She had a knack for “clothing phases”—periods in which she would have a uniform of choice such as shift dresses with jeweled flats, Lilly Pulitzer Capris paired with a white linen “trubenized” (as my mom called it) shirt, tent dresses with kitten heels.
While she was managing a handbag export and manufacturing business, such fuss-free and casual staples came to define my mom’s work wear.
Fresh out of fashion school, I was eager to jump into the workforce and make practical use of my education. But I had to burst my power-dressing bubble. My fantasies of going to work in a Chanel tweed suit or Yves Saint Laurent smoking jacket was just not going to cut it.
That was because part of my daily routine was rummaging through rolls of leather and fabric, crouching on the floor as I created beading patterns, going on sourcing trips to Divisoria and trying my hand (and foot) on the sewing machine. I took the cue from my mom and began relying on a range of tank tops, jeans, shorts and casual dresses for work.
However, roles shifted when I found myself opening and running a school, the School of Fashion and the Arts (SoFA). With me transitioning from college student to fashion editorial assistant to factory girl, a wardrobe upgrade was now in order.
I had to build a professional wardrobe to be worthy of the role. The peg had to be no less than “young, respected and stylish fashion school principal”—stress on the “young,” please. I certainly did not want to look like an old-fashioned school administrator.
Slowly settling into my new role in design education, I have since tried and discovered various alternatives to the basic corporate staples. Whether one is working in a fashion-savvy environment or in a traditional business institution, I believe it is important always to look well put-together and professional to command authority and respect.
With the many choices these days, we have a multitude of options that should allow us to go beyond the black pants and black jacket mold.
Because I still shift roles from factory girl to school director from day to day, I find it useful to mix my casual with “corporate look” staples. This makes ample use of my entire wardrobe.
Here are some of my favorites.
Maxi skirt + tailored blazer
This is a great alternative to trousers. A maxi skirt is relaxed, glamorous and respectable all in one. Paired with a blazer, it gives a dose of androgyny. For a quick after-work look, slip off the blazer to reveal a sexy lingerie-inspired top.
High-waist, wide-leg trousers + dressy tee
The 1970s is one of 2011’s fashion superstars. Modernize high-waist, wide-leg trouser pants with a dressy tee. Try T-shirts made of silk, satin, lace or with embellishments.
Long printed dress + edgy cropped jacket
Transform laid-back bohemian into office chic by topping it off with an edgy cropped jacket. Add a long necklace or a statement cuff for a strong finish.
Colored cigarette pants + textured nude blouse
Get energized with striking colored pants. Neutralize it with a slim cut and paired with a textured nude blouse. Works well with pointed heels or flats.
Pussy bow blouse + A-line skirt
Channel the secretary look in a conservative yet flirty bow blouse with a girly A-line skirt. These are true vintage staples.
Menswear-inspired jacket + skinny pants
Nothing spells corporate more than a boxy men’s jacket. Balance and contrast this with slim sexy skinny pants. Pair with a tank or button-up blouse.
Tuxedo vest + cocktail dress
A cocktail dress can mean business when paired with a tuxedo vest. Paired with shorts, a tuxedo vest can cross over to casual days.