Fashion Girl, Corporate World: Saks’ Fashion Director Shows Us How to Do “Business Casual”

5 outfits to consider regardless of where you work

09.28.16

Cleo Davis-Urman does Full Look like very few people I know. Where I’d run to a bodega in the nude if it meant I didn’t have to consider shoe options, the Saks Fashion Director dresses with the kind of dedicated, out-loud style that makes you assume she’d probably just as well go the dentist dressed in a ball skirt as she would an actual ball. Cleo works in fashion, the business of fashion — what she wears should “incorporate trends and communicate the essence of contemporary style,” as she told me — but Saks Fifth Avenue is a fairly corporate culture. Their dress code is technically “business casual.”

So how the hell does she rectify all of that in one outfit?

The photos above tell all. The short Q&A down below helps break all the rest down. (And to the readers who’ve got this part covered, who instead really need help with navy suits and white shirts, I hear you. I got you. Tell me your strict dress codes in the comments below because someone may or may not be writing a story on that soon.)

What’s the hardest part about getting dressed within a set of rules?

Trying to maintain your personal style while being appropriate for a more corporate setting. On any given day I could be sitting in an internal meeting with the senior management team and rushing to a fashion show with no time to change. The goal is to find a look that works for both.

What’s the BEST part about getting dressed within a set of rules?

It has prompted me to re-evaluate and carefully curate my wardrobe to be much more edited and refined. A few great pieces — the perfect pencil pant, a statement collared shirt and midi skirt, for example — mixed with the greatest hits from my wardrobe makes for a versatile, yet practical, working girl ensemble.

How does your work style differ from your off-the-clock style and how do you merge the two?

I have one wardrobe that serves multiple purposes. Off the clock, my choices are more expressive — I’m more likely to dress like the runway version than the commercial version. But the basic elements are the same, I just style them differently.

What are your top three Getting Dressed for Work pieces of advice for readers?

1) Think about what your upcoming week looks like and plan accordingly — I mentally storyboard my outfits several days in advance based on my calendar.

2) Buy a really good steamer in case you need to prep something in a pinch.

3) Have a great bag that can accommodate your essentials and go everywhere.

Someone’s starting a job. She can buy ONE new thing only. What should it be?

A great shirt. Whether it’s a classic striped style from J.Crew or a sculptural stand-out from Johanna Ortiz, paired with a statement skirt or a simple tailored trouser, this key item is always the answer to the question “what do I wear?”

What should someone wear on their first day of work?

I don’t think there’s a right or a wrong outfit. What’s important is you should look and feel like YOU. Don’t try to make too much of a statement, or look as if you are trying too hard. First and foremost, be yourself.

Tell us the most embarrassing work/internship outfit you can remember.

This is really embarrassing. At one of my internships, I wore my prom dress with a denim jacket. I thought it was very Carrie Bradshaw. My bosses must have had a good laugh at my expense.

Fill in the blank. I wish someone told me _________.

That the biggest favor you can do for yourself is to have a couple of stylish “uniforms” on deck — the outfit you don’t have to think about that makes you feel well-dressed in any professional situation.

Do you “transition” for the night, like if you’re going out or have an event after, or do you ride it out from morning until end of day?

I rarely have time to go home after work, so I layer my clothes during the day then remove a layer or two to transition to evening. For example, I wore a turtleneck over a dress the other day and then took it off before I went out. Little changes can transform an outfit.

What do you wear to commute? Do you change your shoes?

I often hit the ground running, so I typically dress for the day. As tempting as the idea of changing into more comfortable shoes is, my purses are often too small. I do, however, keep a pair of hotel slippers in my desk drawer just in case…

And finally, besides Saks 🙂 What’s the best place to shop for cool work clothes?

J.Crew. Their impeccably tailored separates, shirting and cashmere sweaters are definitely wardrobe staples.

Follow Cleo on Instagram @misscleoviolet. Photographed by Krista Anna Lewis.

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