Q&A: Youthful Wear to Work Fashion

February 24th, 2009

Q: I’m 23 but look no older than 18, and my wardrobe hasn’t been updated since college. I deal with the public a lot, so I’d like to retain a casual air so as to be friendly and welcoming rather than overbearing and stuffy. At the same time, I want to be taken seriously. What are some essentials I should add to my closet that walk the line between professional and casual?

by Traci Tsai

A: High quality fabrics and structured silhouettes are the key to a more professional and mature look, while extra details add a fun and casual element to a work outfit without taking away sophistication.

Do a different take on the suit jacket: the cropped length and flower pin are a little more casual than your normal business attire, but the silhouette is still put-together and business-casual.

Flower Pin Blazer | $24.80 at Forever 21

Wide Leg pants in basic black, dark grey or a dark pin stripe pattern are a must-have. After all, pants feel more business-like than a skirt. Remember: tight-fitting pants are a dead giveaway to youth, so make sure you choose a cut in a wider leg and a looser fit to keep your attire appropriate for work.

Creme Fraiche Heather Trouser | $98.75 at South Moon Under

A blouse is an essential for a young female professional – it can be paired with skirts, dress pants or trouser jeans depending on the type of workplace, and it fits nicely under a blazer. If you choose a blouse like this one, the bright coral fabric adds a touch of youth, but the elaborate detailing at the neckline adds an air of sophistication.

Silk Ruffle Blouse | $69 at Banana Republic

Patterns are a great way to add some flair to a work outfit. The knee -length hem and sleeves are all relatively conservative, but the geometric print adds visual interest, so you get the best of both worlds. To add another element of maturity and structure to the silhouette, you could replace the fabric waist tie with a more substantial wide belt.

Geo Print Wrap Dress | $130 at Banana Republic

Patent Pumps are an easy, everyday work outfit complement. Pumps are classic and sophisticated, but the patent leather shine makes for a younger look and will stand out more than your typical leather pumps.

Nine West Barb Patent Pumps | $68.95 at Zappos
Never underestimate the power of a few good pieces of jewelry. The right accessories can instantly add a level of maturity to an outfit. We recommend investing in a few versatile long-strand necklaces and some long earrings. Here youth is an advantage, and you can be more daring with jewelry types and colors without it taking away from your professional look.

Layered Chain Necklace | $49 at Banana Republic

What would you wear at work to walk the line between casual and formal? Share your style with us in the comments!

Entry Filed under: Q&A,Shopping Guide,Women,Women's

10 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Mel  |  February 24th, 2009 at 7:38 am

    As a 25yr old still just getting my start in the professional world I know exactly how you feel. My personal game plan is purchasing classic, quality essentials such as nice trousers, skirts and jackets. However, I pair them with blouses that have a little flair to them that I can wear in the office covered by a jacket or cardi but then can also be worn out at night.

  • 2. Sal  |  February 24th, 2009 at 8:01 am

    Fantastic tips! I’d add that scarves and pearls are a great way to add instant sophistication – since both have a retro feel, they downplay obvious youthfulness.

  • 3. Jolie Musick  |  February 24th, 2009 at 8:47 am

    For me it’s all about pencil skirts, cardigans, blouses, scarves, and a comfortable pair of my favorite heels.

  • 4. Kai  |  February 24th, 2009 at 12:38 pm

    I love the recommendations and some of the pieces, particularly that gorgeous orange blouse, but “pants feel more business-like than a skirt”? There are few things more businesslike than a pencil skirt, and in a conservative industry a skirt suit is always more formal than a pantsuit.

  • 5. Budget Babe  |  February 24th, 2009 at 9:34 pm

    I love the first blazer. When I started working in the real world, I swapped my hoodies for blazers and my style definitely got a boost ( I think!)

  • 6. Janelle  |  February 24th, 2009 at 9:59 pm


    “I’m 23 but look no older than 18”

    yup thats me too

    i’m both happy and sad that my workplace is extremely casual… i have to wear white nike shox lab shoes so dressing up doesn’t really work with those.

  • 7. Trisha  |  February 24th, 2009 at 11:24 pm

    Great tips, everybody! Classic quality essentials are the way to go for your foundation pieces, especially your tailored pieces. For sweaters and blouses that are less fitted, you can often get away with less expensive pieces.

  • 8. Tessa  |  February 25th, 2009 at 11:27 am

    I aim for a very conservative color palate on foundation pieces, paired with one pop of vivid color (usually a blouse or shoes). I think wearing nearly-all gray white and black or blue can be classic and classy. And you can add an extra dose of maturity by choosing deep, saturated accent colors like plum, rust, or a brick red.

  • 9. Trisha  |  February 26th, 2009 at 1:45 am

    Great tip, Tessa. Deep saturated colors and jewel tones really do make an outfit feel more mature.

  • 10. Allie  |  March 7th, 2009 at 5:27 am

    Great post and comments! I went through the same issues, and it was even harder to figure out because my workplace had different informal dress codes for different departments. The best piece of advice I ever read was to dress at least one level above your position, supposedly helps your supervisors visualize you at promotion time. Besides that, for me anyway, I always feel more focused and productive when I’m “dressed for work”. Good luck!

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