Work clothes: What to wear at the office.

Simon Doonan Explains How To Get Dressed for Work in the Morning

Simon Doonan Explains How To Get Dressed for Work in the Morning

Notes from the fashion apocalypse.
Feb. 2 2012 1:41 PM

Appropriate Office Attire

How to get dressed for work in the morning.

Faye Dunaway in Network.
Try to be more like Faye Dunaway in Network

© Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.

When it comes to giving fashion advice, I am always revolting. Anarchy is my comfort zone. As a result, I spend my waking hours encouraging people to ditch convention and approach their personal style with a sense of amused recklessness: Strike an unconventional pose! Creativity is your mot du jour! Buy yourself an electric-blue stripper wig! These are typical of my style exhortations.

Simon Doonan Simon Doonan

Simon Doonan is an author, fashion commentator, and creative ambassador for Barneys New York.

My reasons for this approach are two-fold: First, I genuinely believe that most women are far too self-critical and masochistic. The process of adornment should be approached as a meadow of rule-breaking pleasure rather than a minefield of potential faux-pas. As Auntie Mame said, “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.”

Second, I am selfishly hoping to cut these girls loose. For my own sanity, I am trying to eliminate those annoying can-I-wear-brown-with-black or is-it-ok-to-wear-sequins-before-cocktail-hour type questions. The truth of the matter is that I am simply not a helpful gay. I lack the supportive Queer Eye gene that allows one to calmly dispense quotidian advice. Should you start wearing matte pantyhose when you hit sixty? Not sure. Just how bad are your varicose veins?


Honesty compels me to admit that I have been wildly unsuccessful at avoiding these prosaic can-I-wear-white-shoes-after-Labor-Day type questions. If anything, my provocations seem to be making the situation worse. The more I advocate a taboo-busting eccentricity, the more I find myself fielding commonplace queries. The more I hand out permission slips, the more gals tear them up and demand rule books, particularly in regard to office attire.

Yes, office attire.

Dressing “appropriately” in the workplace seems to be the primary focus of anxiety for the contemporary woman. Every time I check my inbox, the contemporary woman—I suspect her name might be Phyllis—has sent me another email on this very subject.

Today you find me at a point of total surrender. You want a manual on appropriate professional dressing? Here it is, Phyllis!

From: Simon Doonan
To: Women of America
CC: Phyllis
Re: OFFICE ATTIRE—circa 2012

COLOR: Most work environments are a sea of donkey-hued cubicles. This affords two options: First, you may transform yourself into the office bird of paradise and explode with color, thereby enhancing the moods of those around you. Your splashy digital prints—think Erdem or Prabal Gurung—and modernist color-blocking—think Haider Ackermann or Lisa Perry—will garner you rave reviews from colleagues. You will be celebrated for your plumage. Caution: Your flamboyance will have a negative impact on your perceived competence. Nobody wants to trust the company’s future to the wacked-out broad in the Pucci unitard. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Career advancement, and the horrid additional responsibility which comes with it, are both highly overrated.

Color option two: If you are a careerist Gen Xer or a millennial over-achieving lunatic and are disinclined to sacrifice professional success for that bird of paradise role, then do as follows: Simply match your surroundings by wearing conservative tailoring in muted tones—go greige, beige and even champeige—and glide down the hallway like a venomous asp. Think Faye Dunaway in Network.