Making Do

I would kill for these clothes.

So I started a new job on Monday — a positive development, aside from its possible impact on my blogging. Today I don’t have all the answers, but I do have some thoughts, and some questions.

Remember my post on that last ten pounds? Yeah, well. I still haven’t lost them. I don’t care, really, except the fabulous new wardrobe I bought for work a couple of years ago doesn’t fit. I’m small-boned and my work clothes were very tailored/fitted. I think it’s possible I could lose some weight now that I’m walking a lot more and not sitting at home with my BFF the cheesecake, but there’s no guarantee.

I’m also working in a decidedly less formal (but still Washington, DC) office. Not Big Law, but no capris, denim, sundresses, or sandals either. The hierarchy is fairly flat, and with the exception of my boss (the CEO, formally dressed in suits for her many meetings) most of the women are wearing simple sheath dresses or dress pants/blouse combinations. My work is more back-office, and I ‘m not really in a position to splash out on another fancy wardrobe, so MY theme is “making do,” as follows:

* three pairs of dress slacks in my current size (black, charcoal, navy)

* a few blouses that fit, the issue being my bust (trying to be as vague as possible here)

* undergarments for said … okay, fine, my rack got bigger. It’s one of the places I gain/lose weight first (not uncommon.) I’m an ample C/D right now, and would like to be back to a B/C. (Sidenote: I am stunned at the number of C/D bras that are pushup or heavily padded. As IF!!) I did buy some new bras, because poorly fitting bras are terrible, and starting the day with pretty underpinnings is morale-boosting.

* most of my blazers are … fine? I didn’t button them anyway. I’m finally working in an office at a reasonable temperature (yay!) — no huddling in a heavy sweater, drinking hot tea all summer. So now my structured blazers are a bit too much of a layer, frankly, and a bit too formal unless I need to jazz it up for a meeting.

* I’m wearing my long, silvery hair up in a bun or a twist, because I refuse to cut it. And I plan to wear some of my more interesting jewelry, rather than the staid pearls.

So, with all that … who feels like giving some fashion advice? How do I make do with these few things that fit, plus bits and bobs of my previous, extensive (much more formal) wardrobe? Should I look into dresses? I have a ton of scarves I never wear. How do you feel about cardigans, especially in lieu of blazers?  I have some lovely silk ones. Have you noticed how hard it is to find work-appropriate blouses that don’t cost the earth? Why does every blouse seem to have cut-outs, ruching, or transparent panels? What is up with those tiny patch pockets on the boobs?  How do I keep my overall look modern vs. stodgy or like your batty great aunt? Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  Feel free to drop links into the comments if you want to recommend a website, dress source, look book, Pinterest page, whatever.

Perfume-wise I’m keeping it pretty tame — something unobtrusive that makes me happy in the heat (98 as I type this! could hit 100!) I’ve been alternating between Malle Magnolia and my old summer stand-by, Bulgari The Blanc. I haven’t been able to detect any great perfume among the 40-odd employees, but somebody is offgassing heinous Axe-quality aftershave in the hall. I’m going to hunt him down and confiscate that bottle, and introduce him to something wonderful.

  • jen says:

    Sheathes and cardis were my office uniform til last year when I escaped. Think Michele Obama.

  • Maggie says:

    Late, but one more blog suggestion – Maitai’s Picture Book is a great scarf blog. She is all Hermes all the time, but writes beautifully and has a lot of excellent scarf tying videos.

  • Ann says:

    Congratulations on the new job, dear — so happy for you!! I also like the idea of a dressy-ish T-shirt paired with a cool necklace. Before it got so dad-gummed hot here ( sounds like you’re in the same boat), I liked to wear a solid tank top under a pretty paisley long-sleeve shirt and solid pants or dark, dressy jeans. And although I’m a complete klutz at tying scarves, I’ve found several of those infinity (circle) ones that enhance some of my solid shirts and add a nice touch. They make my neck too hot at home and the car, though, so I just take one with me to work and slip it on before I go through the front door. No scents for me at all though 🙁 as the office has gone fragrance-free. Just wish some folks wouldn’t be so heavy-handed with the bathroom spray, ha!

  • Dina C. says:

    I echo what everyone else has said about the wonders of an upscale T-shirt, nice jewelry, and layers. Let me add: lightweight merino wool cardigans are a great layer year round since they’re truly warm without adding bulk. I like the jcrew ones and lands end one that I have.

    Best wishes and congrats on the new job!

  • Musette says:

    laughing at the bras. I KNOW! Isn’t it ridiculous? I have a rack the size of Toronto – and I’m in the midsize of big – and every bra I see has MASSIVE padding. It actually makes my boobs look ridiculous – the padding does NOT enhance at all! And…if you are a 44DDD (which I am not – but just for a hot minute consider ) – why would you need padding?


  • cinnamon says:

    Sorry, a bit late to the party. I love reading your posts, March. Congrats on the new job. What about Uniqlo for tops? And what was the old adage about good shoes, a good haircut and a swipe of lipstick? In addition, I believe Hermes offers either a little book that can be ordered or a guide that can be downloaded to tying a scarf. I used to have the download — great resource.

    • March says:

      Funny you mentioned it, I was googling “scarf tying.” For the size/quality of my collection (my late MIL used to give them to me, and I inherited some of hers) I should wear them more, they’re fun and stylish. And I will look at Uniqlo, thanks!

  • Lisa Darty says:

    I am completely perplexed by boob pockets.

    I think a collection of really nice tees is a great idea, especially if you can find some in nicely draping fabric, like a smooth jersey or rayon. Paired with a cardigan or fitted jacket, this combo looks great with anything – skirt, slacks, denim – and can be dressed up or down with shoes, jewelry or other accessories. And a great perfume, of course.

  • Sarah says:

    Your taste is pretty impeccable in perfume so I imagine that would follow into clothing.
    I love a blog called Amid Privilege for dressing styles. Beautifully written as well. Shine on.

  • Caroline says:

    No sandals! That’s so unfair, after all we do to have nice feet. Definitely encourage you to add to your sheath dress wardrobe–makes getting ready quick & easy. Places like Talbots and Ann Taylor are always having sales; pick up a few in neutral colors/ varying sleeve lengths and adorn with scarves. Congrats on the new gig.

  • Patty says:

    eavesdropping. I am on board on the great overprice, but non-tee looking tee. It can do about anything. Right now I just have too many in black and need some other colors. Scarves are pretty much out for me in summer, even the incredibly overpriced gauzy ones, just too much heat in the wroong place. boring pants and skirts, and I rely on jewelry on the days I don’t really want to be boring.

  • Bexca says:

    Congrats on the job! You could consign the old wardrobe, either at a brick-and-mortar shop or online through Twice Clothing or something similar, then use the store credits to get some new-to-you pieces. You probably don’t want to store clothes in a basement long since they can get musty, and not in a nice, oakmossy way.

    I’m also a fan of nice t-shirts and a cardigan plus jewelry/scarves. Lands’ End has a fitted cotton-modal scoopneck which looks good and is priced well.

  • Pixel says:

    Congrats on the new job! Sounds like we have similar bodies. WHAT IS UP WITH PUSH UP D’s?? As if I want the gals to be MORE in-yer-face at work. Bah. And little pockets on those boobies? Why????

    Now that I’ve got that off my chest (soooooo funneeee!) here’s some advice, take or leave.

    – Pants are good, jackets (if they fit) are good. Try pants with colored flats for a bit more fun than plain ol’ black or brown shoes.
    – Button-up shirts are just Bad. Try shells, short sleeved or sleeveless. Usually they’re more forgiving, and you can find them in lots of colors.
    – Scarves are good, so is jewelry. I love jewelry, love love love.
    – If you like lace (I do) you can find lacy shells that can be worn over camisoles – vary the camisole colors for variety. Could wear the camisoles with over-blouses as well.
    – I have a nice black sweater (long, open front) that lives at work, for days when the A/C is set at ‘icebox’.

    Remember it is the job of clothes to make YOU look good, not vice versa. 🙂

    • March says:

      Guess what! Thanks to you I’ve dropped my too-small, never-liked-them-anyway cotton button-up shirts in the to-go pile. 🙂

  • AnnieA says:

    One vote here for wrap dresses, which are good also if there is a weight change. I remember seeing somewhere some amazing blouses with enough buttons in the bust area so there are no gaps – no idea why it’s not more commonly done.

  • Ggslancaster says:

    Ah- March. We have this issue in common, except my 10 lbs over may now be closer to 20. And as I gain mostly in the hips & boobs, structured blazers, suits and pants usually have to be altered by a tailor to fit me. Sigh. I am in and out of a car all day long in my job (sales job) so I go for layers- as I am dealing with temp changes & taking a coat on & off in weather. I wear knit tops and tees a lot year-round –shirts that wrinkle and need to be ironed are too much trouble! Silk doesnt work for me- I sweat under the arms too much- but the shirt or blouse as a “blazer” is a great tactic depending on the cut of the shirt. I like to wear these with a skirt instead of a structured blazer.

    Also- I have Chico’s (the store brand in US) “travellers” fabric (95% acetate,
    5% spandex)!unstructured/unlined blazer-cut tops in black, navy, and brown – in a cropped sleeve style without lapels & long style with lapels. I get a ton of wear out of these! Washable; no wrinkles; versatile; you can push the sleeves up; wear like iron- some of mine look like new & are probably 10 years old. I wear with sleeveless dresses & tops in summer – and with with khaki or grey or patterned pants or skirts year-round. Great with scarves and statement necklaces. These wear so well- and the fabric doesn’t snag or pill –
    that they are good choices to buy on ebay & in consignment shops – once you know the style & size you like. Or keep an eye on the sale or clearance racks at Chico’s stores (pricey when new).
    I spent a ton on getting some suits altered to fit me for interviews, but day-to-day- I wear washable separates for work.
    A statement necklace, or great scarf or shoes makes the outfit pop- and I could repeat the basic layers underneath & no one would notice.

    • March says:

      I have, I think, a pair of pants in that travelers fabric. Pondering how to style them a bit, they’re super comfy and non-wrinkly. Thanks for the tip!

  • bevfred says:

    I make jewelry, so I’m a fan of using the jewels to jazz things up.
    There are so many styles available for reasonable prices. H&M, Banana, even department stores.
    The best advice I can give is have fun with accessories.

    • March says:

      I have SO MUCH costume jewelry, I’m a magpie. Much of it is super-cheap, some of it expensive. It’s a nice way to add a pop of color or some individual style.

  • FeralJasmine says:

    Hey March, always a pleasure to hear from you. You have already been given all my favorite fashion advice, do I will only add two things:
    1. A single fairly short strand of pearls adds formality while lighting up your face in a way that nothing else does. Try it in front of a mirror.
    2. Long silvery hair in a sleek chignon looks stunning. Especially with pearls.
    You are gorgeous!

  • Sonia says:

    I don’t have any suggestions- rather am in need of them so, thank you, all. Am taking notes!!

  • poodle says:

    I always dress in layers because my office can be an icebox or an oven. I always wear cardigans, heavy in winter, light and cottony in summer. If its really hot I wear a blouse over a t-shirt but leave it unbuttoned like a blazer. It’s never hot for long at work so it’s more likely I’ll be adding a layer rather than subtracting. I have mostly black pants which go with everything. I tried wearing skirts and dresses way back when I started but after having to get up on ladders and crawl under desks to fix things because no one else would I became a pants only girl for work.
    Good luck with your new job!

    • March says:

      Thanks! Yep, it’s all layering for me… I commute on the Metro, so that’s a hot 45 minutes right now, and I like to add the final layer when I get to work. This will reverse in the winter. You are I think the fourth (!) person to recommend the tee-unbuttoned blouse combo and I am LOVING this, it’s a perfect solution, esp since I already own said blouses!

  • dinazad says:

    Congratulations on the new job! As for the blazer problem – I usually wear a silk (or otherwise high-class) blouse-as-cardigan (i.e. open) over a good quality black or white t-shirt (with black pants or skirt). Since I own several such blouses in different colors, I can really jazz up the black!
    There’s an upcoming new label here in Switzerland called “Les Blancs” which makes only work-appropriate white blouses. Nothing else. Unfortunately, they’re so new that they haven’t put up a website yet…..

    • March says:

      Again, you are killing it this morning! I have several lovely silk blouses that are now too tight across the bust. Wearing over an elegant black or navy tee would be perfect in terms of look and weight. Thanks so much!

  • Neva says:

    Hi March, I feel for you. I have a home office for years and I have no formal dressing combinations in my closet meanwhile. My favourite dress code when visiting customers is: dresses (I have plenty of them) with cotton cardigans and ballerinas or flat ankle boots which I can afford because of my height.
    If you wear pants and skirts in black/blue, you can combine them with colorful tops. By doing so, you can avoid scarves. I don’t wear them either because in the summer heat I sweat heavily underneath. Good luck!

    • March says:

      Thus far I have stuck to the boring trousers for just that reason, then I can do whatever with the tops. And thanks!

  • caseymaureen says:

    My taste in clothes has always outstripped my income so I became an expert shopper on eBay and in the sales. eBay is particularly good for buying anything that isn’t tightly fitted like unstructured jackets and looser fitting tops in really good quality fabrics. I’m sure you would be expert in sniffing out the bargains on there when it comes to perfume – just apply the same rules!!
    Good luck

    • March says:

      I have gotten a few lovely pieces on eBay! Including some funkier pieces I may try this fall if it seems right. Your tip to stick to the less structured items makes sense.

  • HemlockSillage says:

    March! I have no advice, but was looking at my closet and making do this week at work as well. Hearing your basic pieces is very helpful. My big debate is whether to chunk all those non fitting clothes that sit there, not fitting correctly, mocking me and just making me feel badly about where I am right now. Hmm. I think I just answered my own question there. OUT, mocking clothing! If I do manage to drop these pounds, then those things will likely be a bit out of fashion anyway. I need to work on having a few basics that work now. Finding pants that fit, now that, is my nightmare. Right next to trying on swimsuits 😀
    Congrats on your new job. I’m certain you look smashing. Can’t imagine you any other way. Be well.

    • March says:

      Well, mine are in the basement — partly because I’d wear them if I could, and if not I’ll probably try to sell the whole lot together on Craigslist, because it’s a perfect Talbots-level entire summer/winter wardrobe…. but they’re not hanging in front of me, taking up space and being useless.

  • KimB says:

    Congrats on the new job – hope we still get to read your blogging here 🙂
    I have the same complaint about blouses so instead I go with nice T’s and a blazer. The T’s fit better (avoids the gapping bust button problem) and the blazers ‘fancy up’ the T so it works for an office setting, whether more or less casual. I like good quality T’s – usually Eileen Fisher, Talbots, LL Bean. All have decent quality, wide size selection, good pricing, EF tends to have better colors but basic black is good from all of them. I avoid the ‘ribbed at the neck’ style i.e. clean sewn edge so it doesn’t look so T-like, if that makes sense. How to avoid stodgy? Hmmm…. not sure I have mastered that one but great jewellery helps!!

  • Cheryl Guzman says:

    MAARRRCH! Always good to hear from you.

  • Rina says:

    Congrats! Def break out the scarves! They can jazz up a plain white tee (tailored) like nobody’s business! Being the Queen of Subversive Fashion, I loved breaking out the McQueen scarves and hearing, “Hey, is that a…?” Yes, yes it is! So fun! Enjoy!