How to Pull Off Leather at the Office

Here, 10 of the new wearable leather silhouettes showcased on the runways you’ll want to add to your wardrobe workwear now. We’re talking strictly business

NOVEMBER 27, 2014

As soon as fall merchandise started rolling into stores, leather shot to the top of my shopping list. But not the teen-pop legging look I saw on racks everywhere. I was more drawn to its grown-up sisters: lean sheath dresses, beautifully cut skirts and refined fitted jackets.

I’ve flirted with leather over the years: A favourite pair of leather jeans, long since sold on consignment, a well-loved collection of bomber jackets, biker jackets and a knee-length coat all had their places at some point in my closet. But leather for daytime just seemed too much. To ease myself in, I stuck to my cardinal uniform of black and found a few key leather pieces to gussy up my wardrobe of basics.

But first, some important reconnaissance. Susie Sheffman, fashion creative director and consultant, has sage advice for making leather look professional: Wear one piece at a time, and mix it with tailored pieces, like a well-cut blouse or tweed blazer. This, she points out, “takes the toughness down.” She advises me to remove anything too clubby or vampy from my outfits, and when wearing leather pants, to keep the stomach, waistline and bum covered up. She also recommends keeping shoes simple—skip the sky-high heels in favour of a flat, a mid-heel or an oxford to keep the sexiness in check.

Fortunately, on the day I wanted to brave leather pants, the weather was perfect. I wore skinny black leather pants from Ann Taylor with a crisp white collared shirt, a favourite black J.Crew “schoolboy” blazer and nude flats. I felt completely comfortable, as the outfit was a small upgrade from my usual black wool skinny trousers. I got a few compliments on the pants (they fit really nicely), and it felt office appropriate but with a little something extra. This outfit will indeed be in the rotation on the regular.

getting-dressed-leather-thekit.ca-2

Ann Taylor pants, $116, anntaylor.com

On Fridays, without fail, I wear some variation of the skinny jeans and blazer combination. I subbed out one of my go-to blazers in favour of a moto-style jacket from Banana Republic with an ink-blue body and black fabric sleeves. Marissa Webb, Banana Republic’s new creative director (and J.Crew alumna), has already put her mark on the fall and winter line, with a ton of leather and mixed-medium pieces.

getting-dressed-leather-thekit.ca-1

Banana Republic jacket, $310, bananarepublic.ca

One week, I wore it with a white collared shirt (yup, again), black skinny jeans and ankle boots. It felt like a cooler, fresher version of my casual Friday uniform. Another week, I paired it with a knit black pencil skirt, black tank and simple black pumps. Both times, I received lots of compliments (especially from the young ones around the office).

getting-dressed-leather-thekit.ca-3

Here’s the thing: When you introduce a beautiful leather garment into your outfit, it instantly makes it more special or interesting, even in a subtle way. So as someone with an admittedly basic wardrobe, I felt good wearing leather to the office.

 Danier skirt, $250, danier.com

(Published originally for The Kit, November 2014)

During the summer, stay cool on casual Friday—without looking like a slob

Summer heat + casual Friday = wardrobe disaster. Don’t let it happen to you

You know him well. The guy around the office that takes Casual Fridays to new extremes in the summer, arriving in grass-stained shoes, baggy cargo shorts and an oversized T-shirt with his fraternity logo emblazoned on the front. And you think, “this is why we can’t have nice things.”

While a well-articulated office dress code is your HR team’s concern, what you put on in the morning is yours.

The requisite Monday-Thursday uniform makes dressing a cinch, with little thought required. It’s when the rules loosen up (officially or un-) on Friday and subjectivity comes into play that dad jeans, loud Hawaiian shirts and gnarly toenails creep in. And Fridays in summer are the highest-risk time for such sartorial blunders. So stock up on a few key items and follow a few simple rules for how to go casual while still dressing like you mean it during the dog days of summer.

Men

Model wearing light grey linen-cotton blazer

Two button linen-cotton blazer. $275 at Banana Republic.

  • Cotton and linen rule. Look for a well-cut sport coat in a light, breathable fabric. Pair it with chinos, and le voila, the beginnings of your Summer Friday uniform.
  • If braving denim, it should be of the darker variety (save the distressed, broken in jeans for the weekend) and worn with a collared shirt.
  • While unabashedly sexist, men shouldn’t bare their toes or armpits. Pity, because it’s really, really comfortable. If you want to lighten up, wear your loafers or moccasins (not sneakers) with those handy no-show socks so you can show some ankle.
  • More relaxed accessories can keep your look sharp, without being stuffy. Braided belts, knit ties and a more casual canvas briefcase fit the bill.

Women

Model wearing a navy merino wool flare skirt

Merino wool flare skirt. $170 at J.Crew

  • Work-worthy fabrics shouldn’t be too sheer or tight (check in natural lighting to see if your underthings are showing through). Ensure that the neckline and sleeve cut mitigate any rogue bra straps.
  • Keep a basic blazer or cardigan at the office and toss it on when the A.C. is cranked.
  • Fewer things ruin an otherwise polished look more than unwalkable heels. Only buy shoes that you can comfortably get around in. Feet should be kept groomed and neat, otherwise, don’t show them. No calluses or chipped polish. And no flip flops, or strappy stilettos—nothing too beachy or cocktaily.
  • Skirts and dresses can sit differently without tights on underneath. Try them on to check they aren’t too sheer or too short to be worn with bare legs to the office. If you can sit comfortably in a skirt without having to tug at the hemline, then it is likely a good length.

When it doubt, check your HR policy, or better yet, look to your peers—and those in the ranks above them. Another easy barometer is the purpose of your clothing. If it is used to do anything other than make money (like cut grass, play tennis or do yoga), do yourself, and your colleagues, a favour and leave it in the closet.

(Article first appeared on Canadian Business, June 2014)

Decoding your office holiday party invitation

holiday cocktails

Festive? Cocktail? Or festive cocktail? The language of party invitations is key to cracking the dress code, well, code. Following are some cues to heed in your choice of attire. And heed away. There is a return to an interest in dressing with intent (thanks in part to a movement against ‘Casual Fridays’ getting too casual). Taking pleasure in dressing for a sense of occasion has triumphed over huffing about having to fuss with a suit or cocktail dress. Wear the hell out of that formal wear.

If you’re fortunate enough to be invited to an event that calls for black tie, why not fully embrace it? Wearing your best can be a point of pride, as well as a nod of respect to your host.

While you open your closet, consider falling nicely in the middle of the sartorial spectrum. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, you don’t want to be the flashiest person in the room, but you don’t want to be the most underdressed.

Black tie|
Men

  • Black tuxedo jacket and trousers
  • Crisp white formal shirt with button studs and cuff links
  • Bow tie (or formal long tie, smart tie clip optional, as is pocket square)
  • Cummerbund or vest
  • Black patent shoes and black dress socks

Women

  • Floor length evening gown, or dressy cocktail dress
  • Evening heels or shoes (fabric over leather, often)
  • Formal accessories (not the handbag you schlep to the office, for example) and hair very done

Semiformal or Cocktail

Men

  • Dark suit
  • Crisp, pressed dress shirt
  • Tie, cuff links, tie pin if you’re feeling it
  • Leather dress shoes and dark dress socks

Women

  • Cocktail dress, top and skirt combination or smart pantsuit in an evening fabric
  • As dolled up in accessories as you like: jewellery, handbag and shoes
 
Business Formal – a slightly less smart or formal version of the above for both men and women
Festive Cocktail
Men
  • Relaxed cocktail attire, but a bit more ease. A vest over a dress shirt. Reindeer sweater is not required (be relaxed, but not costumey)
Women
Business Casual

Are jeans ok for business casual? If the function and occasion are more casual than business, then yes, but opt for your darkest, pristine denim.

Men
  • Blazer or sport coat in a seasonally appropriate fabric
  • Casual dress shirt (tie is optional) or collared polo
  • Loafers (if wearing socks, they should be good socks, not white gym socks. And hipsters may bare ankle as they see fit).

Women

  • Casual dress (nothing strapless or too precious) or a shirt with skirt or pant
  • Keep the business in “business casual” – nothing too slinky or bombshell
  • Wedges, modest heels or a smart flat (look no further than Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge for a study in casual)

Ask An Expert: To Remove Shoes Or Not?

There are ample sartorial conundrums out there – can you show your bra straps or how short is too short for a wear-to-work skirt? But one of the biggest issues we’ll all face at some point involves footwear, specifically to remove or not remove at a party?

To help us answer this conundrum (and to ensure you do the fashionably forward thing at your next house party), we contacted our resident etiquette expert Karen Cleveland of Finishing School.

The mark of a good host is whether or not they allow guests leave their shoes on? To think of all the time wasted, mixing drinks, whipping up food and introducing guests to each other. Pity. There is no right or wrong answer to this conundrum. But there is a place for common sense. Are these shoes freshly in from an icy or sopping wet walk on an April day? Or are they sandals that have been meticulously wiped on the front door, practically spotless, on a dry June evening.

More variables: is your carpet white or made of the skin of an exotic animal? Is your flooring fairly low maintenance hardwood that cleans up with a quick wipe? Despite all of these things to consider, it’s the host’s call, though they risk bristling a guest that differs in shoe placement opinion.

Hosts: there is a tacit liability that when you invite guest over, they might unintentionally get your things dirty. If you have an area rug that is really precious, roll that white animal skin rug up and put it away for the night. Don’t serve exclusively red wine, particularly if the crowd or occasion is bound to get raucous. If you prefer guests keep their shoes off, enlist the help of your trusted friends. Ask them to arrive a bit early and stage their shoes just so, so that other guests will hopefully get their cue.

Guests: if there is a stack of shoes at the entrance to a party, that is a clear signal to take off your shoes and add them to the pile. Get a vodka soda or other transparent beverage and start dancing on the nearest white animal skin rug.

Questions, comments and conundrums are most welcome at twitter.com/schoolfinishing or formspring.me/KarenCleveland.

(Originally published on Stylelist Canada, April, 2013)

What’s ‘cocktail’ attire?

What does it mean when a party invite stipulates ‘cocktail’ attire?

Of all of life’s enigmas, dress codes can be the most difficult to crack. And the festive season brings a deluge of societal invitations, many of them seemingly crafted by a U-boat’s encryption specialist. When a party planner specifies “holiday formal” or “smart casual,” she might as well be demanding “late-period Etruscan.” Fortunately, the vagueness of “cocktail attire” belies its rather straightforward meaning. For gentlemen, the standard uniform is a dark suit, crisp dress shirt of a solid colour or subtle pattern, a tie and dress shoes. For women, this is an occasion to wear what Mrs. McArdle describes as “a little black dress.” Remember that cocktail functions are a time for refinement, not excess. As etiquette expert Karen Cleveland wisely advised me: “You don’t want to be the flashiest person in the room, but you don’t want to be the most underdressed. You just want to look really well put together.” To “gussy” oneself up, Cleveland, proprietor of the excellent Finishing School blog, advises gents to consider a nice pocket square or a pair of great cufflinks, while ladies can take their pick of jewelry. But please, convey holiday cheer through actions, not fashion. “You don’t want to be pulling out the reindeer sweater your grandmother gave you,” says Cleveland. “Exercise good sartorial judgment.” Words that wise should be printed on a T-shirt.

Need advice? Want to settle a debate? Go ahead, ask McArdle anything: Askmcardle@canadianbusiness.com

Illustration by Peter Arkle

(First published in Canadian Business, November 2012)