Nikki’s Inbox: From College Casual to Business Casual

Ask Nikki!

Hi! I’m a 4th year college student, but I’m on the executive board for a few student orgs that require occasional dressing up.

My question is: How do I transition to business-casual?

Most of my closet is random T-shirts, hoodies, jeans, and sweats. I prefer being comfortable over being the trendiest person in the room, but I do like being fashionable, if only in fairly neutral colors. I tend to dress in more plain tomboyish style as well; nothing glittery, lacy, or frilly, and I have only one pair of heels. I have pretty broad shoulders and essentially no chest.

Amy, 21/Wisconsin, USA

I’ve recently just started another part-time job whilst in the middle of doing my degree. My new job is an office type of job and I go in when I have breaks at the university. I find it a hassle to take a change of clothes for work so, I was wondering how to look business-like whilst still looking casual and trendy enough for uni.

I normally wear a plain T-shirt with a blazer or long coat but I feel like it makes me look to old for my age (my friends have said I look 30). I really like the more mature style of fashion but I think I lack confidence in wearing it because it’s not my usual style. In contrast to this, when I wear T-shirts and skinny jeans, I get mistaken for a 12 year old – and that really isn’t my aim.

I guess my overall problem would be to find some business type clothes that make me look my age and could be worn to uni too.

Please, please, please help me because I really need some fashion advice. Thanks.

Ash, 19/New Zealand


I hope you don’t mind that I hit two birds with one stone because your dilemmas are similar, dears. First things first. Do you know the style problem you two have in common? If you answered “T-shirts,” I’d gladly give you a lollipop each. Now, I’m not saying you should stop wearing tees right this minute but as you’re both working, albeit part-time, this also requires a change in outlook as well as personal style.

Save the Tees, Choose Structured Tops
I have no issue with T-shirts, but it’s a legitimate concern when you show up for work wearing something faded, ratty, ill-fitting and practically hanging on by a single thread at the neck. No, wearing a blazer over it won’t change the fact it’s on its last legs. Instead, buy yourselves a few plain ones with flattering necklines like scoop, V-neck or rounded that suit your body types (which you didn’t mention, sadly). On days when you have those student board meetings, Amy, or have to be at your job, Ash, make sure to wear a blouse or shirt. They don’t have to be stiff or designer; just the right fit and size, and can be flowy and soft. Get some classic button-downs with small patterns, or with more details like studs at the collar or contrast trim.

P is for Preppy and Professional
Having a job this early gives you a leg up in your professional life, Ash. For you, Amy, consider thedressing up as a trial run for internship and job interviews, if you haven’t done those yet. Your blazers don’t have to always be black, which can make you look older, especially if they’re boxy and unsuitable for your body shape. Instead, go for charcoal, gray, navy blue (looks great with gold buttons for that nautical style), and in lighter shades like oatmeal, off-white or even pastels for spring and summer. The dark, solid colors will serve to ground your outfit if you wear prints or patterns, while the more colorful ones can complement a floral print blouse or dress, or even a simple chambray shirt. Dresses, such as mock two-piece versions and shirtdresses are a one-stop solution to transitioning from class to the workplace – throw on a shawl cardigan, a cropped jacket or a cute tweed jacket and go!

Make Pants Look Fantastic
Ash, you don’t have to stop wearing jeans if the dress code at your workplace doesn’t forbid them. Again, just a little upgrade is in order. If you girls are always in skinny jeans, perhaps it’s time to look into other styles. Dark-rinse, straight leg pants are always a winner and so are boot-cuts with just a hint of flare at the hem (wider ones are totally boho-chic). For pants, always go for flat-front but slim-fit. Ankle pants are the trend these days and they look just hot with a flowy, untucked top and with just about any footwear imaginable like stilettos, dressy boots and Dr Martens, flats and oxfords, even sneakers. Even if you just wear your plain tee with the pants, it’ll still look totally cool. Switch the blazer to a trench, and your sneakers to flats or pumps, and you’ll look at home in the board room or behind the desk.


Then throw in some chic accessories like a nice tote, statement necklace or a leather cuff.


Now you’re both ready to go pro. Good luck, ladies!

Nikki

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