral beauties. would you?

An article in this month’s fabulous Marie Claire @ Work (their glam new professionista insert which is a welcome freebie to this recently transplanted, former work-from-homer with a new corporate job) struck my fancy. The Problem with Casual Fridays carefully unfolds the pro’s and con’s of the concept, something that is rampant in offices from coast to coast, whether officially or by chance.

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if you have glasses, WEAR them at work. it can’t hurt!

It seems we spend much of the day on Friday day dreaming about tonight’s margaritas and tomorrow’s mimosas, longing to feel the sunshine that’s just beyond our grasp, outside the professional grade window. Along with a chill internal vibe, many of us lean toward more relaxed outfit planning for Fridays. And while this can go very well (dark denim, trend-right top, comfortable wedges), it can also go very poorly (ripped jeans, revealing top, scary flats).

The article asserts that while “casual” dressing may be encouraged on some (or in my case, all) days, there is a line and it’s important not to cross it. Also, dressing in a sharp manner at all times will still make you likelier to get that big promotion, or at least prove to your boss and the higher-ups within your company that you mean business. This is not to say you can’t have fun with fashion. But it’s all about balance.

So, how do we toe the line? And, um, what happens if you, like your friend here, work in an office that has a casual dress code all of the time? Gone are the days where my aching feet wept silent tears as I forced them into three-inch, pointed toe stilettos and began my trek by foot and subway from 103rd street to the Lower East Side. And here to stay are the days when I look in the mirror, knowing my proposed outfit of stirrup leggings, embroidered tunic and Ferragamo flats would be perfectly acceptable… but I just can’t wear it. I just can’t. Be. Sloppy. At. Work.

Thank you, Marie Claire @ Work for giving us some rules– flats are mostly not okay, but instead consider a kitten heel. Jeans can be done in dark, fitted *but not tight* varieties, but heels are really a must then. Bold colors are best on Fridays. Ditto whacky patterns. And spaghetti straps? No. Just, no.

I would hereby like to lengthen the list for those of us who work in perpetually casual environments. You can be comfortable, trendy and cute all at once. And the bottom line? When in doubt, wear a dress.

A maxi and a cardi
This combination will have you feeling pajama-comfy but will allow you to walk into any meeting feeling confident. If you’re going for a jersey knit, keep the pattern simple and chic. I really like silkier fabrics in a maxi, as they dress it up a little while keeping that same comfortable factor. Pair with a fitted cardigan or cropped blazer and work-appropriate slip-ons. A statement necklace or armful of gold bangles won’t hurt here.

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this maxi remains polished despite its sweeping length. a white cardigan and these exact shoes make it office-perfect. Cynthia Steffe, bloomingdales.com, $278

A color-blocked Oxford shirt and happy jeans
For the truly casual office, you can have a ton of fun with color while sticking to traditional cuts and styles. A two-tone Oxford shirt is professional yet cool, and these peach skinny jeans add humor. In lieu of her rope bracelets, though, I’d go with a gold-tone watch. And on the feet? Brogues or kitten heels, for sure. No flats with these pants!

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BDG printed button-down, urbanoutfitters.com, on sale for $29

Short dress and low heels (or vaguely masculine shoes)
Yes, as temperatures climb, so do hemlines. It’s okay to wear a shorter dress (be classy, here, ladies) at the office. The key is making sure you still look professional. A short dress that you would wear to the beach is likely not a great option for the office. (Except in a case like this, which I wrote about last week). But if you stick to classic prints like nautical stripes, shirt dresses, polka dots, or understated florals, you’ll be in great shape. Lace can work too, as long as it is paired with the right accessories. I like to add a chunky belt, dramatic earrings, etc. Hairbows are wrong with flirty dresses. It’s too little girlish, and not womanly enough for an office environment.

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this works because her gladiator-style low boots are subtle and funky. i would definitely throw a blazer over this though. and for happy hour, the back of the dress has a pretty openwork design you’ll love. needsupplyco.com, $88

Peplum top and cropped jeans with platforms
Okay, so to go ahead and break MC’s denim rule, I think a slightly faded jean can work. But the pairings have to be impeccable. In this case, she is wearing a sharp, white peplum top with a necklace-inspired yoke, and sky-high heels. Her cuffed jeans work, despite their lighter wash. Make sure if you go this root that your heels are incredibly high (but that you can walk in them) and that your accessories are chic and contemporary. And, ladies, definitely save this one for Friday.

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rag + bone jeans, $242; giuseppe zanotti platform wedges, $850; DKNY top, $89; all, bloomingdales.com

Dots of the Season

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Everyone loves a good polka dot, right? It’s just one of those timeless things that continues to work as we shift from season to season, year to year. On headbands and shorts, mini-dresses and jeans, high heels and bikinis… and beyond. Whether you go for a classic black-and-white or a more unexpected play of colors, a dot makes you feel so good.

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this 1920′s cocktail dress is fabulously dotted

As a child I started out the spring season with a good dress from each of my grandmothers. My Nana (Dad’s mom) usually designed and sewed these dresses herself or purchased them at Lord & Taylor. My Gaga (Mom’s mom) was no seamstress, but she did have a Saks problem, from which I benefitted quite a bit. These days, I’ve started that tradition with a few special little girls in our lives, one of whom is Josh’s cousin’s daughter, 1 1/2-year-old Harper.

This year, Harper’s spring dress was a divine dotted number from Jason Wu for the Neiman Marcus/Target collaboration. A rich, taupe silken fabric with cheerful white polka dots and a big bow at the back, I was in love with this dress instantly and decided that Harper needed it. I’ve been informed that little Harper already loves dots, and likes to point out each one when she is wearing them: “dot. dot. dot…” My point (at which I am taking entirely too long to arrive) is that dots work on every woman and girl, of every age, for any reason at all.

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is this not the cutest thing you’ve ever seen?

If you want to freshen things up for spring, consider a polka dot. I have some extremely cute black-and-white polka dot shorts I got last summer on clearance at Target. And on the other hand, my very first pair of important shoes (that thankfully still fit even though I got them fourteen years ago in my freshman year of high school!) are pale pink Moschino pumps with tiny, navy polka dots all over. Go high-low here, girls. When it’s a dot, it will (almost) always work.

nina ricci side ruched cocktail dress, $3,290, neiman marcus.

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blue and white polka dotted sundress, on sale for $29, urban outfitters

(Momentary) Man Repeller

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do you LOVE it??

I was a total man repeller on Tuesday. No, don’t give me too much credit. This is not my term. The brilliant concept started here and is now a phenomenon. In short, it’s a style of dressing and makeup-ing oneself in a method that follows important trends, fashion-forward thinking, avant-garde practices, and other aesthetics that men find inherently unsexy. But we ladies know it’s fabulous. And our gays generally back us up.

Case in point: last Friday I found myself with a fresh paycheck in my account and twenty minutes to spare before meeting Josh at Whole Foods for a riveting hour of low-calorie, gluten-free, certified-organic shopping. Snawn. (That is my term. It’s a snore-yawn.)

Luckily for this housewife-in-training, there is a Bloomingdales outlet adjacent to our favorite Whole Foods. So, on a lie related to the wedding “I’m browsing for shoe inspiration!,” I wandered in and directly over to the clearance aisle.

Now, I will preface this next bit by admitting that I am not on the maxi train. I know y’all have been aboard for the past several seasons, and I will wave to you gladly as you roll on by in all your floor-sweeping glory. But they generally are just not for me. I’ve purchased three, and of those three I’ve returned one and given another away. The third hangs anxiously in my closet awaiting its big moment. This moment will likely never come.

But I did see a compelling item in the maxi vein on that fated clearance rack last Friday. It was a long (ankle-sweeping), black chiffon skirt with a red all-over splatter pattern and cinched grosgrain waist. It was also in the desirable size I’ve been hoping to find my way back to for the past several months. Two full sizes below the items that didn’t button at Christmas, I might add.

Off I scurried to the dressing room. It fit! And, um, it kind of looked fabulous. It had pockets! And two subtle pleats on each side. Oooh, I crooned internally. This is chic. But Josh will hate it.

Price check? Original $235 tag intact. Scans in at? 43 bucks, baby. SOLD, to the maxi-hating man repeller in the front row.

Tuesday was a blissful weather day, hovering in the high 70s without a drop of humidity. I shaved the bottom four inches of my legs (hey, why exert yourself when it isn’t necessary?) and donned my fabulous skirt with a cropped Sonia Rykiel long-sleeved wrap tee and my black velvet Tory Burch smoking mocs. Damn, did I look good.

I awoke Josh for my morning once-over. (Please note: there are no women except for me living in this house, and the animals are unreliable. He’s all I’ve got!)

With one eye open, the always-kind Josh whose outfit responses always range from “chic” to “sexy” to at least “you look great,” made a face.

“You look like a nun.”

My response? A shrug, a smile, and a quick photo text to my brother. Who approved with high marks. So, maybe I repelled the most important man on Tuesday, but damn did I feel fly stepping out of my own comfort zone and into something new. Josh knows I’ll always come back to my booty-loving skinnies and those mini skirts he so adores.

The moral? Dig through that clearance rack, girls. And don’t be afraid to break your man’s rules from time to time… at least, when it comes to fashion.

Oh and also? I still kind of hate maxis. But if your newly skinny ankles are showing and you just feel fabulous, I suggest you go for it whether the trend is “you” or not.

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another gem from ADAM, the brand of my major steal skirt.

Springspiration…

The weather has been allergy- (and frustration-) inducing. It’s warm one day and cool the next; if you wear pants and a light jacket you’re sweating in the sun but if you opt for bare legs and a cardigan, you’re a shivering mess. So, how to make the transition work so you can stay warm-ish and still look springy? Here are some ideas:

Dark tights and a floral dress:

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A floral dress (especially one with a black background) looks great for spring when paired with black, navy, or dark gray tights. Add cute little lace-ups like these and a small mix-hued bag to keep the look cool and understated.

Break out your neon jeans… warmly.

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We're all dying to throw on our neon jeans with a little white or navy tee and some open-toed platforms, but hold on there, sister. Keep it appropriate for the likely cool breezes with a warm, slouchy knit top and the addition of a scarf and boots. Keep your accessories and top in a neutral palette so as not to take away from your cool pants. 

Shorts and tights and silk, oh my!

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The shorts-and-tights look is totally working for me. Make sure you're covered head to toe with a long-sleeved blouse and cool booties, and you won't feel cold at all in a cute little outfit like this.