Wear to Work: How to Dress Off a Column of Color

Wear to Work A Column of Color

Key Pieces: Pants, $114, Tank, $12, Shoe, $90; Outfit 1: Sweater, $69, Bag, $238; Necklace, $28; Outfit 2: Blazer, $150; Bag, $200

My LuLaRoe post caused quite a stir. Not since the last presidential election have two sides been so polarized. I was surprised by the number of angry emails and comments from women chastising me over the fact that I think they should wear pants to work, as if I was suggesting taking some constitutional right away.  This trend in society that places comfort over appropriateness is startling. What if men started to show up to work in what they deemed most comfortable instead of what’s most appropriate? My husband would be walking around life in basketball shorts and an old fraternity tee shirt, and no one be like, “Go be you, Bri.” We would tell him to get himself together and put on some pants.

Of course, it’s not just LuLaRoe. While I think they capitalize on this comfort-only way of dressing, it’s happening everywhere. I’ve worked privately with women for years, long before the emergence of LuLaRoe, who refused to buy pants with a zipper and button, or a jacket with a dart because they wanted comfort. They equated the sensation of feeling clothes on their body with instant discomfort. I would eventually convince them that they needed some structure to a create shape, but it was a battle.

You can be comfortable. It just shouldn’t be number one, two and three on your priority list. For today’s Wear to Work, I thought it would be helpful to break down how to create a formula for mix and match dressing with pieces that are both comfortable and polished.

So what is a “column of color”? It’s a simple way to build out an outfit and maximize essential pieces in your wardrobe. Use this process to get dressed every day or to pack for a business trip efficiently. Create a column by pairing a solid neutral color with a pant or skirt and a tank or shell, then top with a jacket or sweater. The jacket cuts the column and helps create a long line to your body. Add a long accessory, like a necklace or scarf, to further emphasize the slimming effect.

Let’s break down today’s look.

I heard your requests for more bootcut options, so I used these from NYDJ. They make a comfortable, stretch trouser that still has shape. (These are available in missy and petite up to a size 18. Need a plus size? They also make a similar pair here. ) What has been a surprising challenge all season is finding a simple shell that doesn’t cling or look like athletic gear. I love this tank by Eileen Fisher (plus size here) so if it’s in your budget, pick it up. Above we featured an inexpensive Old Navy option. I’d love a mid-range alternative, so if anyone has a recommendation let us know in the comments below.

I’m super jazzed about the shoes I found. They’re a suede pump with a comfortable block heel and an elegant point. You get the best of both worlds: the comfort of a block heel and the elongating effect of a pointed toe. A shoe like this is especially nice when paired with a bootcut pant because it balances out the width of the leg. Bonus, they’re under $90.

Now we get into the layers.

For the first look, I went casual. I’m seeing a lot of drape front cardigans on many of our 30 Day Style Challenge participants Pinterest boards, so I went that route. I like this one from Nordstrom. It has a lovely basketweave effect, which demonstrates how texture can add interest without using pattern. I can see this being a cozy piece for long days at your desk that is still professional. I went with burgundy since it’s a trend-right color for the season. I also like the black/white (which reads gray) and the cobalt blue. I added this tassel necklace for a dramatic effect. The length of the necklace accentuates the line of the outfit. Because this look is casual, I used a slouchy hobo bag. (I would remove the Fossil key logo dangling off the side.)

A quick switch of a layer can change the entire look and feel of an outfit. I found this plaid fitted blazer, another gem from White House Black Market, with so much old school Ralph Lauren goodness. (Available up to a size 16.) It has a classic feel, with modern touches, like the faux leather accents. See how the jacket is cut in toward the body? It creates a slimming effect because it pulls the eye toward the center of the line of your body. Because the plaid is bold, I skipped an accessory. This is the kind of outfit that doesn’t require a lot, so add your everyday jewelry and be on your way. Since the jacket has structure and shape, this Furla bag (on sale) keeps the polished theme moving throughout the look.

This column trick works regardless of your personal style. I used black today since it’s easy to work with, but so is navy, dark gray, and even winter white. Creating a foundation, or in this case, a “column” is the first step in building a capsule-based wardrobe. We’ll dive into that more over the coming weeks.

Need more wear to work inspiration, check out our other posts from this season, here, here, here , here, and here.

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Megan Kristel

Megan Kristel is an entrepreneur, working mom, and former personal stylist. Tired of the one-dimensional portrayal of women online, she founded The Well Dressed Life as a resource for other professional women.

  1. Great post. I’m going to try your recommendation for the nydj trouser. I find it so difficult to find an appropriate pant to wear to work that is decent quality & fit that’s not part of a suit or looks like straight leg fitted pant. Thank you for the great outfit ideas too.

  2. Megan,
    I appreciate you so much! One of my favorite things about you is that you are such an advocate of all women. Your image consulting is always authentic. Posts like this demonstrate that. How we can use your suggestions to look
    More polished yet remain true to ourselves. I know I always feel better, more confident when I feel pulled together. Thank you for having the courage to speak up about things that may sabotage our efforts. You are the best!!!

  3. What’s your opinion about wearing flats with pants/a whole look like this? (I’m a teacher and just can’t do heels for everyday anymore.)

    1. I hear ya, Lisa. Flats with this look is totally appropriate, I would just switch out the pant to something not so wide. You could still do a bootcut, just a slimmer one, or opt for a straight leg instead – that would look great too. Be sure to have the pant hemmed for the flats so that the hem slightly breaks on the top of your shoe.

  4. Megan, what are your thoughts on this type of cardigan for a petite? I feel like they make me look frumpy. Thank you for the wonderful and practical posts. Keep em coming, you are killing it!

    1. Thanks! It’s not oversized so you might be ok. It could overwhelm you if you’re extremely slim, but it’s worth a shot since Nordstrom has a great return policy. I looked for a petite and plus option for this but couldn’t find one that fit our standards.

      You could also recreate this with the KUT drape front jacket we featured last week – that comes in petite and won’t have so much volume.

  5. I’m so glad you revisited your post on leggings. I’m really not as old as I will sound but I’m getting to the point where I resent leggings and the women that wear them to the office. Put on pants! I am a professional and dress accordingly. Legging-wearers are not showing respect for me and my place of business when they show up like it’s the weekend.

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  • Actual footage of me going to my workout this morning. #workout #fitmom #fitpregnancy #mondaymotivation (lol) #idontwanttodosplitsquats

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