Office Dress Code Makeover #001: The Senior PR Associate Who Finds Cookie-Cutter Clothing Unsexy

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Welcome to Office Dress Code Makeover, a new series that will evaluate the stringent office dress-code regulations of Man Repeller community members and then offer creative solutions to help them express their style instead of compromising it. All without a single finger wag from Cathy in HR!

Honey Debelle is a 27-year-old senior associate from Australia who has been living in New York for a year. She works at a strategic communications firm that specializes in crisis PR management.

The dress code is corporate casual in-office, but “very corporate” for client meetings. Men wear suits without ties, or “smart chinos.” Women mostly wear dresses and skirts, which, when worn with heels should not rise more than 2-inches above the knee. No jeans, T-shirts, tank tops, flip-flops, or sneakers. Backless shoes and bright colors are fair game.

The Challenge

Debelle describes her style as “somewhat masculine.” She prefers to stay away from whimsical patterns such as florals, but wishes she wore more color to work. She says she prefers to wear just one “statement piece” at a time.

“There’s a battle in my head between wanting to look sexy and work-appropriate,” Debelle says. She defines sexy as “looking like your own person, not cookie cutter.” She’d like to take more risks with her style choices so as to feel more comfortable meeting friends after work without a conservative client or manager thinking she’s dressed inappropriately.

Currently, she keeps it simple: “I often go to work straight from the gym and need outfits that are guaranteed to match and that won’t crinkle, so I usually wear all black, typically slacks and some sort of silky, high-neck shirt with heavy silver jewelry.”

The Solution

Originally, I planned to style her in a long-sleeve sequin blouse with a J.Crew men’s blazer to hit on the masculine edge of her otherwise feminine disposition and to pair that with a feminine skirt (pleated and mid-length) rendered in a traditional menswear fabric (wool microplaid). I added a pair of brightly colored shoes and some jewelry (necklace and bracelets) with a large enough bag to hold her gym clothes. Ultimately, she said she wouldn’t wear it, but was happy to flatter me with a photo.

The Solution… Redux

When we went back to the drawing board, I presented a pair of cow-print clogs and she was reticent to give them a try, but after explaining the logic behind pairing charcoal grey wool trousers (thick enough to pack for the gym without having to worry about crinkling) with a beige work shirt—an innocuous and masculine combination by all accounts that could be made more interesting by the inclusion of low-risk accessories that would harness the parts of her personal style she is eager to let out, she agreed to give them a try.

We added a pair of suspenders, a set of three colored beaded bracelets, and a pearl necklace. By that point, she conceded that she really liked how she felt and was confident she could and would want to wear it to work and a post-work social gathering alike.

The total look fell squarely within her budget (she’d spend up to $300 on individual garments for work), with the most expensive unit coming in at $283 for the pants. The shirt and suspenders, from the men’s department at Mango, came in at a respective $59.99 and $49.99. The clogs were something she’d enthusiastically wear outside of work all the time, so she raised the budget ceiling for those (they cost $428).

But as for the cost of feeling like your most bomb-ass self at work? Priceless. Duh.

Have a friend, or a friend of a friend, or an “asking for a friend” you’d like to nominate for Office Dress Code Makeover? Slip into our DMs!

Leandra M. Cohen

Leandra M. Cohen is the founder of Man Repeller.

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