Working professionally for more years than I’d like to admit, I’ve seen a lot of challenges thrown my way. I mean, heck, I did issues management at what was probably one of the world’s most hated and misunderstood companies in that timeline. Even with that as my reality, one of the toughest pieces of working in the agency and corporate world was finding good professional clothing for women.
It sometimes felt like I was looking for unicorns.
Since I mentioned I am looking for unicorns, you may not be able to picture the elusive wardrobe. I’ve gotten pieces over the years. Great pieces in fact. But putting together a wardrobe that meets goals of looking and feeling professional, confident and comfortable can be excruciating.
But for the various brands out there, I feel this time of office workers working at home can really provide us a chance to make this elusive item as common as hand-sewn face masks are rapidly becoming.
Current State of Professional Clothes for Women
With so many professional women working from home for weeks if not month now, we are reminded how comfortable clothes can be. Sure, a lot of us are wearing sweats, yoga pants, etc but it’s rarely women who are having no pants days as they zoom into meetings or do the newscast from home (seriously, what was that about?).
This is dramatically different from what most wear to the office. And while we have frequently chosen between professional and comfortable or stylish and comfortable or anything else and comfortable…. it seems we have been short-changed on comfort with the other pieces. And while women don’t have a single work wardrobe (unlike the blue buttondown and khakis that were so constant with my last employer’s men that it was joked about by everyone), there are a few pieces of professional clothing for women we need in our wardrobe.
Here’s my take on what we have and how it can be improved.
The Most Common Pieces in a Professional Woman’s Wardrobe
Having the right clothes for the job you have is really my idea of professional clothing for women and men. Most of my career I have been an office employee. I didn’t need gear that would help protect me from the elements. Rather, I need to show that I care about my appearance.
So the options?
Dresses / Skirts
Not gonna lie, for a long time the fact I had to wear dresses to school for two years while the siblings were in shorts, jeans, etc colored my view of dresses in a cloud of ick. I did grow up and I have found some good year-round dresses. And they really fuel my wardrobe lots of days (except winter). And I have some friends who love all the dresses and skirts.
But so many women’s dresses are made out of synthetic or blended fabric that doesn’t breathe well or look good over time unless it is dry cleaned so I’d love other options? Maybe coordinates for suits that don’t take years of search to find.
Men seem to have a great slate of slacks to wear. They are cut to fit nicely. But so often women’s slacks…. I don’t know why I can never find a brand that fit me well. In the past when I did, I would buy them in every color like I did my favorite t-shirts! And yes, I have khakis but they were the bane of my existence. How many women enjoy the look of khaki pants? Those were first to go when I began to work from home. So more often than not, I wear black jeans. I just keep some new enough they don’t show wear too much.
The other day I posted photos from some of the training I was doing and immediately got compliments on my power jacket. Not gonna lie, I know it will get comments, it is a killer color.
And unlike so many blazers on the market, this one is made with natural fibers… Yes. It is mostly cotton. I originally bought the blazer in black, wore it a couple times and went back to get it in another color because it looks sharp and for the most part feels good. But I’m not going to lie, the polyester lining… what’s that about? It can really mess a girl up, especially when doing a public speaking gig under lights on a stage cause it gets hot.
With all of that in mind, I find myself grabbing a denim jacket more often than I like. But based on that I have a few colors — the traditional blue, black and white. I also have a really weathered blue I wear more casually. I have both hundred percent cotton and some with a bit of stretch in them. I refuse to buy a blend that’s higher than 10 percent synthetic because it will get hot & sweaty.
Shirts / Blouses
Going to say this is one where I have found more brands providing options. But it’s still a lot harder to find cotton shirts for women than it is for men. The long-sleeved blouses that fit our shapes are appreciated. We’d like some short sleeved ones that aren’t polo-style. I buy a lot of shells / tank tops to wear under those blazers I mentioned. And I wear quite a few nice t-shirts and sweaters. We appreciate more in all categories.
Other Things Brands May Want to Know
Just in case there is a brand out there listening…. We do look for more in professional clothing for women. Here are some things to keep in mind.
Colors & Patterns
I tend to go for classic colors and keeping prints simple when possible for work. If I can’t do simple prints, I’d go for prints that connected to my work in food, farming and science. That is what led me to wearing a watermelon skirt and a dress covered in DNA (not the CSI kind, but it has the double helix as the design. There are lots of niche companies who are doing really well in this space and when I look around and ask friends where they found things, I am frequently pointed to small businesses that cater to us online.
I already mentioned how many small businesses cater to us online. Some of the bigger brands do too. One thing that I’ve seen more of on good sites is the option to search by fiber. You let me pick natural fibers like cotton, linen, wool and I will be there more frequently because I know it will be easier to find clothes I like just like searching by size.
Beyond Tired of Cheap
I have bought what brands supplied me long enough. I know there are lots of companies who sell near disposable clothing and count on people buying new versions every season every year. Stop expecting us to go along with that. Lots of us want better quality and greater durability which frequently means getting away from the weird fiber blends you come up with.
I have found there are so many great alternatives out there with costs being higher (sometimes significantly) but they fit and wear well for longer because they are better made. Lots of us are fine with having smaller wardrobes if it is both professional and comfortable. I have been using some of this quarantine time to Marie Kondo those closets and I don’t intend to just refill them.