Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Reader Question: Conservative Shirts and Blouses For Work

Dear Meg,

This week I'm starting my first "real job" (meaning I plan to be there more than a year) as an attorney at a big-name Washington, D.C. law firm. The legal world is pretty conservative when it comes to fashion. Take that sartorial caution and add a layer of D.C. dowdiness, and you might anticipate my question... Basically, I need to dress absolutely professionally, but I don't want to look old before my time. More specifically, I plan to wear suits on an almost-daily basis but would like to be able to take off my jacket and still look presentable to a senior partner. Can you round up some ideas for professional-but-attractive tops/blouses to be worn under suits by a late-20s lawyer?

And just to add another complication, I would like to keep the prices relatively low (around $50, perhaps) because $100k-plus of student loans and a husband in business school are going to take a huge bite out of my salary.


First off, congratulations on completing law school and scoring a great job! You seem to have a good grasp on what's appropriate for your conservative work environment, so I won't bog you down with guidelines for what not to wear. Your point about wanting to look presentable without your jacket is a good one, as I think it's important that you feel appropriately dressed at all times.

I've included a couple of sleeveless tops in my list below, and I'm not 100% sure whether they would be considered acceptable in your office during the warmer months, but you could always throw a cardigan over them if you don't want to wear your jacket all day long. Take your cues from senior women in the firm, and if you ever question whether something would be appropriate, play it safe.

Banana Republic Silk Pleated Cap-Sleeve Top, $68.00

Ann Taylor Loft Sweetheart Neck Knot Front Top, $39.00

Tesori Faux Wrap Top, from Nordstrom, $64.90

Ann Taylor Loft Flocked Dot Tie Neck Shirt, $44.00

Ann Taylor Silk Sleeveless Blouse with Tie, $68.00

Ann Taylor Loft Tie Neck Sweater, $49.00

Ann Taylor Knot Front Shirt, $78.00


Anonymous said...


I'm a Georgetown student who's been in and out of a few law offices in DC and not all the female associates do totally frumpy, really!

Sarah said...

I would advise against sleeveless shirts under your blazers. When you take off the blazer, I think it's too much skin exposed for a conservative environment. Plus, in the harsh lighting of most offices, skin looks weird anyway. Short sleeves would be okay, but sleeveless wouldn't work in my office. But I agree with Meg that you need to look around at what the other women are wearing.

Kathleen said...

Love Project Beltway!

Thanks so much, Meg, for your suggestions. I ran to BR and saw they have some beautiful, feminine, work-appropriate stuff right now. Now on to the other spots... I'm feeling encouraged!

Keep up the great blogging, and thanks again!

Raven said...

I think color would is a great way to look fresh and interesting -- not neon (ek) or primary colors (too preschool for younger professionals) but great saturated reds, emerald, royal blue, violet ...

I'd actually like to dress up more, but my office is super casual -- a computer science department at a big university, and the combination of tech industry and academia does ot exactly say heels and starched shirts. Fortunately, I think over-dressing a bit is more accepted than under-dressing -- and I get to wear jeans whenever, so I can't really complain. :)

Anonymous said...

my office is similarly quite conservative (banking) and none of those tops would work.

I shop for well fitted button downs at banana republic/Anne Taylor mostly. I wear short sleeved sometimes- never sleeveless.

Pair that with well fitting modern suit and some sharp pumps and there's no chance you'll look frumpy.

Although the clothes are pretty conservative- no one ever objects to some vibrant colored pointy toe stilettos...

Anonymous said...

I think non of the sleeveless tops is acceptable in a conservative environment. Short sleeves are okay on a real hot summer day but never sleeveless.

Anonymous said...

Sheer, sleeveless,hints of cleavage--forget those, you want to look like a woman, but not to be ogled, whatsoever, in a conservative law firm. Wear a shapely suit that isn't tight or anything one could call "short". You can still look young and beautiful, and you won't look like you're trying to steal someone's husband. There are thousands of choices.