By Rachel Bekkerman
Pretending to be a polished professional.
My closet used to be at war. Ripped jeans, essential tees, and go-to dresses fought against work pants, work tops, and work skirts. It felt like I spent the majority of my time in clothing that was removed from my personal style, but in the words of Tim Gunn, I had to “make it work.”
My office dress code was pretty corporate at the time and as much as I wanted to wear my band tees, sheer sweaters, and Levis on a daily basis, I was cornered by stiff suiting and bad blouses. It was frustrating. Not only was my personal style under siege, I reluctantly had to spend money on clothing I didn’t really want to wear. One word captured the solution to my problem: transition. Picking streamlined, sophisticated pieces that served more than one purpose and could transition from work to weekend was the key.
While this problem is a thing of the past for me (I’d describe the Universal Standard dress code as wear-whatever-you-want-within-reason), it’s still really relevant for a lot of women. So I’m putting myself back in the shoes of a polished professional, and challenging myself to style workwear pieces two ways.
Tricks in my arsenal include sleek, minimalist pieces and accessories galore. Below, my work to weekend spin on some workwear essentials from US.
Your shift is up.
It’s a classic. A simple shift dress was the first thing I purchased back when Corporate Rachel was alive and well. It seemed like an obvious choice because it was an instant outfit. Ours is simple enough that is can act like a blank canvas, while still has design details that let it stand on its own.
I went for a same same, but different color story for this work look. I imagine every power professional has a structured tote that holds a spare pair of shoes, so I picked this one from Mansur Gavriel. The color complements the merlot Marillyn without being too matchy. I’m a big fan of using silk scarves as bag charms, so I chose this silk bandana from A Peace Treaty. The reds in the bandana also plays up the color of the dress. For footwear I went for a deceptively simple black pump from Miista. It’s a block heel, which means I could actually walk in them, and I love the brown leather accent - it makes them more versatile and a little more interesting. In my book, no outfit is complete without earrings. I’ve been obsessed with Laura Lombardi recently so I picked high-shine hoops that are simple, yet structural.
The weekend means it’s time to lighten up. I wanted a tonal look, so I swapped the dark pumps for suede slides from Sole Society and coordinated with pink lucite earrings from Rachel Comey and retro square aviators from Frankie Shop. I’m a sucker for anything vaguely reminiscent of the 70s, so these sunglasses make me feel like The Pointer Sisters are playing somewhere in the background. I never actually end up going to the farmer’s market, but it’s an activity that seems very weekend-appropriate and like I should be doing it. In my mind that requires a basket of sorts and therefore I picked this collapsible bamboo bag from Cult Gaia.
Work pants used to be the bane of my existence. They were hands down the most uncomfortable, unflattering, and unappealing items in my closet (and the first to go when I switched to a less corporate dress code). Enter ponte perfection. There are a few reasons I really like our work pants. One, they look polished, but feel like leggings thanks to the ponte - always a plus in my book. Two, there’s a detachable cuff, which means two pants in one, which means you can get away with wearing them two days in a row, but don’t hold me to that…
If you were ever to take a bet on what color I’m wearing at any given time, you should double down on black. It always looks chic, it goes with everything, and yes, my existence as a native New Yorker might have something to do with it. I feel tough and cool in all black, so when I think about a powerful work uniform I automatically turn to it. The key is playing with texture. I love the Ginni Top because it’s understated, but interesting with the cascading side pleat details. With accessories I’m reaching for pieces that add subtle shine like this architectural tote from Issey Miyake and these fluid drop earrings from Rachel Comey. I picked an unexpected pump from Zara. I love the chunky heel and mix of fabric and vinyl. I’d finish the look with the Rio Blazer. It sharpens up the entire outfit, and as an added bonus, defends against the blasting office AC.
I’m keeping it comfortable and minimal. The Sheryl Pants are great for the weekend because the ponte makes them insanely comfortable - like sweatpants, but cool. I’m pairing mine with a white Cutaway tee because the design detail in the sleeve matches the detached cuff. All white sneakers are my go-to, especially when the rest of my outfit is usually all black, and right now I’m slightly obsessed with these Reeboks. Let’s keep it sporty with the Midi Belt Bag Pochette, but instead of wearing it around my waist, I like to sling over the shoulder as a cross-body. I said it before and I’ll say it again, no outfit of mine is complete without a pair of earrings, so I picked these two-tone hoops from Bagatiba.
Blaze new trails.
The blazer… a piece I firmly believe everyone needs in their closet. It’s equal parts workwear essential and cool-girl staple making it the ultimate transitional piece. If you don’t have multiples, you should. If you don’t want multiples, then pick a simple silhouette like our Meg. I like that it’s slightly shorter and the ¾-length sleeves because I feel it makes it more seasonless. It’s light enough for when it’s hot outside (and you don’t really want to wear something heavy), or you can layer it when the temperature drops. Plus, the waist-cinching detail at the back gives more flexibility to tighten or loosen as needed.
This is the outfit I imagine I’d wear if I were a badass attorney that slammed her hands on tables to emphasize important points. First and foremost, let’s talk about the Mary dress. Words that come to mind to describe it: chic, sophisticated, sexy (but not too sexy), powerful, polished. I love the deep merlot color, and I love the idea of pairing it with a red pump even more. I’m partial to this chunky heel from Vagabond. A shoe like this deserves a matching bag. I picked this Danse Lente bucket. It goes with the rest of the look, but doesn’t feel matchy. Plus the shape is unexpected and the straps are adjustable (if you haven’t noticed, I like options). Of course I’d finish the look with a pair of statement earrings. This prehistoric-inspired pair from Lizzie Fortunato are amazing, and they don’t perfectly match each other, so there’s another unexpected element to play with. My inner badass attorney likes the element of surprise.
You knew another all-black outfit would make it make into the mix, right? This weekend look is a little tough, and a bit androgynous. I went for the black Tee Rex and Distressed Black Seine Jeans, which in my mind this is a goth version of the all-American classic. For shoes, I picked a pair of platform oxfords from Zara. I love platforms because they give you the height of heels with the comfort of flats - basically they’re the best of both worlds. This is an outfit I’d spend a Saturday at the museum in. I picked a pair of more feminine earrings from Annika Inez to offset the rest of the outfit. It’s all about balance. In the spirit of transition, I picked a handbag from Vere Verto that is actually a 3-in-1. It’s a tote, a cross-body, and a backpack.
Workwear is a category, not a sentence. It’s up to you to make pieces come to life, and the only rule is there are no rules.
Now it’s your turn. How would you transition these pieces in your life?