WASP Up Your Work Clothes – On A, Dare I Say, Budget?


One of the wonderful people who read this blog, to whom I am so grateful, wrote me and asked how she could “WASP up” her wardrobe for a new job as a consultant. On a moderate budget. Below is my suggestion for a jeans-friendly office.

If you needed to up the formality a bit, change the jeans to black wool pants and wear a white, black, or french blue shirt.

The overall principles are as follows:

  • Shoes and bag have to be the best you can possibly afford. It is OK if you carry the same bag and wear essentially the same shoes every day, as long as they are good. Good means minimal logo-ing, top quality leather, and clean design. Marc Jacobs, Kate Spade, and Prada all offer these kinds of bags. My reader found the shoes in the Polyvore above herself – not a name brand but a great instance of low heels, black, and a wee hint of fashion in the toe ornament.
  • Jewelry should be simple, and look like you inherited it from your grandmother. Or grandfather. Diamond studs, gold posts, pearls, vintage men’s watches. Good fakes are OK. 30 years ago that might not have been have been true, but even we can change with the times. Thank you Barbara Bush. And Michelle O.
  • Clothing should be classic, in the High WASP traditional colors of navy, khaki, black, gray, and white. Not to say you can’t wear other colors, but these are absolutely safe. Choose pieces when you can instantly identify their category , i.e. a trench, trousers, t-shirt, vs. asymmetrical jacketish thingie and tunicky shirtish thingie and cropped capriish thingies. Classic clothing items can now be bought at low-cost retailers without sacrificing impact.
  • Makeup should be simple but present. Skin care is critical – you want to look neat and clean at all times. Hair should be shiny or glossy or braided. Somehow managed but not tormented.

If you are thinking, “This doesn’t sound like that much fun!”, you are probably right. It’s not about fun. It’s about looking as though you subscribe to the High WASP Code of Conduct, as though you are serious and to be taken seriously, as though you will follow through on your job responsibilities and probably respect authority as you do so.

If you are thinking, “This would not work in my office!”, you are also probably right. This isn’t the answer for how to dress at work. It’s the answer for how to “WASP up” your work wardrobe. For some lines of work, this is appropriate. Corporate work. Financial work. Work where you have to spend your time with a lot of men. For some lines of work, it’s not appropriate. I imagine a graphic designer could only show up dressed like this if she was going for ironic, i.e. “High WASP” (quote unquote), vs. simply High WASP. And she’d probably want to wear mauve Bensimons or something to make the point. But in that world, I’m pretty close to clueless.

30 Comments

  • 07/02/09
    9:13 am

    Reply

    Maya said...

    Love your advise. As a matter of fact your composition is very much my style, although I'm not the corporate or 9 to 5 type.

  • 07/02/09
    10:14 am

    Reply

    Kristen said...

    Love this. I wear those colors quite often, though I do throw in pastels every now and then. I think I definitely ascribe to the jewelry policy — every day I wear my wedding rings, a watch, a simple silver bracelet, a simple silver necklace, and pearl studs. I adore pearls. I almost never wear anything dangly, even for going out.

    What about types of fabrics? Cotton, linen, wool for the most part?

  • 07/02/09
    11:06 am

    Reply

    Princess Freckles said...

    At the library where I work, the classic stlye works. Thank God! Its all I own!

  • 07/02/09
    12:33 pm

    Reply

    Dani @ Weddings Fresh said...

    you have to have a well made trench. it's just what every girl needs :) happy 4th, lady LPC!

  • 07/02/09
    2:57 pm

    Reply

    Little Bow Prep said...

    Lovely post!

    I like the trench :)

  • 07/02/09
    4:29 pm

    Reply

    class-factotum said...

    "Classic clothing items can now be bought at low-cost retailers without sacrificing impact."

    Also check consignment stores, thrift shops, esp. Junior League thrift, and eBay for used high-quality clothes. I saw some Ferragamo shoes (samples! never worn!) at the Humane Society thrift store for $50. I considered cutting off the sides of my feet and stuffing the toes to convert my 8.5 mediums to fit the 10AAAs.

    Well-made clothes and shoes will last, so buying used, if you can get over the ick factor (and how is it any different from pulling something out of your sister's closet, really?), is a great way to get nice stuff at a nice price.

  • 07/02/09
    4:56 pm

    Reply

    The Cape House said...

    I love that trench. I just bought that water bottle and have been very pleased so far. I always find my navy skirt works great on days where I need (or want) to say WASP.

  • 07/03/09
    4:34 am

    Reply

    Beth Dunn said...

    I'm all about the shoes. The rest can be the basics. Have a good day! xoxo

  • 07/03/09
    5:17 am

    Reply

    Maureen at IslandRoar said...

    This is good solid advice. Even if one's daily environment doesn't require it, I keep impressing on my kids; there are some things you should just know.
    thanks.

  • 07/03/09
    5:58 am

    Reply

    Vodka Mom said...

    now THAT was great!!

    I'm off to scour my jewelry box for grandma's trinkets….

  • 07/03/09
    10:56 am

    Reply

    Hannah said...

    Oh the wee jacket. I love. Now someone has to tell those of us who dress like Lisa Birnbach how to look like normal people.

  • 07/03/09
    12:32 pm

    Reply

    LPC said...

    Hmm. The De-WASPing of a wardrobe, in other words. I believe I will have to ask my cool stylish sister in Berkeley. BTW, have you seen what Ms. Birnbach herself looks like nowadays? http://janefonda.com/tag/lisa-birnbach/.

  • 07/03/09
    7:47 pm

    Reply

    inkOBSESSIONdesigns said...

    I love, love, love this! I so agree with minimal logo-ing. The obvious logos make me crazy!!

  • 07/04/09
    7:43 am

    Reply

    LPC said...

    Fabrics – we used to say "no polyester" with a shudder. But the chemistry of clothing has gotten so advanced that at this point it should just FEEL like natural fabric even if it isn't. Should NOT make you sweat more than usual. As for used clothing, I agree it's a great habit to get into. I myself can't get past the ick factor, but that's just me and a certain princess and the pea problem.

  • 07/04/09
    4:43 pm

    Reply

    Her Preppiness said...

    Love that advice.

  • 07/05/09
    1:02 pm

    Reply

    EliandMe said...

    I followed your advice, I WASPed up for an interview, and I felt … fantastic. Grown up, confident, and dare I say it, sexy (in a sort of understated, classy way obviously). Thank you x

  • 07/05/09
    4:06 pm

    Reply

    LPC said...

    Yay for Eli's mama! Power is sexy. Men have known it for centuries. You made my night.

  • 09/11/09
    6:07 am

    Reply

    Duchesse said...

    Brooks Brothers have outlet stores stuffed with this kind of clothing, good quality. Buy a few pieces off season for 40-60% off, and you are set.

  • 09/11/09
    6:56 am

    Reply

    LPC said...

    I agree, Duchesse. In fact I bought my daughter a Brooks Brothers shirt, on sale, for her starting work wardrobe.

  • 10/26/09
    12:11 pm

    Reply

    Erin@TheLocalsLoveIt said...

    This is very useful for me. I do work at an ad agency (AE not graphic designer). I prefer a pretty classic looke (kahki pants, white t-shirt) but find it hard to "dress up" and still feel comfortable.

  • 05/05/10
    6:49 am

    Reply

    how to bowling said...

    I'm so interesting about shoes and bags, you talk about the kins of bags of Marc Jacobs and Prada I love all of the, they are so classy and fashion like Wasp Up, congratulations for the good clothes!

  • 08/03/10
    9:23 pm

    Reply

    kimberly said...

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  • 12/17/10
    12:28 pm

    Reply

    shukween said...

    LPC, I’ve been a fan/follower for over a year; similarly raised in WASPy privilege, I just adore your counsel! go, Sturdy Gals!

    12/17/10
    1:18 pm
    Lisa said...

    Thank you so much. Go Sturdy Gals indeed!

  • 01/27/11
    8:48 am

    Reply

    Danielle said...

    Lisa, I love this post and the ensemble you have created. I especially like the BBP messenger/laptop bag. Is that appropriate to carry to work? I am a very sturdy gal who needs a similarly sturdy bag to carry my books, planner, pens, wallet, and sometimes laptop.

    More info: I work in the development dept. of a nonprofit legal fund with a relaxed dress code. I commute by train in a busy, cold, Northeastern city. Thanks so much!

    01/28/11
    10:18 am
    Lisa said...

    Yes, that BBP bag is absolutely fine for the environment you describe. And it doesn’t hurt one’s back at all:).

  • 01/28/11
    8:49 pm

    Reply

    Danielle said...

    Thanks, Lisa! You are the best!

  • 05/04/11
    9:19 pm

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    HB said...

    Fantastic post. Admittedly I am a designer so wear WASP with some irony when I do. However…I was largely raised by my grandma who steeped me in the ways of good, nay *excellent*, shoes and classic styles. I’ve got a twist, though: I went to a hoity prep school so cut my proverbial fashion teeth on that interpretation. Mostly this means screaming pink, blue or green as acceptable accents in cashmere for the winter or madras for the summer. If I have to impress or meet with a new client I usually revert to a WASP look as my base with some “other” addition to satisfy my (and the client’s) sense of who I am.

    BTW: found you via passage des perles and am quite glad I did!

  • 10/21/11
    5:23 pm

    Reply

    ONEWEIRDWORD said...

    You have such a way with words! I’m enjoying your blog.

  • 10/06/12
    8:39 pm

    Reply

    Mackenzie Carpenter said...

    This is a great site…I am 58, grew up in that epicenter of privilege (Princeton) …and ran away as fast as I could, toiling away in newsrooms in gritty cities where the whole notion of Wasp culture was not just uninteresting, but subject to derision. Now, though, as I grow older I find myself bring drawn back to the tribe…. As a girl, I wore Lilly Pulitzer shifts from Bellows, cable sweaters from Clayton’s on Palmer Square (it is now an Ann Taylor store) and Pappagallo shoes. Those days are gone…I may never wear pink and green again, but I no longer scoff at those who do. And I do treasure my grandmother’s gold bracelets.
    So I find your posts comforting…bits of reassuring wisdom from someone who honors her past but isn’t stuck in it. Who is in her (late) fifties but with plenty of style….Loved the post on fashion week…I study the photos too and think how the hell am I going to incorporate these new influences into my wardrobe, which, sadly, contains no Lela Rose or Dries Van Noten….but one can always dream… No cocoon dresses, though.
    Btw, when I wear a pearl necklace I don’t do earrings at all or very thin gold wire hoops…that is it. Elegance is refusal, as Diana Vreeland always said…

  • 10/07/12
    10:13 am

    Reply

    Lisa said...

    Nice to meet you. And I like the idea of thin gold hoops with a wire necklace very much. BTW, I was at Princeton 1974-1978, so I know exactly the stores you mean. Our dance with the tribe is an intricate one:).

  • 06/21/13
    2:23 pm

    Reply

    A said...

    Very interesting advice. I came across your blog because there has been a discussion up in Toronto what you should wear to work if you are employed with the Premier of Ontario. The Premier had to explain to her employees what casual means:
    http://www.thestar.com/news/queenspark/2013/06/07/dress_code_in_kathleen_wynnes_office_forbids_miniskirts_halter_tops.html

    Why would I wear my weekend outfit to a freezing cold air conditioned office?

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