Do or don't: wearing distinctive designers at a conservative office

A few months ago, I received this message from a reader:

"I would greatly appreciate your advice on whether you think it is appropriate to wear designer pieces to a conservative corporate office. I, too, love and own a few Chanels and Loubs, but I am a little hesitant to wear them to my office because they are so readily identifiable. My office consists of mostly women, and I would hate to be the target of any catty remarks." - MCL

This is a question that I've thought about many times myself. As much as I enjoy wearing certain designer pieces, the last thing I want to do is appear inappropriate or showy at work. Although I have photographed Chanel bags with work outfits on here, the truth is I do not tote them to the office (and admitted so here). At my current job, I keep mainly Ann Taylor pumps at my desk, but do sport the occasional Louboutins with other nondescript pieces.
designer_at_the_office copy
Images from these posts: left / right

The answer to MCL's question is subjective and dependent on your own office environment, as well as where you are in your career. But here are some factors that I've considered over the years:

1. How "showy" are the designer items and how do they fit with your overall look?
In my opinion, recognizable all-over logo print, large logos, and Louboutin heels with their bright red soles are showier because onlookers can't miss that it's an expensive item. The higher the associated price range (as with Chanel), the more ostentatious the item can be in the wrong setting. In a truly conservative business environment, I would avoid the aforementioned things unless you're at the top of the corporate ladder.

How you integrate designer items with your daily look also matters. I feel that if you consistently look put-together and tastefully-dressed, then designer items that complement that image will draw less attention than if the items themselves are the "centerpieces" of your outfits.

Easy Tutorial: Styling a dress as a skirt

Left: H&M blouse + bag, Hermes belt, J.Crew floral dress, Target shoes. Center & right details here 

One of the easiest ways to get more mileage out of dresses is to style them as skirts. I almost passed on this dress due to the limiting strapless cut, but it has since proven it's versatility and value for $24. I saw SewPetiteGal's bright outfit with a pencil skirt in this same print, and skipped to my closet to create a similar look.

I like the extra colorful vibe with the emerald green, but also love this dress toned-down with a casual chambray blouse. It's great for "in-between" occasions where a strapless floral number is too dressy, and a blazer on top is too formal or hot. I also enjoy the comfort of a non-strapless bra when wearing this dress in a converted form.
After this post on signature style, I've received numerous requests for a step-by-step on tucking in the blouse. It's very simple, and I've been pointing readers to Elle's helpful tutorial. Cee is also the master of possibilities with this trick. I made a tutorial here with nothing to add, except that I usually tuck the back of my blouse in under the belt. It looks less natural, but since my blouses are often balloon-y, this helps me tame excess fabric and keep it secured under the belt. This also prevents the blouse and belt from shifting apart in the back...thus revealing the secret of the converted dress.

Pink skirt & cabochon blouse w/ alterations steps

Cabochon print blouse and pink pencil skirt, both from Savers Thrift Store
Thrifted blouse & skirt, DIY altered, BR swing jacket, Christian Louboutin pumps 

I headed to the thrift store for inspiration recently - my visits there are hit or miss, but this time I skipped out with two pieces to experiment with. This blouse caught my attention right away, despite the dowdy silhouette and oversized fit. I like the vintage flair given off by the pink cabochon stones with antique gold backing, and the fabric-covered buttons. It can be pajama-like when worn alone, but adds interest when peeking out from underneath layers.
This skirt, labeled a size 5-6, was roomy in the hips but a perfect fit at the waistband (calling for easy alterations). Below are the alterations I performed on both...

Quick Review: Tinley Road (from Piperlime) Silk Blouses

In my quest for staple silk blouses, I came across three options in petite sizing ranging from $88-$110:

I was looking for: casual fit but not sloppy, thinner silk with good drape, collar, preferably under $100, and no chest pocket flaps. Black or white color. It seems that almost every silk blouse out there has boxy chest pockets with flaps, which I feel distract from the clean lines of a silk blouse.

Out of the above, I'm fairly sure the AT and J.Crew versions will fit well in petite sizing. AT's price point with promos is more attractive and I prefer the discreet pockets and hidden buttons, but the colors I'm seeking are not offered there. The Nexx blouse was recommended by a reader, but I am wary of the "loose fit" description, larger pockets, and less-specific letter sizing (4 sizes to choose from versus 8 from AT/J.Crew). In the end, I decided to try a regular-sized option from Tinley Road which had the color I wanted, sans chest flaps, at a lower price than the above:
Tinley Road Silk Olivia Blouse (7 colors) in "Marshmallow," sz XS tucked in:

Fit: Trying on these regular XS blouses made me realize that as long as the silk has nice drape and the shoulders aren't redonculously wider than your natural shoulders, it will look "acceptable" after faking the fit. However, I'm just not sure I want to do that every time...

Philippines, Part II: Beach hut in Santander, Cebu Island

For the second part of our Philippines journey, we escaped city life to find solace at Nick's aunt's nipa hut on the beach. We traveled three hours in a little van along a continuous stretch of coastline to Santander, the southernmost tip of Cebu island. My knuckles were nearly white from gripping my seat through the tumultuous drive, during which we shared the road with animals, pedestrians, and various open "vehicles" with no regard for traffic rules. The scenery beyond my window definitely helped, though.

Carefree children playing outside their homes:
After getting dropped off at our destination, we hiked briefly through a jungle of sorts before reaching signs of inhabitants, as indicated by tethered cows, goats, pigs, and other livestock. Here I am in my travel OOTD - Nick's tee (had to conserve my one and only outfit on the trip) and my sexy JanSport knapsack from middle school (conveniently left behind in China back then, now suddenly useful):
Upon arriving at the nipa hut, the simple beauty of it all took my breath away. This picture captures the essence of our stay...the basic structure of the home, the wooden boats lounging on the shore, the forlorn stray dog, and the proximity to the serene ocean. The only things missing are the pesky chickens.

The original base of the hut got washed away a decade ago, and was replaced with cement:
One of my first naive questions was how stuff doesn't get stolen from the home with roll-up walls. Nick's aunt gave a little chuckle and responded "There's nothing to steal..."

Transitional Summer: Red Pants, Camel + Cap Toe Pumps

redcameldots4Ann Taylor refined cropped pants, DIY polka dot top, Target shoes, Chanel sunglasses

Whenever I find a pairing that works, I tend to get lazy and wear it on repeat. I loved the look of red pants with cap toes, and indulged in the same outfit twice this month. I can see myself wearing it more for transitioning into cooler fall days.

Some of you may remember these cheap Target heels, on which I Sharpie-d some black cap toes (inspired by the Corso Como quilted pumps). I also planned on finding matching beige paint to cover the stacked wooden heels, but lost motivation. These was meant to be a temporary fix while I hunted for a quality version, but who knew the right pair would be so hard to find? I'm hoping for leather pumps with: 3.5-4" heels, almond or pointy toes, beige/camel base and same-colored heels, black cap toes, and preferably under $200. Please let me know if you come across such a pair!
Below: Old favorite lace-print LOFT tee (similar, another lace-print option in petite for 75% off)

Stella & Dot On the Mark Arrow Necklace Giveaway

EDIT 9/9/2012: Congrats, Nancy Y! Please contact me to claim your prize.
Thank you all for entering!onthemarkgiveaway
I received this "On the Mark" necklace thanks to Stella & Dot a while back, and it has quickly become a favorite. I used to be partial to statement necklaces, but sometimes you just need a delicate piece to polish off an outfit. S&D sent me an extra, and I'd love to share it with one of you.

Rules: This giveaway is open internationally to followers of this blog. To enter, please fill out the form below letting me know how you follow - whether it's via Bloglovin', liking my Facebook page, through Twitter, or another medium. One entry per person, please.

A winner will be drawn using a random number generator and will have 72 hours to claim her prize. The winner will be validated and multiple entries per person will be disqualified. Thank you for entering, and good luck!

Navy lace dress + burgundy accents (& a big day)

Ann Taylor Factory dress (similar), thrift store belt, on the mark necklace c/o Stella & Dot

Although I generally try to avoid owning duplicates, I have to admit there are some dupe favorites which I've never regretted buying. I feel like this lace dress in ivory and navy are individually special enough to warrant keeping both. The factory price was not bad, plus I performed DIY alterations to improve the fit.
Navy, burgundy and camel are some of my favorite classic colors. They are easy to style and have me dreaming of fall pairings. I am so stoked to finally add a camel bag to my collection, and expect it to get plenty of wear. I started making a review video and hope to finish it soon.

Spotted Slim Pants + J.Crew Red Edie Bag (now on sale)

J.Crew Edie Purse in 7 colors (use SHOPNOW for extra 30% off, good til 8/7), eBay rope pearls
Ann Taylor sandals (use FRIENDSFB for extra 30% off), H&M spotted pants (sz 2, $12.95) & blouse

Thanks to JCA for sharing the unpublished code SHOPNOW, good for an extra 30% off sale items on J.Crew online. The discount makes this little bag $138.60, and still available in 7 rich colors. I got mine for $95 after calling several places using their in-store locator system - but I was told red was the only color at that price, and that I got one of the last ones left nation-wide at the clearance price (this was 2 weeks ago).
This bag is a lovely size for something with a smaller frame and can be worn three ways. You can carry it from the top handle as a handbag (above), sling it casually from your shoulders using the detachable long strap (below)...
Or you can loop the handle over your arm satchel-style...

Summer Brights: $2 Linen Skirt + Scarf Print Blouse

Zara blouse from Khatu, thrifted skirt (similar in warm jade for $35 w/code SHOPNOW) & bracelet
Ann Taylor perfect pointy pumps (use FRIENDSFB for 30% off), Hermes belt sz 70, BR bag

Just a quick post today sharing this summer work outfit. As mentioned in my video, I have been loving saturated, jewel-toned colors this summer. As soon as I got my paws on Khatu's slinky scarf-print blouse, I knew it'd be the perfect complement for this vibrant skirt.
This skirt was yet another happy find from Savers thrift store - for a mere $2.99 plus extra 30% off...

July Classics Shopping Recap + Ann Taylor F&F Sale Picks

For me, July was a fantastic wardrobe month - knocked three items off a long-withstanding "classics" wishlist after much research and patient waiting. A few readers have asked what my monthly wardrobe budget is, and I have to say I don't have one. I keep an annual wardrobe spending target as a percentage of after-tax income, determined as a limit up to which I can shop without affecting any savings goals (and there are so many). I much prefer this over keeping stringent monthly budgets, because my spending fluctuates greatly. Although my overall spending hasn't changed much over the years, I have noticed that I now spend increasingly more time planning and evaluating purchases than before.

1. Camel tote bag: For nearly 6 months I had been seeking a classic neutral satchel, and my search quickly closed in on the durable Prada "saffiano" line. I pushed the purchase off until after my June exam, in order to sufficiently explore the pre-owned market and do as much research as possible. The moment I opened the box last week from NM, I couldn't stop grinning and knew that it was the perfect choice. There's something to be said about well-made, classic and functional items that pair effortlessly with all sorts of outfits...I haven't felt so strongly about a wardrobe purchase since buying a Chanel caviar flap. I hope to record a video this weekend comparing bags from this line, and discussing the features available plus any options to save a little.

2. Little red bag: I had also been itching for a small, richly-colored purse to add interest to neutral outfits. True red -whether on lipstick, nails, or clothes- is just so classic with a touch of sultriness. I had bid on several via eBay over the course of a year, before my shopping fairy Elle alerted me that this J.Crew bag was on major sale in-store. Unfortunately, I don't think there are any left at a clearance price (I used storefinder and ordered one of the last ones in the US), but it's a bag that J.Crew makes every season and I suspect it will go on sale again..