The work dress code is enough of a landmine as it is, with its myriad variations and elusive interpretations, that it is no wonder that sometimes the last thing employees (or even executives) dare to do is tread the changing waters of trends. But there is something to be said for having a little fun with and, believe it or not, expressing a little personality through, one’s work clothes. While there is no scripted recipe to do so, below are some ideas that bring it as close to a science as possible.
(1) Accessorize. Accessorizing can be the least expensive and lowest-commitment way to channel a trend.
Women. Wrap a snake print belt around a conservative pair of dark women’s pants. Hang a collar necklace, arguably one of the biggest trends of the season, above a neutral-colored blouse. Refrain from mixing one too many attention-grabbing pieces all at once, lest you end up channeling a Christmas tree. Easy does it.
Men. Add a pocket square in a commanding hue or eye-catching print to a solid men’s suit. Wear a tie, a pair of cufflinks, a wristwatch or carry a briefcase that showcases your taste, but remember it must be tasteful (this is not an endorsement of humorous ties).
(2) Incorporate colors and prints. Flip through a fashion magazine or online fashion blog to identify which colors or prints strike your fancy.
Women. A floral print scarf tied above an ivory blouse or a paisley cardigan over a solid shirt injects life into a drab outfit without hijacking your work look. Pops of color can also feature in your accessories, like an emerald blue statement necklace.
Men. Show you are in tune with the bold-color trend by donning a pair of fuchsia socks with a dark gray suit and black leather shoes. Pocket squares and ties are a great canvas for brighter colors and prints, while dress shirts can play this role if the trend is dark or muted, like a forest green or pale pink.
(3) Consider fabrics and cuts. Signing on to a trend in fabric or cut takes the most commitment, as it requires you to add another jacket or bottom to your repertoire.
Women. Take a work pant collection consisting mostly of straight-leg pants and raise it up a notch by adding a pair of skinny pants or wide-leg pants. Similarly, a high-waist skirt and a full skirt can enhance a collection of interchangeable work skirts. Switch up a regular blazer or suit jacket by putting into rotation a menswear-inspired jacket, a feminine cropped jacket or, this season’s favorite, a peplum jacket.
Men. In a business casual environment (where matching suit jackets are not required), opt for jackets made of tweed or corduroy, or with a trendy print, like herringbone or tartan. Incorporate various textures through ties and tie knots that range from small to Windsor thick.
When all is said and done, your outfit should still be a work outfit. Your heels should not tower out of work-mode and into club territory, your blouse should not have a plunging neckline, your ties and other accessories should be tasteful. If you manage to mix in a trend subtly and avoid a case of the “blahs” in the morning, then consider your job well done. Showing that you’ve thought twice about your work wardrobe doesn’t make you frivolous, it shows that you see it as an essential part of your identity, precisely because you are committed to your career.
Rosa Mae Neel is an attorney who founded Prune, a resource and blog providing professionals style advice for their career advancement. She holds a J.D. and a B.S. in journalism, and is a member of the New York City Bar. Be sure to follow @Prune_Me on Twitter and "Like" Prune on Facebook for more workplace style advice.