“Dress Code” Doesn’t Mean “Boring”

When we’re young, fresh-faced college graduates, the words “dress code” strikes fear into our hearts (at least it did mine). We tend to over-dress our first day of our new jobs, and then learn to assimilate our wardrobe to fit in with our coworkers.  That assimilation tends to get us into yawn-worthy style ruts, with drab wardrobes that start to resemble Charlie Brown’s–tons of the same thing, maybe in a few different colors.  Choosing outfits becomes easily mindless, which makes getting dressed a breeze, which fools us into thinking we like what we’re wearing.  Or, we grow to hate what we own and constantly feel like we have “nothing to wear”, making getting dressed each morning the ultimate, loathe-worthy, chore.

Yuck!  I’ve been there.  It’s no fun at all.  But have no fear!  Being bound to a dress code doesn’t mean you have to dress boring! It doesn’t mean you have to have a wardrobe full of the same thing in different colors, and it certainly doesn’t mean you have to hate getting dressed each morning!  Despite a dress code, you can inject fun and personality into your style.  Here are a few ways to help you get there.

Don’t Be Afraid

Trying something new when it comes to style can be crazy intimidating. You get so comfortable in that style rut, even if you hate what you’re wearing every day, that the thought of change makes you want to curl into the fetal position in a corner and rock while muttering to yourself cringe.  But it doesn’t have to be that bad.  Change can be good, and you can’t change unless you embrace the prospect of it and let go of your fear.  Wow, that sounds all cheesey-motivational-speaker-like, doesn’t it?  It’s true though!

Take a few minutes to wrap your brain around the fact that change is good, and remember that change doesn’t have to be drastic right away.  Change can be gradual, and gradual change is so much easier to stomach than dramatic, overnight change.  So gear yourself up to make a few little changes over the course of, say, a month, and then take a deep breath and dive in.

Create An Inspiration or Mood Board

This part is actually a lot of fun! Spend some time looking through clothing catalogs (even if you have to do it online), fashion magazines, style blogs, and places like PinterestChictopia, and Polyvore.  Save images of outfits that stand out to you off the various websites, and take photos of catalog and magazine pages with your cell phone (or tear them out if they belong to you) and print them out.  Then, tape them onto a piece of posterboard (or pin them to a bulletin board–whatever works for you) and hang it in your bedroom near the closet, in a place you’ll be able to see it when you’re getting dressed in the morning.  Here are some mood boards from around the ‘net, to get you in the mood.

Inspiration Boards From Around The 'Net @ www.suburbanstylechallenge.com From left to right: Where Fashion & Culture Meet; Hang on Little Tomato; B Jones Style; Mission: Closet

When creating your inspiration/mood board, go with your gut. If something calls you to an outfit, clip it.  If you must, use a Sharpie to circle or star what you like about an outfit when you print it out.  Make the concept work for you–after all, it’s your inspiration!

Get Creative With Your Wardrobe

Once you have your inspiration board up, find some time to set aside to tackle your wardrobe. Spend this time figuring out how to take some of what you’ve loved enough to put on your inspiration board and try and duplicate.  Get in front of your mirror and play with what you have in your closet and see if you can figure out new ways to pair things up.  Throw all of your old ideas out the window and simply play dress up.  Don’t be afraid to try something new–mix colors and patterns you wouldn’t have tried before.  Everything is fair game, especially when you’re alone in front of your mirror just playing around.  Have fun with your clothes, you never know what you might come up with!

Add Some Color

Working in an office doesn’t mean your wardrobe has to be solid neutrals (and let’s face it, most often blacks, because black is so flattering and easy to wear). No!  Adding a little pop of color, even to a neutral outfit, can make the world of a difference.  There are tons of different ways to add color to an outfit; you can even go “non-committal” and add color with accessories, instead of buying a brightly colored shirt or dress.  It’s a good way to ease into color, especially if you’re color-phobic.  Here are some great colorful accessories you can add to an outfit.

21 Colorful Accessories 1. Multi Pink Agate Coin Necklace; 2. Graduated Faceted Bead Necklace; 3. Beaded Fringe Necklace; 4. Solid Buckle Belt; 5. Painted Buckle Metallic Skinny Belt; 6. Patent Bow Belt; 7. Frayed Woven Scarf; 8. Textured Stripe Scarf; 9. Paisley Print Scarf; 10. Teal Medallion Pareo; 11. Rhinestone Cluster Studs; 12. Pointed Drop Earrings; 13. Timex Midsize Weekender Slip Through Watch; 14. Gradated Retro Ring; 15. Spring Cluster Ring; 16. Rosette Leaf Ring; 17. Teardrop Cluster Bracelet; 18. Rounded Stone Bangle Set; 19. Crackled Faux Stone Bracelet; 20. Pointed Teardrop Earrings; 21. Graduating Leaves Earrings

Remember, color doesn’t have to be bold and bright. Neons are fun, but if pastels are more your style, go with them.  You still want to feel like you, not like you’re wearing a costume.  So give it a shot!  Try to incorporate a single colored item into your wardrobe for a full work week.  That’s 5 days of a punch of color.  You can do it!  And if you can’t do it for one week straight, break it up and do 2 days of color one week, 3 the next.  That’s ok too!  Remember, we’re looking for gradual change here, not drastic.


Accessories are a super easy way to add a little bit of “something” to an outfit. And with the variety of accessories available at such reasonable prices, finding something that suits your style (and budget) is really simple.  You can accessorize with rings, bracelets, necklaces, earrings, belts, or scarves, and still stay office-friendly.  Accessories don’t have to be pops of color either.  You can go monochrome with your accessories and use them to add texture to an outfit, or add a little sparkle with a couple of simple bracelets.  Play around with what you’ve got and see what looks good.  Try adding a new accessory or two to your outfit each day for a week.  5 days of accessorizing differently by utilizing jewelry, belts, and scarves.  I know you can do this!

Fancy Footwear

Unless you work in an office where specific footwear rules apply (i.e. no open toe shoes), you have the freedom to get creative with your footwear. Shoes are what make an outfit, in my opinion, and changing it up can really morph your look.  So here’s another 5 day style challenge.  Put away that trusty pair of mid-heel black pumps–no, don’t just put them away, hide them!–and turn to the other shoes you have.  Try wearing a different pair of shoes a day for a week–it’s only 5 days, this should be easy!

Put It All Together

So after week of adding color, a week of throwing on an accessory a day, and a week of changing up your shoes, you’re a pro at this! Ok, maybe you’re still getting comfortable with it, but that’s ok.  Bottom line is, now you know that you can add a scarf to that black dress, and wear silver flats with it, and it’ll look completely different than the last time you wore it, when you tossed a blue cardigan over it, put a brown belt over that, and wore brown wedges with it.  And if you get stuck, you have your inspiration board to look at.

With everything you’re learning, it becomes easy to take one blah item of clothing and dress it up in such a way that each time you wear it, it’s different and exciting, no matter how simple the base look is.

Keep Changing

Don’t forget to keep updating your inspiration board (and wardrobe) as time goes on. Continue to look at all those places you found ideas in the first place and pulling things you like.  Add to your accessories, shoes, and wardrobe too.  You’ll find your style evolves as time goes on and seasons change.  That’s perfectly normal!  Remember, change is gradual, and change is good.

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