Desk Job Denoument

I have been sitting on this post since leaving the Office Job, so I figured I'd just up and post it before the day gets away from me again(who knew being unemployed actually would give me *less* downtime?) - so here we go! Working in an office actually taught me a great many things about my personal style.

Growing up, I swore I would never work a desk job. I hated hose, pumps, and all the trappings of corporate officewear. So what did I do after graduating college? I fell into the most hose-enforcing, pump-mandating, corporate office I could find. In Beverly Hills, no less. But I soon found that I enjoyed the challenge of riffing within a very restrictive dress code and, as I look back, I am grateful for my corporate jobs and all the things they taught me along the way.

Classics Are Malleable
After wearing horrible public school uniforms, button front shirts made my teeth itch. But after a while I saw how versatile and changeable they can be. A great white shirt can go from Prim Banker to Rakish Schoolboy with a bit of scrunch and pop and tuck. Cool!

Subversion Can Be Simple
My former boss rocks some subtle flair. His tie and cufflinks always coordinate, and always by theme - boats, racecars, bulls & bears. Personality comes through in less pieces than I'd thought. Because of my dress codes, sometimes the only "twist" in my outfit was a cougar skull necklace, but it was enough for me to feel like "me." The small suggestion of edge and weirdness also felt more natural and effortless than a pile of zippers and studs. Rather than shouting, "Look how Artsy I am!" I was pleased to find that my outfits could smirk quietly in the corner... as I am sometimes known to do myself.

Conservatism Can Be Cool
In a city full of beautiful people who know how beautiful they are, you tend to see a lot of leg, cleavage, and hair. Button your shirt all the way up, or wear a calf-length skirt, and you start to stand out a bit.

People Do Notice
I never would have thought I'd ever hear so much discussion on the state of collars! A male coworker without collar stays may as well be wearing a cutoff tee and flip flops for how much grief he gets. People point it out if your pinstripes clash with your belt or suspenders. And they also notice if you're having fun with fashion. I used to assume no one cared about my outfits - and some may not! - but they do notice.

I Am Not as Edgy as I Think I Am
Finally, after leaving the office and having free reign to wear whatever I want, I find myself still pulling out collared shirts and boat shoes. I sometimes conflate "edgy" and "masculine," which is a mistake. And, thanks to Le Bank Job, I now feel very comfortable tempering masculine UWP type pieces with laid-back classics.

So I may have taken a slight detour in working a traditional job for 5 years but, in the end, I feel like I gained a lot from it. Besides the awesome friendships and contacts I've made, I also was forced to pay a good amount of attention to my style, and I was challenged to inject personality into a conservative dress code. All in all, I'm grateful to have done it - and I may even miss dressing in a formal, buttoned-up way. From time to time. :)

Pics start from 2010 (around when I first started recording outfits) and go through my last day at The Bank.

This post is also published in the youlookfab forum. You can read and reply to it in either place. All replies will appear in both places.


  • jayne replied 6 years ago

    I am respect your insight. You have pointed out some great 'facts' that I hadn't even considered...most importantly that small touches are enough. I am still 'shouting' in my style and haven't learned your delicate balance. I applaud you RaE.

    And looking at the pictures, all RAE, with boots and edge, even in hose.

  • rae replied 6 years ago

    You're so kind, Jayne, though I never think of your style as shouting at all. Not that I am opposed to loud style per se... it's kind of like the punk music in that I can appreciate loud and soft. :) BTW I was lurking and saw your bootie dye post - wow, way to go! I love love love the color you chose.

  • ramya replied 6 years ago

    There is a bit of RAE in each and every outfit:)
    Rightly pointed out RAE .....

  • Irene replied 6 years ago

    I'm just hoping your unemployed status is either wanted or easy to fix... these are rough times, I would know.

    As for your outfits, you are anything but conservatist and you rock each pair of boots and skirtss. You are definitely good at skipping the norm in a subtle way :)

  • ElleH replied 6 years ago

    I love your outfits. Someone mentioned my style having some similarities to yours. So far I see we both love boots & cats. I wear boots with everything. I love your boot collection!

  • JR replied 6 years ago

    Well, you certainly perfected the art of adding some pop to the conservative. ;o) Well done.

    I particularly like the insight about small touches being enough. That is essentially the way I like to do things. I'm not a rebel and never have been, but I always like to make a look mine, and find some way to deviate from the norm, not in order to shock but to delight. Once, many many years ago I was told that I was the only one "around here" who dressed with her own style, which I took as a huge compliment, especially because I hadn't consciously set out to do so.

  • shevia replied 6 years ago

    Great lessons and great outfits. I particularly like the lesson about less is more. Also masculine is not edgy - although it can be!

  • Suz replied 6 years ago

    Fabulous retrospective, Rae, and what terrific insights. Not that I'm surprised at that! You are always thoughtful and reflective and learn from every experience. Thank you for sharing the benefit of your wisdom with us.

  • MsMary replied 6 years ago

    What a great post, Rae!! You look fab in every photo -- I especially love the ones with that fab striped skirt!

    We miss the heck out of you at the meetings of the Pushing the Boundaries of Business Formal Society. ;)

  • Transcona Shannon replied 6 years ago

    Rae - this is a super insightful post with a lot of great information for other people who are in desk jobs that they may feel stifle their individual style. You ROCK!

  • replied 6 years ago

    Fascinating post. Thanks for sharing your insights!

  • rae replied 6 years ago

    Lemonade, it is definitely wanted - I really really needed a change... and a sabbatical, lol.

    Elle, cats and boots sounds like the basis for a wonderful style friendship!

    JR, I loved your line, "I'm not a rebel and never have been." Who says being yourself is rebellious, right? I remember my dad's recent style journey, during which he said to me, "I've always felt like a rebel on the inside." Seems like it is a great starting topic for determining how edgy you'd like to go (Dad now wears full sleeve tattoos and a lots of skull jewelry). :)

    MaryK, I will miss those meetings, too - though I think you can certainly push the agenda beautifully solo!

  • Mo replied 6 years ago

    I totally hear you on the subtleties of adding touches here and there. I think this is a major difference in what comes across as stylish vs. what can seem more costumey if over done.
    I'll be interested to see where your style heads with no constraints from a dress code.

  • ElleH replied 6 years ago

    I just looked at your pics again. You really do make business dress fun & flattering & very not boring without being inappropriate. I noticed another thing we have in common. Slouchy handbags:)

  • rachylou replied 6 years ago

    Rae, you are so right. You speak for me. I'm totally not as edgy as I think. Small touches can often communicate a person's truth better than a sign on the back. And there are things to appreciate about conservative dress. While there is conformity there, it's not merely about that - or even about that at all.

  • catgirl replied 6 years ago

    Love this post - so much wisdom and truth in it. And great examples too. Now that you're free to wear what you want, what are you drawn toward, without the constraints of "could this be worn to the office"?

  • JulieJohn replied 6 years ago

    Rae, thank you for teaching us with your wit and wisdom. I remember your outfit #5 as one that I really went crazy for back when I just lurked on this forum. I am so looking forward to seeing your style evolution now that you work from home, like me. Care to join me at next meeting of the "Style Rebels Without a Cause" club?

  • rae replied 6 years ago

    LOL... Yes, I will definitely attend that meeting, and I would also like to subscribe to the newsletter!

  • JulieJohn replied 6 years ago

    You got it! Our next issue is coming off the laser printer in my bedroom right now!

  • JenA replied 6 years ago

    I really enjoyed reading your insights. Being unique IS what makes us all special - and we can do it in small or big ways.

    You are one of the most unconventional, "conservative" dressers I've ever seen. I do think you pushed the boundaries and I love every look. Now I understand the manspiration month (which I LOVED for the outfits and the inspiration).

    Keep it coming!

  • Vicki replied 6 years ago

    Rae, you have such style, sass and smarts (with a subversive smirk thrown in there, too!) and while I may have missed the episode on where you're headed, I know it will be good, because of your amazing observation on life and in life. You nailed it with the "Conservatism Can Be Cool" and while I don't live and work in BH, I can completely see what you mean about standing out a bit. That's brilliant. I'll be staying tuned to the Rae Show, whether it's online or somewhere else.

  • goldenpig replied 6 years ago

    Wow, all of these looks are very you, and none of them looks like what I would consider traditional conservative banker's clothes. Maybe #2 comes the closest, but you're still wearing striped hose! You got the Subversive Conservative market cornered for sure! Great insights're so right that it's the little details that count. Can't wait to see how your style evolves next without dress code restraints!

  • ManidipaM replied 6 years ago

    Excellent post! A textbook one for Subversive Conservative Style in fact, complete with pictures --- which are such a treat. I could have *so* used this handbook back in 2004.

    I was particularly struck by your point that classics are malleable, and they can be cool too. As someone who is usually not very classic-friendly, I realized just yesterday that while the lack of a dress code or even a register in my workplace frees as to dress however we want --- and most people do just that, with certainly only one and a half (that's me!) of us actually thinking about 'office appropriateness' at all --- it also makes it that much harder to stand out! When there's a lot of go-as-you-like going on, it's actually really hard to make a statement --- without bringing the classics into it or a bunch of screaming colour or OTT accessories.

    It's like a roomful of people humming their own anthem --- it all sounds like noise until someone bursts into a classical aria or a turns up the headbangers station. It takes an extreme. And for those of us who aren't naturally all *that* edgy or extreme, the twist on the classics actually works better!

  • O replied 6 years ago

    Mandipa, thanks for bringing the thread up!

    I remember I was so overwhelmed by it at the time, that I was talking to my husband about various points from it during a long car journey.

    I can completely relate to you (and a half!) in terms of lack of dressing code allowing people to really interpret that in the most unexpected, and sometimes inappropriate, ways. True, it is hard to stand out in such environments. However, I did (my old team gave me best dressed award exactly a year ago ;-) simply because I: dressed very classically, but had hints of me in all outfits and dressed rather conservatively at times as well, but never frumpy. I think the reason Rae's thread spoke to me so much is because we both worked in banking environment, mine being a bit more loose IT department than hers in which the new corporate rules and dressing code never fully stepped in as the old ways (the most hilarious tee shirts) were too ingrained in the team culture.

    Apart from the very thing that spontaneously planted itself in my mind, which is one of my Golden Moments ;-), I could also relate very well to "Classics Are Malleable" but this too: "Conservatism Can Be Cool". So true - button your shirt up all the way, and you stand out. Just look at Angie's yesterday blog post and how great her shirt looks just because it's buttoned up. The fact it's plaid makes it mind-blowing and for someone like me it's an extra push to keep twisting very ordinary things to make them look and feel like me.

  • Mochi replied 6 years ago

    I read this last night and don't have time to really give it the commentary it deserves, but this was a great read. Besides being one of our style stars here, you are truly an observant and gifted writer, rae. Your style and expression as a writer is outstanding. Will come back and reread and read others' comments later.

  • Lisa replied 6 years ago

    Great insight here. One thing I have learned about a formal and now less formal dress code, I adore wearing my jeans and boots, two items that I could not wear in a formal setting. And I adore my blazers with jeans, I just had to swap the bottoms for work now. I'm one of very few people that wears one to work almost daily. I am not a fan of button down shirts. I used to wear these ALL the time, and find them rather restrictive. I am wearing them less and less and less and replacing them with knit tops instead.

  • Sarah A replied 6 years ago

    Love the retrospective and the carefully considered reflections about details and finishing touches. You are truly a style inspiration!

  • Isabel replied 6 years ago

    What fabulous observations. I love the introspection that goes on at this site !!! Isn't it an eye opener when we think that if we had free reign it would be easier and sometimes it is not ?

    The fact that people talk about collars and prints is NOT at all common where I live. Women may talk about it but not much. It is so much more about fast fashion that actual details. I chuckled at that. My BIL lives in LA and he talks about those things ( but he has been wearing the same thing for 4 years !!!! The whole uniform thing....)

    I am so glad that you posted this !! Thank you.

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