10 Women on How They Express Their Personal Style at Work
09.05.18

Of all the style-related inquiries Man Repeller receives, work outfit inspiration is by far one of the most-requested. It’s also one of the trickiest to address. Intertwining your own sense of personal style with the confines of an office dress code is common sartorial challenge, but it’s all the more challenging in the sense that no two office dress codes are exactly alike. What I wear to work at Man Repeller is very different from what my two roommates wear to their respective jobs in banking — and that’s a particularly stark example; dress codes can also differ within the same industry.

In an effort to spread a wider net and seek office attire inspiration from multiple professional corners, I turned to the Man Repeller community. I put a callout on Man Repeller’s Instagram looking for people with cool work style — or people with a colleague whose style they admired. I rounded up some of my favorite submissions below and asked them to unpack how they balance their personal aesthetic with the limitations of their respective workplaces. Their answers, like their dress codes, varied widely, but one common thread ran throughout: a conviction that the way you dress at work can tangibly impact the way you do your job. Keep scrolling to read what everyone had to say.


Syazana Hishamuddin

Syazana is a 23-year-old editorial assistant at Sassy Mama Singapore.

 

How would you describe your office dress code?

There’s no dress code really, because I work out of a co-working space. Everyone who comes in is really just a more presentable version of themselves in comfortable clothing.

How do you maintain your sense of personal style at work?

Comfort is key for me, which means I’m usually sticking to one layer of clothing. It’s just about all I can manage in the Signapore humidity! I love experimenting with silhouettes, color and print, so my work style is pretty laid back with maybe one dramatic element that makes it “me,” like a glittery scarf, billowing top, statement pants or a bright lipstick. I tend to dress up more on the weekends: a little more makeup, dressier shoes, maybe a maxi dress or a funky hijab style.

Can you recall any memorable stories or experiences related to getting dressed for work?

I work for the online lifestyle magazine Sassy Mama Singapore, so at the office we’re always receiving stuff in the mail like food, skincare products and clothes. One time I stepped into the office for one of our weekly meetings to find one of my colleagues unwrapping a package of gorgeous handmade clutches by Moniko, and we started talking about how beautiful they were. Next thing you know, I was tasked with modeling one of them for our Instagram stories since my outfit coincidentally matched the clutch perfectly!


Katie Whelley

Katie is a 29-year-old construction project manager in commercial real estate. 

 

How would you describe your office dress code?

My office dress code is fairly conservative…for a number of reasons. First: I work for a multinational commercial real estate corporation. Even though I’m in the construction sector, I still have to interact with brokers and with clients who are slinging tens of millions of dollars around. Since we never know who is going to be in the office, we have a strict “business professional” dress code. Second: I live in the south, so people are more conservative and buttoned up in general.

How do you maintain your sense of personal style at work?

I’m 6 feet tall, a size 12 and have wild curly hair. I knew there was never a way in which I would “blend in,” so I decided to do the opposite. I work in a male-dominated industry, so I like to wear things that make me feel powerful (I’m a huge advocate for power dressing). Bold colors, unexpected silhouettes, menswear with a feminine edge. It’s not that I’m trying to stand out, it’s more that I’m refusing to blend in. And before you ask, yes, I wear this stuff on job sites. I always have a pair of steel-toed boots in my car, and I’d like to think my hard hat is my BEST accessory! My colleagues definitely dress more conservatively, but I think they’ve come to expect and look forward to my outfit choices.

Can you recall any memorable stories or experiences related to getting dressed for work?

I used to care obsessively about the size of the clothes I wore. No matter how ill-fitting the item, I would squeeze myself into a size 10, because at some point in my life I told myself that a size 10 was an “acceptable” size to be. I would cover up how poorly my clothes fit by only wearing dark colors, or layering with big sweaters. I was definitely hiding!

My style really changed when I decided to stop hiding my body and stop caring so much about the size I wore. I discovered how much more confident I felt when something fit me properly, and that confidence translated into being more adventurous with my style choices. There are people (especially in the south) who don’t take me seriously when they first see me. They assume I care more about my clothes than my job. My favorite thing is seeing the look on the (predominantly male) client’s face when they realize that I am the one running things, and I know exactly what I’m doing.


Sue Chan

Sue is the founder of Care of Chan, an agency representing the next era of food and living.

Vintage faux fur jacket from London — similar here, vintage top from About Galmour, Kenzo pants — another option here, acrylic purse from Les Puces flea market in Paris — another here, Zara shoes — buy them second hand here

 

How would you describe your office dress code?

I’m going for the CEO-next-door look, a.k.a. trying to keep it professional but also easy, effortless and natural. For example, I’m too busy getting shit done to do a full face of make-up, but I will put on some lipstick.

How do you maintain your sense of personal style at work?

We don’t have a dress code at work, so I wear the same thing to work as I do on the weekends. The only slight difference is that I wear more crop tops when I’m not at work. About a third of my closet is crop tops in all colors, shapes and materials. (I’m really excited about the Khaite “Sydney” crop top that I just pre-ordered from the Resort 19 collection. Too bad it doesn’t arrive until November.)

Can you recall any memorable stories or experiences related to getting dressed for work?

I recently brought an oldie but goodie back into rotation: a orange/pink/fuchsia paisley shorts set made by a defunct Japanese brand that I got from Opening Ceremony years ago. The first day I wore it, I was walking from the restaurant ATLA (one of our clients) back to the office and some guy stopped me to ask where I got my outfit since he wanted to get something similar for his girlfriend. It’s rare for strangers to stop me like that on the street, so clearly resurrecting this outfit was the right choice.


Brittany Berckes

Brittany is a 30-year-old lawyer in the media/entertainment sector. 

How would you describe your office dress code?

Technically, it’s “business casual,” but that means a lot of things to a lot of different people and companies. I interpret it as “New York law firm professional” which, to me, means anything but jeans, T-shirts, tank tops, gym clothes, shorts, sneakers, flip flops, hats and “short” dresses/skirts/tops.

How do you maintain your sense of personal style at work?

I actually don’t mind the office dress code — it’s a joke among my friends that I have a deep and strange love for pencil skirts. But I also love color, funky accessories and fun shoes, all of which are not too common in the corporate arena. I think black, navy and neutrals tend to be the dominant color scheme in law firms, so wearing a bright yellow “work” dress or a pink dress suit are some ways I express my personal style while staying within the dress code. I also tend to wear a lot of costume jewelry (earrings and bracelets) and try to mix up my shoes (striped boots or colored pumps), too. My friends joke that I don’t really know how to dress “casually.”

Can you recall any memorable stories or experiences related to getting dressed for work?

As far as I know, my co-workers appear to support my outfit choices, even though I have worked at older, male-dominated firms where almost everyone is wearing neutral dress shirts, pants and even ties. However, some outfit choices do tend to inspire funny observations like, “Oh, wow. That’s a bright shirt,” or “Wow, those boots — lots of color.”


Banna Girmay

Banna is a 31-year-old vice president in compliance at an investment bank.

How would you describe your office dress code?

My friends say there’s no greater irony than Banna working at an investment bank. I work with mostly lawyers so the dress code is generally conservative  — plain suits, closed-toe heels, blouses, etc. My boss has so many multiples of the exact same suit, he sews in the date he had each made to keep track of what’s what! On Fridays, though, we’ve adopted a more casual dress code I’ve deemed “Freestyle Fridays,” so that’s my favorite day of the week.

How do you maintain your sense of personal style at work?

For many years, I maintained a separate drawer in my dresser for work attire that I would only open during the week. I dressed very differently on the weekends, and my work clothes never seemed to align with my personal style. Eventually I started to feel conflicted about that, because clothes are such a huge part of how confident I feel, not to mention a mechanism for how I express my creativity on a daily basis. I decided to take another approach. I started to break down the different components of my office dress code and see how far I could push each of them while still technically staying within bounds. With that mindset, my entire closet was at my fingertips all seven days of the week — a new concept for me. Could I get away with white snakeskin booties? Yes! What if I layered a turtleneck under my blouse? Done! Cheetah on cheetah on cheetah? Let’s go! Could I layer a swim top over my blouse? Too far…

I also started to play around with my hairstyles. I have thick curly hair and have tried everything from my natural curly ‘fro to faux locs, box braids and cornrows (yes, cornrows at an investment bank). The reception hasn’t always been positive — challenging decades-old standards and norms always comes with some unwanted attention. I’ve had a colleague ruffle her fingers through my ‘fro without asking, and another colleague tell me my faux locs were “unprofessional”! Despite these obstacles, I’m committed to continue bringing the full scope of my personal style to work, and I’m better at my job for it.

Can you recall any memorable stories or experiences related to getting dressed for work?

One time, on a Freestyle Friday, I wore a red leather jacket with a zipper that allows you to detach the bottom half, turning it into a cropped silhouette. Pure heat. I was feeling myself, but one colleague kept giving me looks, so I eventually stopped by and asked her what she thought of my jacket! All she said was, “Beat It,” à la Michael Jackson. While MJ and I surely didn’t deserve the shade, comments like this one only fuel my sense of purpose. It’s up to all of us to push the corporate culture forward!


Naima Fatema

Naima is a 23-year-old marketing associate at a pharmaceutical company.

 

How would you describe your office dress code?

I think it’s “business casual,” but who really knows what that means. It’s the type of office where you’re told you can wear jeans on Fridays, but not ones with rips.

How do you maintain your sense of personal style at work?

When it comes to business casual, there are only so many pieces you can wear, and I’ve found that most shops here in Australia all seem to carry the same boring things. And everything is separated so definitively into women’s and men’s workwear. I keep my work outfits interesting by blurring this line between masculine and feminine. I stick to very classic shapes (tailored pants, blazers, turtlenecks) in interesting patterns, colors and textures. I also introduce elements of my personal style with jewelry. I have an extensive earring collection, many of which my mum brought me back from Bangladesh. I can’t afford to have two different wardrobes for work and weekends, so I’ve tried buy pieces that will work for both. My personal style and work style have actually started just to meld together as a result.

Can you recall any memorable stories or experiences related to getting dressed for work?

Just the classic work colleague comments about me looking “snazzy” or “funky.” One time I did split open the arm of a turtleneck I was wearing from wrist to shoulder, and no one said anything because they thought it was a new trend I was trying out.


Manuela Barem

Manuela is the the editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed Brazil.

Zara blazer, vintage shirt — similar here and scarf — similar here, Ellus pants, Vizzano shoes

 

How would you describe your office dress code?

Somewhere in between casual and business casual.

How do you maintain your sense of personal style at work?

I don’t have to look super polished all the time at work, because my workplace has a more relaxed vibe (mostly everyone wears jeans and sneakers). But I like to err on the side of well-dressed, because I think it’s a way of showing respect to the people I work with. At the same time, I would feel ridiculous wearing classic “boss” looks. I am proud to be a young woman who is in a leadership role and has an interest in fashion, so I try to use my looks to communicate that I’m in charge, but I’m also creative and here to have fun. I think people notice when I put thought into what I’m wearing. I love when I inspire them to do the same!

Can you recall any memorable stories or experiences related to getting dressed for work?

Work in general can be a source of pressure and stress, so whenever I wake up low on energy, I try to wear something fun and colorful with fabulous makeup. The sense of dignity I get from wearing a gorgeous look always helps my self-esteem. Every time I look in the bathroom mirror or see my reflection in a window, I feel uplifted.


Jo Bromilow

Jo is a 30-year-old digital strategist in the communications industry. 

 

How would you describe your office dress code?

I’d describe it as “professional yet personal.” (The only thing I was expressly told I shouldn’t wear are any potentially inflammatory slogan T-shirts, which seems as good a rule as any!) At any rate, my personal interpretation of our professional dress code is best described as “the sartorial argument for a Mamma Mia/GLOW crossover.”

How do you maintain your sense of personal style at work?

Weekdays are my opportunity to dress up since I’m going into the city and mingling with people. I feel much more like myself when I get to dress how I want. Feeling like myself translates to confidence, which makes me better at my job. Ideally that’s what I think an office dress code should enable: feeling like your best self.

Most of my colleagues dress more formally (shirts or smart tops and black trousers or jeans), which is what works for them. Ultimately the key to dressing for work is figuring out what makes you feel confident. For me, it’s something bold/bright and maybe a little head-turning. I always strive to look professional and presentable (i.e. neat and tidy), but working in a more relaxed creative environment where self-expression is a large part of how I market myself to clients and media means I have more sartorial flexibility than I would in a corporate environment.

Can you recall any memorable stories or experiences related to getting dressed for work?

Personal outfit highlights include the day I came to work in a yellow suit and white boots and was compared to April from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the day I wore an oversized frilly white shirt which was subsequently nicknamed “the Victorian baby,” and the numerous occasions on which I’ve worn blue/teal lipstick. Sometimes I’m in the mood to make more of a statement and treat my work attire like a costume (I tend to goth up for Halloween — in an appropriate way, of course).


Darlene Barballianiz

Darlene is a 25-year-old removal defense paralegal at an immigration law firm. 

Zara pants, Zara shoes, vintage turtleneck — similar here, Amazon twisted gold hoops, vintage bag — another option here

 

How would you describe your office dress code?

Business casual — emphasis on the casual, since I work in San Francisco.

How do you maintain your sense of personal style at work?

The current political climate makes my job very stressful and emotional, but in general I am a happy and optimistic person. I use clothes to reflect my personality by wearing a lot of bright colors, unique patterns and gold jewelry. I like to wear colorful trousers and suits, high-waist loose pants with colorful patterned tops, block heels or boots and gold hoop earrings. I try to keep my outfits professional and comfortable but fun.

I dress differently from most of my coworkers. Most people at my firm wear neutral colors like navy, black, white and gray, whereas I show up to work in gold pants or a pink suit. Although, I have noticed some of my colleagues becoming more adventurous with their style since I started working at my company. There are definitely more big pants in the office now.

Can you recall any memorable stories or experiences related to getting dressed for work?

I had to attend the National Lawyer’s Guild Annual Testimonial dinner for work, and I decided to wear a pink suit with pink heels. I was nervous, but nothing makes me feel more confident and authentic than a bright pink suit — and confidence is vital for young professional woman of color. When I walked into the room full of lawyers, I got a lot of stares. It made me a little anxious at first, but then people starting coming up to me and complimenting my outfit. My pink suit was a conversation starter, and it actually made networking easier because it made me more memorable. I started calling myself “Legally Brown.”


Natalie McKeough

Natalie is a 28-year-old events/operations manager for a women’s professional soccer league.

 

How would you describe your office dress code?

Business casual (sports team-branded polos, jeans/khakis and running shoes).

How do you maintain your sense of personal style at work?

I challenge myself to interpret our company dress code in an ironic way. Instead of wearing jeans from 1998 with ill-fitting shirts, I’ll wear Balenciaga mom jeans and an oversized graphic tee, or designer track pants with a clean crisp button up and Nike platform sneakers. I call it “elevated athleisure.” I embrace a more extreme version of this aesthetic on the weekends, e.g. Manolo Blahnik jewel-encrusted sandals with biker shorts.

Can you recall any memorable stories or experiences related to getting dressed for work?

One time I was inspired by Phoebe Philo and androgynous carefree looks that make a statement, so I wore cropped navy pinstriped trousers with a gray chunky knit sweatshirt and white sneakers to work. I was very proud of this look and felt so smart and stylish. The following Monday, I showed up to my office and noticed all 16 of my colleagues were wearing navy pinstriped pants with a sweater. I remember thinking, “Wow! Everyone looks so good!” Turns out, they had collectively planned a prank to (lovingly) poke fun at me and copy my outfit. They literally went out and purchased similar items, so now they all own cool pinstriped pants. You’re welcome, colleagues.

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