Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Working Wardrobe

As much as I love the crazy fashion scene we have here in the Philippines - and by extension, Southeast Asia - I also can't deny the widespread impact of the current global recession on people's lives. At a time when skilled overseas workers from the Third World are being sent back to their home countries and budgets are getting slashed across the board, there's no reason to think that anyone's job is anywhere near safe.

Suffice it to say that, as a professional who's entering the Philippine job market for the first time, I am facing quite a challenge. Back in Honolulu, I was practically ready to hire if I showed up at a job interview wearing a button-down blouse, long pants, and covered shoes; considering the weather, the field I was in, and the laid-back corporate culture, I didn't need to be dressed in a suit to be taken seriously. That's not the case in Manila, where a global approach to economic growth demands a more conservative approach to dressing... even though the climate isn't exactly blazer-worthy.

Thus, I turn my attention back to creating another capsule wardrobe on Polyvore.

The inspiration for this set, of course, comes from the packaging for the Pretty Polly nylons that you can see in the middle; the pic itself suggests a naughty-secretary vibe, but I wanted to go for something equally edgy and mysterious without the accompanying conniptions from the HR department. Since I'm currently trying to make a career transition into a corporate-but-creative setting, my picks may be a little less conservative than expected.

Nevertheless, the rules still apply...

- Separate, but neutral. Let's face it - unless you are working in a very conservative workplace where you do have to deal with numerous high-rolling clients, most of us don't really need a full suit system. Regardless of where you get your suit-like separates - like jackets, pants, and skirts - what does matter is to stay as close to a neutral palette as possible, without breaking from tradition. The J. Crew blazer that I chose for this set, for example, is similar to the khaki blazers that I have in my closet, and appropriate for the warmer climes in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Rim. This would definitely be fine if you're working someplace creative and casual, but for a more conservative setting - like, say, a law office or a major financial institution - I would've either matched up that jacket to the navy skirt (again, similar to something I already own) or made a "suit" with matching khaki pants.

- Tailored to perfection. What I wanted to avoid in this set was the same mistake that I had made for most of my professional career: not paying attention to proper fit. I say this because I have spent most of my career in Hawaii wearing the same shapeless black cardigan to work every single day, which made me look dowdy regardless of what I wore with it. When I made the decision to move to Manila, I ended up chucking the black cardi in favor of tailored blazers. Now, I'm not saying you should dress like one of the old boys - and we'll get to more on that point later - but you do want to make sure that what you wear to work conveys power and competence. Tailoring your skirts and jackets to fit makes a lot of difference in doing that; so do adding conservative touches such as wingtip-style high heels or a structured leather bag, like the Mulberry Bayswater shown here.

- Feminize it. Where I part from all the power-dressing rules is my insistence on softening the suit-y parts of the work wardrobe with comfortable, feminine details. Again, keeping the climate in consideration here, I chose to pair the blazer with short-sleeved blouses - but not your usual bow-tied froofy blouses from the '80s (see also: the movie 9 to 5). I like the flattering neckline on this Celine blouse, which doesn't choke at the neck but still keeps the cleavage covered; I love how the whole thing drapes from sleeve to hem. But I also like the vibrant color and basic design of the Dorothy Perkins shirt, too, which provides room for both tradition and comfort. I can also see myself wearing these blouses without the jacket, too - still professional while beating the heat and humidity - and, if I'm feeling adventurous, I might even wear them untucked with a slim leather belt. Any combination of design and color would work, too, as long as it flatters the body and the skin tone.

- Flattery takes you far. My rule is that the closer I wear anything to my face, the softer and more feminine it should be - thus, the color and shape of the blouses. I also chose the rose button earrings for the same reasons, since they're designed to add a little bit of adornment without clashing with either my skin tone or the rest of the outfit. (As much as I love dangly earrings and such, I would rather not faff around with fussy jewelry when I'm working - better to just put something on and forget about it until you get home.)

- Within due bounds. Now, as for avoiding looking like the "sexy-tary," I do make a few concessions in the name of corporate professionalism: sticking to full-coverage shoes instead of stilettos (easier to walk in), wearing nylons (because, let's face it, even Manila isn't ready for bare legs in the office), and sticking with a structured bag that's not festooned with all sorts of designer logos or alien textures. I also want to add that it's important for highly qualified job seekers like me to avoid the pitfall of wearing makeup that's too heavy and/or too bright. (Let's just say that deep red lipstick has cost me a few jobs here and there, and leave it at that.)

Now, are we ready to face this market together, or what? ;)


kuri said...

Love that bag and the shoes!

Fit is so important indeed. I'm still learning to find clothes that flatter me, and it's hard to get rid of the stuff that doesn't flatter me though.

Best Anti-aging Products said...

Even as a college student, we're already being required to wear corporate attire. And suffice to say, it's not very convenient considering the hot weather.

Thanks for the tip on clothes. The matches are lovely.