The M Dash

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How To Dress To “Get Dirty” At Work

August 09, 2019 | Filed in: Your Closet

I was about to walk out the door on a recent morning when I caught a glimpse in the mirror and realized I needed to have an intervention with myself. In heels, a white blouse, and a flowy mid-length skirt, I looked like I’d be spending the day in an air-conditioned office. The truth was, I’d really be dashing across the city from one office to another and lugging an oversized bag up countless subway steps. It was instantly clear that I’d have to reconcile my outfit with my real life. Off came the heels and skirt, which were then swapped for white leather tennis shoes and wide-leg culottes. Now I was ready to go.

Dressing for your actual workday is key to getting through the day smoothly. But figuring out the kinds of clothes that let you move while also looking polished can be a challenge. Whether you’re scaling ladders, leading workshops, hanging artwork, or running between appointments, you want pieces that you don’t have to worry about—that look good on you and can keep up with your pace. They are your secret weapons. Check out some ideas for how to wield them wisely below. 

Be a Cover-Up Artist

Maybe you’re an interior designer who spends half the day pushing furniture into place and the other half courting new clients. Simple, streamlined staples, like the Chester pant and the Rio top, are ideal for demanding days. Made from breathable ribbed cotton, the Rio has hidden snaps in the straps to keep everything in place as you go about your business. The structured fit of the Chester pants makes it easy to crouch—or whatever else you need to do—without worrying about what’s happening with your waistband, and the slightly stretchy Italian cotton jacquard fabric is easy to move in. Right before client time, you can add a structured jacket, like the Merritt jardigan, to elevate the look. 

Don’t Let Them See You Sweat

Booked in high-pressure back-to-back meetings from the second you step into the office? Whatever comes out of your closet that morning has to be comfortable and chic, but it also has to have stamina. With a swingy skirt, sash-tie waist, and silky fabric, the Nanette dress is pulled-together without being restrictive, and it’s lightweight enough to keep you feeling cool until quitting time. Headed out for a celebratory after-hours cocktail? A transitional dress, like the Jessica, is another reliable piece that can breeze through the entire day into evening.

Go Dark

A career coach friend has a uniform for days when she is leading corporate retreats: a roomy button-up blouse and a pair of pants capable of pulling off some light yoga. Darker-colored pieces, like the Blake shirt in spruce and the Pippa pant, are ideal for days that call for physical activity, whether that means sitting on the floor or mocking up presentations on giant poster boards. No need to be precious about these clothes—the fabric will be just fine. Brush yourself off and get on with the next thing coming your way. 

Lean Into Linens

When you think of linen, gauzy vacation garments may come to mind. But this fabric is actually sturdy and resilient, especially in spring and summer when the weather fluctuates. It transitions beautifully from the bright sunny outdoors to the frigid air conditioning of an office, though we’re also big fans of keeping a versatile sweater at your desk just in case. Keep things simple by sticking with a single palette, like the Allie top and the Chester pant, both in blueberry. 

Go Longer Than Usual

When your gig suddenly calls for you to crouch, climb, or otherwise contort yourself into positions other than seated, you won’t have to worry about your clothes keeping up in a top with a slightly longer length. Tunics or hip-grazing tops can save you from baring skin in moments when you have to reach. The Abigail top looks great under a blazer and has you covered on days that demand a lot of physical activity, while a long coat, like the Dougherty, is easy to layer on top of a tank when you’re running in and out of air conditioning. 

Whatever You Wear: It’s Washable 

While different occasions call for different clothes, your wardrobe shouldn’t hold you back during the day. Well-made pieces in sturdy fabrics are meant to last and don’t need to be treated like precious objects that require protecting. Try pieces like stretchy, Italian cotton pants, an easy shift, or a poplin top. Whatever you’re wearing, you should be confident that your outfit can support you in the day ahead, capable of accommodating whatever arises.


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Elizabeth Kiefer is a writer and editor based in Brooklyn Read more of Elizabeth's posts.


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