dress up/dress down: making dresses work for work

When you're just starting out in your professional life, it can be hard to figure out how to make up a stylish outfit every day out of the same pieces.
It's really important to me (and I'm sure most of you!) to be stylish as well as professional, and as I'm learning how to dress for work, I want to share the tips and tricks that have helped me be cute while copying. Layering is a great option overall, but it can also be useful in integrating a wider range of clothing into your working wardrobe. I finally have a pair of slacks that I like, but in general, I prefer skirts and dresses as far as professional wear goes. However, the sweet spot of a "professional" dress that doesn't feel too casual or too fancy can be difficult to hit. And hey, who wants clothes that only fits one venue?

One of the other problems with dresses is that they tend to be memorable pieces, which means you can't just wear it every week or so without someone noticing your wardrobe is repeating (if you're me, and you worry about things like that). Luckily, there's a way to solve both of these problems, and it is called layering!

This is a very basic gray dress. It was fine for throwing on for spring days or running to class but is a little bit too casual for the office. Not to mention that it's pretty boring all on it's own. Now, because it's so light and casual, it wouldn't make sense to dress it up too far; I couldn't transform this into an ultra-sleek look. It just doesn't have the shape/material for it. What I can do is give it just enough style to make it work:

Dress: Target
Cardigan: Kohl's
Belt: JC Penny's

I bought this long cardigan last summer, and I didn't wear it too often. But now it's becoming one of my favorite pieces: it's light enough for summer, with short sleeves that cover up bare shoulders (most of my dresses are sleeveless) without being too hot, and the length makes it great to wear with dresses. The belt I liberated from another dress to add a little bit of color to the neutral look; besides, two of my favorite combinations are yellow/blue and yellow/gray, so it made me happy to get both of them in the same look! Through the power of layering, I was able to dress up this basic dress enough to make it a fairly breezy work-appropriate look.

But what about the other end of the spectrum? Can you make a party dress work-ready?

Heck yes, I can! Because this dress (which is new, and I love it) was a little bit fancier than the first one, I wanted to dress it "down" to a more corporate-appropriate style. But I didn't want to go too far; the first dress was more of a casual chic...this one has more intrinsic style, so I wanted to go a little more full-on professional with it.

Dress: Jones New York
Blazer: Charlotte Russe
Necklace: Lia Sophia (comped)

Instead of a cardigan, which would have made the dress a lot more casual, I paired it with a new blazer. I wanted to add a little subtle color and interest, so I grabbed a necklace that was provided to me when I worked a Lia Sophia event earlier this summer. It's just slightly purple, which played well with the pale gray.

And that's how I made two different gray dresses appropriate for work! I'm actually kind of digging reaching the end of my wardrobe: off the edge of the map is where the dragons are, right? I love dragons. Layering is one of those things that I knew was awesome and I should do but never actually managed to get together. Now I just want to buy all of the belts and cardigans and blazers, so I can make so many new ~ensembles~.

How do you keep your work wardrobe fresh, week after week? Is layering as much of a wonder to you as it is to me, or do I just sound like a total dube*?

Thanks to my lovely assistant sister for letting me drag her upstairs on a Sunday afternoon to take a bunch of pictures of me. And I just noticed the random hanger laying mournfully on the floor in the background...so you've probably noticed it all too. Pretend that's not there!

*"Dube" is apparently slang for idiot/dope that was popular in a small Minnesotan town in the 70s. Kaitlin and I are on a mission to bring it back.

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