Ask the Grumpies: Work clothing?

Leah asks:

Do you have to dress up for work? When you do, have you found any brands/stores with a good balance of comfortable and work-appropriate? I am a fan of the dressed up look that doesn’t require any pain.

#1 has to wear business or business casual and gets most of her clothing at the Loft outlet.  Loft is way less fussy and more washable than the standard Ann Taylor.  In the summer she goes much lower scale business casual, but it’s still nice fitted short sleeve shirts rather than what she wears on weekends (which is mostly unisex protest t-shirts or DH’s old t-shirts that are too ratty to wear outside but are really comfy for sleeping and lounging around the house in).

#2 I dress from business casual down to “not actually my pajamas.” I have no brand suggestions, I wish that I did. Sometimes Ann Taylor/ LOFT does me well, but it depends on the season. The pants are fairly reliable for me but I haven’t tried the dresses. They last pretty well (the pants).

#1 always gets really really depressed trying on Ann Taylor pants because they were not made for her, uh, womanly figure.  Some Loft pants are ok.

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36 Responses to “Ask the Grumpies: Work clothing?”

  1. pyrope Says:

    I shop a lot at Macy’s – in part because I can order a bunch of stuff online, get free delivery, and then return everything I don’t like whenever it’s convenient for me (sometimes 6 months later, they probably hate me). I am also of the curvy variety, and really like Alfani’s palazzo pants line…elastic waist and comfy without looking like pajamas.

  2. Mimi Says:

    I second Loft – outlets or end of the seasons sales. I also sometimes use stitchfix, which I like but is expensive, and like Lands End for basics (button downs, pants, etc). I also buy cute tops at Target sometimes.

  3. Katherine Says:

    I wear business casual. A lot of my colleagues wear jeans, but since I’m the youngest female faculty member at my SLAC and I’m regularly mistaken for an undergrad, I feel like I need to dress up a little in order to have any sort of authority.

    Most of my work clothes were bought on ThredUp. I have 3 pairs of Banana Republic 95% wool 5% spandex pants that I wear almost all the time. They fit me well and they’re really comfortable. I love them. I don’t have a go-to brand for shirts yet – I have a couple J. Crew shirts that I like but don’t totally love, and a couple Express button-downs that I wore for mock trial in college that I don’t really love, either. I also have several button-downs that were hand-me-downs from my SIL who has a very different body type than I do. I wear those because I don’t have other good options, but I always wear a sweater over them to hide the fact that they really don’t fit.

  4. Shannon Says:

    I second the Banana Republic pants recommendation. I have several. I also have a few pairs of Betabrand work yoga pants. They’re pretty heavenly.

  5. Linda Says:

    I’m going to follow this thread closely for ideas. I had to buy new work clothes recently to fit my newly increased body size (ugh!!) and it has been a PITA. I’ve been to two outlet malls and it was a frustrating experience. At LOFT I picked up two cute flowy, sleeveless blouses and a sweater that looked decent on me. None of their dresses or items for the lower half of my body worked. I ended up getting two pairs of pants from Chico’s, but they aren’t ideal. They look OK and are easy to get on and off, but I hate how they aren’t really cut for curvy women and so the waistband rides high in the front and low in the back.

    At the second outlet mall I tried on stuff at an Ann Taylor. I found some pants that actually could work, but I didn’t buy them because they would have needed hemming and I don’t have time for that. The blouses I tried at Ann Taylor didn’t fit as nicely as the ones from LOFT, and the skirt and jacket I tried didn’t fit at all. I never even tried anything on at Banana Republic because they apparently don’t carry my size. (I checked two different stores and neither had anything over a 14.)

    My other successful purchases were at the Talbot’s outlet store (a decent cap sleeve dress and sweater to top it) and Amazon. I actually got a great dress from Amazon for a decent price. This weekend I have to shop for some shaping garments and hose. I should be able to get that a local Kohl’s.

    I was really frustrating that I couldn’t find a simple, black skirt. Several stores had pull-on skirts that looked pretty comfy but they were all printed. I really hate to shop. I wish I could wear my leggings and yoga pants every day.

    • Leah Says:

      I got several great pairs of pants from CJ Banks (or Christopher & Banks? I forget which is which), I believe. I’m on the curvy side but not plus size, so Lane Bryant doesn’t work for me (too big), but I am too big for many trendy stores.

  6. Tulip Says:

    I like Northstyle. It is a mail order brand, but I find that their size charts are accurate. I also buy a lot of things from zulily, but they don’t always take returns, so be careful.

  7. Taylor Lee @ Yuppie Millennial Says:

    I wear business casual at work. Most of my clothes are secondhand from Poshmark. My baseline is silk shirts from Everlane and Equipment (protip: silk can very much be washed in a laundry machine, despite what dry cleaners tell you) and slacks from Express/BR. Supplemented with some nicer pieces from Brooks Brothers and Theory too.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Wait, silk in the washing machine? My brain!

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        … I do that… hand wash cycle

      • Linda Says:

        As a knitter, I learned that you can put more things in the washing machine than you may realize. Wool, silk, angora, alpaca, cashmere, and even things like tencel can often be “hand washed” with the aid of a washing machine, even if you don’t have a hand wash cycle. It’s super easy if you have a top loading machine. Fill it with water and soap (I use a good quality wool wash even for non-wool items, NOT Woolite), turn the power off, and then place your items in the tub. Let them gently sink into the water, or go ahead and poke them down and let them soak. Squeeze some soapy water in them, or not; they’ll still get clean just from a 10 minute soak. Start the Spin cycle. If you’re working with wool or an animal fiber that can felt, be careful to not start the Rinse cycle because you don’t want water pouring over the clothes, especially if it is a different temperature than the wash water. (All that is required for felting are abrupt changes in temperature and friction.) Spin out the soapy water. Remove (wool or animal fiber) items. Fill tub with plain, rinse water. Repeat steps above. Clothes are cleaned and it is easier than true hand washing. With a front loader you usually have to do the soaking in a separate tub or bucket, but the Spin cycle can be used to remove most of the water, which means the items will dry more quickly when hung or laid flat to dry.

  8. chacha1 Says:

    I have been wearing Lucy Everyday pants to work (paralegal in law office) almost every day for roughly fifteen years. They are starting to show their age and I’m not sure what I will do … Boston Proper has “travel pants” that *look* ideal but I have not pulled the trigger on ordering a sample pair.

    Tops vary, used to be a rotation of Express Essential shirts but they don’t fit my over-50 shape as well (same size, slightly different shape, thanks gravity). Have gone to nearly all knit shirts, short or 3/4 sleeve. Usually have a cardigan or light jacket on since the building “fixed” my AC and now it is consistently too cold in my office.

    I hate shopping, but mostly because so much of what’s out there is just Ugh. I may have a boring office job and I may be over 50 but that does not mean old-lady schmatte is good enough. And about colors? It seems like the main options are: pastel pink & blue; white; primary red & blue; hideous prints.

    Mostly I shop at Macy’s for convenience & ease, the Inc. line is pretty reliable as is Alfani, but there is a lot of variation in cut and fit. Am going to take a look at Betabrand and Northstyle. :-)

  9. Cloud Says:

    I recently gave in and let a personal shopper at Nordstroms help me. I ended up with a lot of Nic+Zoe things. I find that affirming in a way, because I already knew I liked that brand. Nordstroms personal shoppers are free, but you’ll probably spend more than you meant to on clothes.

    I also can recommend Leota dresses. I have one, and despite it being a crossover style (a style that is flattering on my figure but often doesn’t work due to not fitting my boobs), the one I ordered based on their size chart fits perfectly. It is really comfy, too. Only negative: no pockets. BOO.

    Eddie Bauer is my go to source of polo shirts, which work well for “just onsite at a client, not doing anything special) in my particular industry. I like that they have 3/4 sleeves options as well as short sleeves. (3/4 sleeves are perfect for San Diego weather roughly 80% of the year.)

    If you need some really business-y clothes and don’t mind spending for them, I find the Corprette blog helpful: http://corporette.com/

    I’ll be coming back later to read everyone else’s suggestions, too!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Your suggestions are relevant to my interests…. (#2 here)

    • jjiraffe Says:

      I also have used a personal shopper at Nordstrom. A lot of the items I bought on that outing are in heavy rotation: mostly a blazer from Michael Kors and two pairs of Sanctuary pants (they feel like fancy yoga pants, wear well, can be washed, and look great). I tend to buy my blouses at Target – Who, What, Wear has some really cute tops at great price points. I also like Anthropologie for blazers, jewelry and work-appropriate sweaters.

  10. CG Says:

    After realizing over time that I don’t like dress pants, button downs, or blazers, I now pretty much wear dresses to work every day and am so much more comfortable. I’ve found that Boden dresses are really flattering for me (I have a pretty average body in every respect), are washable, most have pockets, and can often be found on ebay for a lot less than retail. They also hold up very well over time. I also have one pair of stretchy ponte black pants from Garnet Hill that are as comfortable as yoga pants, so I will wear those with a sweater sometimes as well.

    • Dame Eleanor Hull Says:

      Another dress wearer! Hail! I like e-shakti for washable dresses with pockets. Sometimes Lands End has good ones but often they’re either too expensive for what you’re getting, or pocketless. I have a terrible time finding dressy trousers that fit and have pockets so if I wear pants it’s usually jeans, black, grey, or dark rinse—for an academic, that’s fine with a good blazer. I hang onto blazers forever. I still have one I got at Capwell’s in college, have bought a few secondhand (including a nice linen Eileen Fisher), have a couple Pendletons that have given a lot of wear.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I got some nice dresses for the first time at loft the other month.

    • Jenny F. Scientist Says:

      I have a lot of dresses from various places – including Lands End, which did a batch of heavy-cotton-knit sleeveless ones a couple years ago – and they are professional and comfy. Add a grey blazer, a black blazer, and a blue blazer (I never button mine so they don’t really have to fit closely) and instant outfit, plus the blazers supply the pockets. One knit Boden dress that is very comfy and a couple from Loft. I usually spend a total of 10 minutes getting ready in the morning (tooth brushing, hair fixing, minimal makeup, all the clothes) so I really like dresses because they are EASY. LE stuff is easy to return too which helps. I get all my LE dresses either on clearance, or at our local Goodwill (which benefits from the high concentration of professors locally).

    • Leah Says:

      If nerdy dresses are your thing, Svaha USA has really comfortable dresses with pockets. I own one and will pick more up once I settle back down post-partum. They all have math or science themes, so I own a constellation dress. My next one will their jellyfish dress.

  11. undine Says:

    Pretty much two places (I hate hate hate to shop for clothing): Nordstrom when I am desperate or need some work or more dressy clothes; Costco for jeans, shirts, exercise clothing, and just about everything else. I narrowed it to these two because at Nordstrom, the ladies will tell me what to wear and are mostly right, very important if you have no fashion sense; and at Costco, the stuff is right there when I get groceries.

    • Dame Eleanor Hull Says:

      I also hate to shop which is why I like catalogs and why I hang onto things forever if they are good, classic, and fit (I haven’t changed shape much, at least on top, in the last 20 years). It makes no sense to love clothes but hate shopping, but there you go, that’s me.

  12. Anu Says:

    I’ve been having luck with Trunk Club. They source from Nordstrom and I enjoy that I can develop a relationship with a stylist over time. There’s a $25 fee but you can apply it to the clothes. It’s not cheap but I like that I’m more excited about my wardrobe now and trying stuff I wouldn’t otherwise.

  13. Debbie M Says:

    Sorry, distracted and amused that in this entry it’s #2 who is speaking in the first person.

    My favorite comfy-dressed-up solution is to wear blazers. It helps that I am always cold anyway. I don’t recommend a certain brand; I recommend thrift stores.

    Curvy, but thin here. I like L.L. Bean for pants. They actually go in at the waist (or if you prefer, go out at the hips). And they have nice deep pockets.

    Like other people, I don’t really like shopping. I do like the way thrift stores have all kinds of things and not just what’s in style right now. And if you screw up, you didn’t blow a lot of money! And I don’t have to feel bad (or research) about how the clothing makers have been mistreated because someone else already made that choice and now I am saving these clothes from the trash.

    But I also shop at Target (walking distance and, you know, Target), LL Bean (pants fit!! with good pockets!!), Eddie Bauer (nice and fairly affordable knit tops, especially on sale/clearance). Y’all are making me want to check out LOFT, too. Oh, my favorite casual dance skirts (solid color, knit, elastic band, pockets) have Talbots tags but I have never seen them in the stores (just from thrift stores).

    And shoes from Academy. I wore black leather sneakers at the end of my career to simulate decent shoes. But before that I wore leather lace-ups from wherever I could find some that fit.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      #2 speaks in first person when she is the second to speak.

      • Debbie M Says:

        True, but I’ve never noticed #1 speaking in third person before. And of course #1 often talks about #2 in the third person.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        #2 will talk about #1 in the third person, and sometimes when #1 is feeling pretentious she will talk about herself in the third person (similarly #2).

    • Leah Says:

      I have the same excitement about thrift store shopping all around. I don’t worry about the clothing ethics because I’m making the current ethical choice to rescue stuff from the trash. I do almost all my kid shopping at garage sales or thrift stores (or hand me downs) and most of my shopping while thrifting. I now have such sticker shock at even sale retail prices due to the good deals I get thrifting.

  14. Fiona McQuarrie Says:

    I agree with Loft. Banana Republic has great long sleeve blouses which don’t have the top button too far down from the collar, important if you don’t want to show too much chest. I used to buy a lot from Lands End but the quality really deteriorated over the last few years (uneven sizing, cheaper fabrics) – and then they lost me when they yanked Gloria Steinem from a story in their catalogue to appease a small number of conservative complainers.

  15. First Gen American Says:

    This thread is depressing to me because it is so hard to buy clothes and I always wonder, why are models so tall yet nothing seems to ever fit me right? I am 5’10” and I love dresses but never wear them because the fitted ones have the waist cut too high and they are usually too short. The flowy Long maxi dresses can work but are usually too casual for work so I end up wearing lots of skirts. I am curvy and Ann Taylor curvy pants work a lot better than banana republic but my tiny friend who has a more boyish figure loves banana republic.

    I was a big fan of Jones New York too but haven’t bought anything there in a long time. We don’t have a lot of women at work and I am wary of clothes from talbots because two of our executive females came into work one day wearing the same very distinctive sweater from there to a review with their mutual Boss, the CEO and it created some talk. One of them I spoke to later was mortified and immediately donated it to goodwill.

    I also hate shopping. I could definitely use the help of a personal shopper.

  16. First Gen American Says:

    I am also off pants at the moment because my nice ones are too tight and I refuse to go up a size as they were $100 each (special order lined in tall). I just need about 10 pounds shed…..20 would be better but 10 would allow me to buttton them.

    Also. Even though I have button down shirts I almost never wear them. I have a lot of polyester print shirts that I wear under blazers that don’t require ironing.

    I think if I accesrozed more with jewelry, scarves and belts, I could look a lot better. Also, being in a cold climate, one of my best fashion tricks is to buy wool coats in non traditional colors. I get loads of compliments on my rusty orange and red wool coats with coordinating scarf.

    I also have 0 fun clothes. They are either super casual or super dressy. I have very few going to a bar or clubbing outfits, not that the need arises very often but occasionally I do have the need for such items like when I go to NYC.

    I need to spend more on updating my wardrobe but just hate non productive shopping days and even hate it more when I buy something out of desperation and then don’t like it.


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