women who work: jamie-lee of mademoiselle

Jamie-Lee's experience reminded me of my own - the fact that figuring out what is work appropriate at the beginning is hard, and there will be embarrassing moments to look back on.

And yet, while I do wish I had a bit more guidance when I started working, I think there is no one perfect formula to this, simply because everyone has different tastes and circumstances. You can't tell someone the perfect solution is dresses if that person doesn't like dresses. Maja, Marlene and Jamie-Lee don't dress alike but yet their outfits are perfectly aligned to what is appropriate for their professions.

I think the mistake is to go out and buy what you think a "professional" outfit looks like. What works for me is to buy something that will transform stuff that I already own into something work-appropriate. It could be a pair of trousers, it could be a jacket, it could be shoes. Or I look for things that's a basically a more formal version of what I like to wear.

Anyway, without further delay, here's what Jamie-Lee had to say about dressing for work

1) Share one, two or three pictures of some typical work outfits that you wear for various work-related occasions and 2) Describe the elements of the outfit in your own words
Photographs courtesy of Jamie-Lee

When Lin approached me to participate in her ‘Women who Work’ series, I couldn’t have been more thrilled – my own journey from a university graduate to being wholly immersed in a primary corporate environment, has been an interesting one. I’ve certainly had my fair share of wardrobe disasters (wearing Lover cami lace shorts when meeting the Prime Minister probably tops the list), however one thing I’ve come to find in more recent years is balance. A balance between the things that I like to wear, and the way I’d like to project myself professionally.

To give a little bit of background, I’m currently based in a corporate office for a company in the media industry. The dress code is corporate, however it isn’t as strict as I would imagine other work places might be. I can get away with a skirt that is an inch or so above the knee, and I can relax my outfit a little bit and mix things up with a pair of quirky flats – which truthfully, I feel most at home in. In saying that, one thing that I never, ever, forget to have on hand, is a pair of classic high heel pumps. Members of the board and financial representatives quite regularly come in for meetings so I find that this is the easiest way to lift an outfit and instantly appear more professional.

A typical week for me is generally desk-bound, answering emails and squirrelling away at my work. It’s a stark contrast to my previous two roles where I was a lot more active, primarily due to the fact that the office campuses were quite spread apart (to the point where it could take 10 minutes just to walk from one to the other). I do occasionally make it out of the office for meetings, but for the most part, I work alongside our team. I suppose because of this, I’m more inclined to throw on a pair of four inch heels on a daily basis.

When it comes to my work wardrobe, I like to keep it simple; it’s mostly neutrals. Sticking to a colour palette comprised mostly of white, grey, navy and black keeps things easy and helps me to get out the door on time. When I was hired for my first office job, it was a completely different story. I was reaching for a lot of prints, and a lot of colour, and looking back, I think I was just confused. Getting dressed in the morning was stressful, and I definitely didn’t make things easy on myself. I was experimenting a lot, just trying to find my feet, and I never really had anyone guiding me in the right direction. You don’t realise when you first enter the workforce how much your appearance (be it the care you take with your hair, your make up, and your clothing) actually impacts a person’s first impression of you, and I think this was really evident with me and the way that I was dressing at the time. To give you a mental picture, it was mostly colourful mini dresses from Karen Walker and those ridiculously high platform heeled shoes which were in vogue at the time.

Being fresh out of university (and a PoliSci/International Relations major at that), I was considerably of the opinion that regardless of my working environment, I wanted to stay true to myself. As you can imagine, this didn’t really translate well for the office.

My first ‘real’ job, was working for a Member of Parliament, and I spent the first few years really finding my feet and making some very questionable wardrobe choices along the way. I was so concerned with asserting my individuality, and not looking beyond my years that I think I actually did myself a disservice. I never thought twice about what impression I gave to the people visiting our office, and what it said about me. I believe Lin has already touched on this, but one thing I found was that weren’t really any resources out there for young people starting out in a professional environment, and even now, I struggle to find any style blogs with a professional aesthetic. At 21, my style inspiration came much from girls my own age; Andi of Style Scrapbook, Rumi from Fashion Toast, Nicole from Gary Pepper Vintage – which, when looking back, they were in such a different situation to me that they could dress however they liked, which is something I completely failed to recognise at the time. Their daily outfits didn’t even come close to matching with my reality.

I really could go on, but I know this is going to be quite long already! Now, I quite like the whole gamine look; it’s a play on sartorial expectations, in a sense, yet I think when done right it looks very chic. For me, I tend to keep it simple with a white shirt, a black blazer and slim cut trousers – which given the simplicity, means that I can have a little bit of fun when it comes to the shoes. This is really one of those outfits that I’ll pull out for an average day in the office, and I think it looks quite smart, even when worn with a pair of flats. I’m no longer quite as game as I used to be when it comes to teetering around in heels so I tend to tuck my heels into a tote bag in the morning (or stash them under my desk), and travel to work in a simple pair of ballet flats.

It took me a really long time to find a pair of trousers that suit me. I stumbled across a ¾ length pair from Forever New and haven’t really looked back since – they are well fitting and the trouser length seems to be universally flattering. I have a heavier wool pair which are great for winter from Karen Walker although these are much easier to pair with flat shoes or a low heeled loafer.

My main ‘work uniform’ tends to be some kind of silky blouse or tank tucked into a knee-length skirt (or one which flirts just above the knee where I can!), worn with a sweater when it gets cold. My go-to brand is Lover, always. I have about four or five of their lace skirts which have served me well so far – this white one is a particular favourite for the warmer months. They sit quite on the waist which is flattering for my body shape (pear/hourglass) and the pretty lace keeps it from getting boring. It’s probably without surprise that I have this exact same skirt in black, but I always figure that if you’re on to a good thing, why stop at just one?

Everlane has become a huge part of my working wardrobe, mostly because they seem to do silk so well, and at such an affordable price point. Sydney gets pretty hot in the summer (it sits around the 28 deg C mark, but occasionally makes its way up to 36 deg C…) so you see a lot of women wearing sleeveless blouses, which are an absolute lifesaver in the heat. I think that’s why I tend to like Everlane so much, their sleeveless silk pieces are just so easy to wear and you can get away with throwing them in the washing machine in a delicates bag.

These two looks tend to form the foundation of my work wardrobe these days as I don’t attend too many meetings and am generally just interacting with my work colleagues. It certainly takes the pressure off a little!

I’ve been trying to wear dresses on a more regular basis, and this Karen Walker lemon dress has been one of the more recent additions. For me, I find that this is the perfect balance; it’s playful and definitely has personality, and it’s demure to the point that it can be dressed up with a pair of heels or worn on a casual Friday with my battered and bruised kitty flats (which admittedly, I’ve been wearing to the office more often than not, as of late).

I’m not going to lie, I still feel a little overwhelmed when it comes to work wear. Finding the balance isn’t exactly easy but I do think I’m almost there, and it’s certainly something that you almost ‘fall in to’ with age. I’ve had my fair share of wardrobe fails, and the one thing that’s really stood out to me in recent years is to invest in the basics – these form the foundation of your wardrobe and once you find the right pieces, everything else can only get easier from there.

3) Please fill-in-the-blanks

My style in 5 words, or less: minimal, understated and classic

Uniforms are... essential in order to get out of the house on time!

A pair of heels always makes me feel more professional, because I feel like they finish off a look, and change the way you carry yourself

I (almost) always wear a quirky pair of flats to the office to feel "me", even though professionally, a pair of heels would be more suited to my role. The Charlotte Olympia kitty flats tend to get the most love as they attract the least amount of attention!

I would never carry a Longchamp Le Pliage tote to work, because I much prefer a structured satchel or a leather tote - mine have managed to withstand heavy rains as well as a nylon tote could, so I figure, why not make do with what I already have?

I would tell my younger self to invest in staple wardrobe classics because in five years time that's all I'm going to want to wear anyway - may as well make a head start!

The idea of "dress for success" is such an overused phrase; success comes in many different forms and isn't always dictated by the job you have. For some, success may be starting a family, for others, it might be running a large multi-national corporation. Personally, I prefer the term "dress for the job you want" - if you're career-oriented, this is probably already going to factor into how you approach your work wardrobe on a daily basis as it is.


cca.. said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
cca.. said…
love your response to the
The idea of "dress for success" question.
Xin said…
Really interesting post! It is really fascinating to hear how different women approach dressing for work, and Jamie-Lee's description of the evolution of her workplace style is very comprehensive.
Maja H said…
Absolutely loved this post, it is so interesting to see how the other women answered your challenge. Jamie-Lee always looks so put together and chic!
nanashi said…
Thoughtful comments, thoughtful interview series, love the post, thanks!
Archana said…
I love Jamies sense of style. She looks very put together and chic.

Thanks for posting this interview.
Great post! She looks way more put together than I do...

It always annoys me when I find the perfect something - trousers, shirt, whatever, because I don't often realize it's perfect until way after I've purchased it with no hope of buying extras.

I have a pair of Gap work pants that are perfect - tab waist, didn't have to hem it, etc., but now of course all the styles are different and they haven't made them again.

I know Saint Laurent is kind of a divisive brand, but I do like their idea of having a 'permanent' collection so you can buy the same thing season after season (not that I can afford SL, but still...)

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