Desk Dress

Work Outfit and Style Ideas for Creative Professionals

What is “Appropriate” to Wear to a Creative Job?

“That’s not appropriate,” I remember a teacher saying once about a dress my friend was wearing. It wasn’t particularly revealing, but had spaghetti straps which went against our public school’s rules. While that was well over a decade ago, students are still struggling to figure out  what “appropriate” really means when it comes to clothes, and who should really be the person to determine it.  When I was a teen, I was constantly trying to balance my personal style with my small town’s expectations.

What is “appropriate” to wear doesn’t become clearer when you get older.

What is appropriate to wear to a creative job?Fast forward to my first “real” job interview after college, when I was googling what was appropriate to wear to a job interview in the video/film industry. The answers spanned a huge spectrum. Some website claimed that a suit was absolutely necessary no matter what your industry, while others said you shouldn’t dress too formally if you’re going for a creative position. Even people I knew from school and internships disagreed: a mentor at my internship said she’d never be caught dead in anything less than a suit at an interview, while an owner of a company in my field said he’d hesitate before hiring anyone with bad enough judgement to wear something formal when everyone in the office wore jeans.

Compound those differences with expectations on modesty, and I can see how somebody new to the creative workforce can feel overwhelmed and under-informed. As a feminist, I felt like it was unfair for these extra expectations applied to me but not the mean around me. After all, if it’s hot shouldn’t I be able to feel comfortable enough to get my job down? It took me years before I realized that, at least in the creative industry, the most important thing about my clothes is that they were appropriate to me.

When it comes to creative jobs, you decide what is appropriate to wear.

I know, I know, this sounds like a cop out. But it’s true! The creative industry is all about coming up with creative solutions, and so your biggest selling point is your personality. Does this mean you should wear whatever you’re compelled to by any given whim? No, or else I’d have been in a full Wonder Woman costume the first five years of my (very nerdy) career. Instead, I think it’s important to think about your work outfits in terms of how they fit your personality. Dress for the persona you’re trying to convey to coworkers and clients.

For me, I like to present myself as laid-back yet professional. I also find it important to be comfortable, since I’m constantly running around the office. As a result, I wear a lot of what I call “coordinated casual” outfits: jeans paired with a nice top, t-shirts dressed up with a blazer, and comfy knit dresses with leggings so I don’t have to feel uncomfortable every time I climb under the desk to rewire cables.

Modesty isn’t as important in the creative industry.

I also am less concerned with modesty simply because it’s not an important value to me. Granted, my style is pretty naturally modest – comic book t-shirts aren’t exactly head-turning – but in general I find that if you dress to your own comfort level, you’ll probably be fine in most creative jobs. For example, a ballet dancer feels perfectly fine in a form-fitting leotard at practice, but might opt for a cocktail dress at her next gala or slacks and a blouse for meetings with the business side of her dance company.  Similarly, an art model will feel perfectly comfortable nude when she’s posing, but might like to hang out in sportswear with her clients after class.

And part of being comfortable is probably feeling like you’re making those around you feel comfortable too. A musician who usually wears strappy, clingy dresses to her club gigs will probably wear something less flashy when she’s giving piano lessons to the old lady down the street. At the end of the day, it’s about what makes you feel like you’re presenting yourself as confident and competent to your clients and co-workers, not what’s prescribed by the people around you.

So don’t be afraid to show off your tats with a cami at your next client luncheon if you know your clients rock, and don’t feel bad about covering up if you feel like that short skirt is out of place at a corporate meeting. Just dress thoughtfully and true to your personality, and you’re always be “appropriate” for you.

Style Statement Piece: Calvin Klein Piped Sleeve Sheath Dress

Today’s style statement piece is inspired by the countless hours I spent watching Turner Classic Movie and Nick at Night, trying to catch glimpses of the wild graphic sheath dresses donned by spunky 60’s actresses. These dresses weren’t about taste or good manners, they were about outrageous geometry and boldly contrasting colors that demanded your attention!

Calvin Klein Women’s Piped Sleevless Sheath Dress is absolutely in this spirit. The dress features a high contrast black and white design with wide piping giving it a graphic punch. Plus, the silhouette is simple and classic, which means you have more leeway to play with pairing it with bold accessories.

 

Today's Style Statement: Calvin Klein Piped Sheath Dress

People so often think of “creative” styles as always being boho or scattered, but this dress shows how you can appear design-forward while still keeping a clean silhouette. It looks at home as much at a modern art gallery as it does in a meeting with the suit and tie crowd.  What this outfit needs to bring it to the next level is some bold accessories to support the already bold style lines on this dress.

Accessories are key here. I could see pairing it with some bright-colored low-heel pumps like the green Nine West pumps below to bring a burst of color without taking away from the chic geometry.

Green Nine West pumps add a pop of color to the black and white graphic look

Yet you can also dress this piece down. A brown leather bag with a bit of drape would bring it back to reality with some earthy hues and a change of texture.

 

A soft leather black tote gives the ensemble a more earthy feel

In any case, it’s clear that while this dress makes a bold, geographic statement, it can be switched up quite a bit for all of your creative wardrobe needs!

 
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Creative Fashion Staple: Circle Skirt

I wanted to start a series that features simple, versatile pieces that can be used again and again in a creative wardrobe. My first piece for this series is the custom circle skirts made by Mokkafiveoclock on Etsy. Take a look at this one in red:

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Can’t you just see that paired with your favorite white button-down to make it a little less stuffy? To me, a circle skirt is perfect for any creative professional. It can be simple and polished, or wild and ruffled. You can play with prints and bright colors to offset a plain blouse, or keep it clean with a neutral color so that a wild top can take center stage. Its flared silhouette gives a retro vibe, but it can feel incredibly modern when done in the right fabric.

Mokkafiveoclock also carries a range of colors and prints to choose fun, from pastels to primaries to gorgeous floral prints:

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I can see all of them working in a casual office, or even dressed up with a blazer for a corporate meeting!

A Simple Infographic for Planning Your Creative Work Wardrobe

Sometimes it’s nice to go back to the basics when planning your creative work wardobe. And by basics, I’m not just talking about a black t-shirt. I’m talking about basic concepts to keep in mind when you want to dress both creatively and professionally.

So, in honor of my love for tiny little icons, I made a simple infographic with some tips to keep in mind when deciding what to wear to your creative job. It’s all about being comfy, creative, yet put together.  Feel free to print it as a reminder to slow down and think about what you wear!

The Basics of a Work Wardrobe for Creatives

Of course the infographic contains just a few quick thoughts on work wardrobe planning for your creative job. I’d love to hear any tips you might have for when somebody is looking at their closet and has no idea what to do next!

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