Thursday, January 17, 2013

It's The Little Things

We all know Her.  That One Woman in the office who, no matter how windy or wet the weather, always walks into the building looking like she beamed herself directly from her bathroom to the office: every hair in place, shoes clicking smartly on the tiles, head up, necklace and bracelet and earrings all coexisting in perfect harmony to pull that suit with the trendy coral top together into absolute perfection.  If there were a 'Vogue - The Workplace Edition', she'd be on the cover.  Every month.

In our office, that woman is Georgia.  We've had gale-force winds, pouring rains, blizzard-like snow conditions, and casual Fridays, and none of these seem to affect her sense of style.  When my kids were little, I used to want to be Georgia, but at that point in my life, I had no idea how!  No matter how many magazines I flipped through, articles in Redbook I read, or accessories I shopped, I just couldn't figure out how to put things together in such a way that I could pull off that overall awesomeness.  So how does one achieve that pulled-together look?

Don't Skip The Iron  
Sometimes, if you can get to the dryer fast enough, you can pull everything out before they wrinkle.  Yah.  That's not enough.  Ironing is an art form, and the folks at Real Simple have created an easy how-to video with step-by-step instructions exactly how to achieve the crisp collar and tricky spot across the top of the shoulders.  Take the time to iron your work clothes.  I've started using a light starch on them, also.  I prefer the Sta-Flo liquid starch available at Walmart or your local grocery or drug store (super cheap, and the jug lasts for months).  It's really thick stuff.  I keep a large spray bottle (approx 1/2-gallon) specifically for this purpose and use about 1/2 c of liquid starch and fill the rest up with water from the tap.  Make sure that you're shaking the solution up before you spray each garment as the starch tends to settle to the bottom.  While your iron is heating, shake the bottle of starch mixture well, then lay the garment out on the table and lightly mist the garment front and back.  Wad it up and set it to the side.  I've found if you iron right after you spray, the starch doesn't have a chance to soak into the cloth and do it's job, and just leaves a white residue everywhere - having pants that look like they've got a serious case of dandruff is certainly not the look you're after!  Once you've sprayed all the pieces you're going to iron, start with the first piece you sprayed and go from there.  The starch will make your pieces less easy to wrinkle, and you'll notice that by 4:48 p.m. you won't look nearly  as rumpled as you feel!
If your pants have cuffs, iron the cuffs.  If the trousers look like they originally had a nice crisp crease, learn how to use the iron to get that look back!  These little details may not seem like much, but open any magazine and you're not going to see a single model (even in the ads that you tend to skip over) with those little wavy lines that we convince ourselves aren't really wrinkles from clothes pulled hot from the dryer.  Trust me on this one.  :)  Again, I refer you to the links at the bottom of this post for a quick tutorial on how to make your things look like they just came from the dry cleaners.

Just A Touch of Makeup
Even if it's just a quick outline to your upper eyelid with a touch of shadow or mascara, doing just a little something to your face can make a big difference.  I personally find the caked on makeup that a lot of the younger women are wearing right now absolutely offensive (yes I know, I might get some flack for that one), but you can tastefully add a little something without feeling like "Here comes Jenny's face!", even if it's just a touch of lipstick or gloss.  I tend more toward only eye makeup and some lipstick, but that's what I'm comfortable with myself.  Use your judgement.  Again, our friends at Real Simple have provided us with some really great inspiration on the how-to's of makeup application without looking like you've just run away from the circus (see below).

Accessorize, Accessorize, Accessorize
I've learned a couple of rules that help me when I'm getting ready every morning, and figured I'd share since I haven't exactly seem them anywhere else and they showed up as a list in my head a moment ago that I realized got there by a few years of trial and error that have now apparently turned into some type of formula...with bullets:
Bordello brand pumps
  • If you're wearing a necklace that is more complicated than a pendant on a chain, stay away from big earrings.  To me, that feels like a traffic jam around my face.  Opt instead for a nice set of coordinated or matching studs or hoops rather than long, dangle-y things that end up touching the necklace and combining into a single funky square of jewelry around the outline of your face.  You want the piece itself to be getting the attention without the distraction of the person you're talking to trying to figure out where your earrings end and your necklace begins.  If you've got a pair of amazing chandelier earrings that you adore, choose to go with a simple chain or pendant rather than the bigger baubles.
  • If the outfit you're wearing is subdued, go with big chunky jewelry and bright statement shoes.  But try not to pair those black platform stilettos with the red polka-dots and bow with black and white striped slacks and a busy shirt.  Unless of course that's the look you're going for.  In this way you're drawing attention to the statement piece alone and giving it the attention it deserves!
  • Go easy on the rings.  Have a few that you really like, and try not to wear more than two to a hand.  
  • If you're wearing a plain oxford type blouse, the kind that buttons up the front, has a collar and cuffs, go with a nice long necklace.  This breaks up the lines of your blouse, especially if you're wearing a suit, and adds a nice feminine touch.  I've learned how to make my own necklaces and have a nice collection for a fraction of what I would have paid retail, and they are exactly what I wanted down to color and style.  You can shop sales at places like Target, Kohl's, Walmart, and K-Mart for great deals on clearance jewelry.  Also look at websites like Forever 21 who often have large sales on line with free shipping.  I've found some of my favorite pieces in this way and saved more money than I can count.
  • If you're a fan of brooches and pins, make sure you don't overdo it with the necklaces at the same time.  If you're wearing a nice suit with a statement necklace, try putting the brooch or pin on your overcoat.  You'll still be able to wear it that day, and it will brighten up your outerwear!  
  • Jessica Simpson
    scarf, Nordstroms
  • Scarves can be your friend.  A short scarf tied around your neck or around a ponytail, a Pashmina draped loosely around your shoulders, a fringed scarf folded into a triage and tied behind your neck can be just the touch you're looking for! And with winter in full swing, yet another layer you can add if your cube or office is, like mine, one of those on the outer edges of Siberia and you find yourself shivering so hard your Spell Check is working harder than you are!  There are many videos and articles out there to show you creative ways to wear a scarf, and you can find these in the same places you find the clearance jewelry: discount and department stores in the clearance sections.  I've found that second-hand stores aren't the best place for these as they tend to be outdated, frayed at the edges, or a little too 'well-loved'.  Not that that stops me from looking!  I did find my Burberry scarf in the $2 bin!
Don't Forget About Your Hands
Shellacked Nails
I personally like acrylic nails.  Not the long, freakishly fake contraptions that render the wearer incapable of retrieving a piece of paper from a counter top, but the very short, polished set that will keep polish looking new and shiny for at least a week.  My jobs are both very heavy on the typing, and for years I've been completely unable to grow out my own real nails.  They break, crack, chip, and basically look horrible.  So every two weeks I sit for an hour at my favorite salon and have Tony work his magic.  The result are 10 nicely manicured, very short nails with bright pops of color that are fully functional and make me feel beautiful.  If you decide not to go the artificial route, there is this fantastic nail process right now that is enjoying great popularity called "shellacking" in which your natural nails are manicured and then a thin gel coating is applied that makes your natural nail stronger.  The coating can be done in clear or in different colors, or can be painted if you like variety, and will last 2-3 weeks.  In fact, the picture I've used for this segment is of a set of shellacked natural nails.  Aren't they pretty?!  Like acrylics, the upkeep is essential, but if you can swing it, well worth the cost ($15-$36).

Keep Your Head Up, Look Them In the Eye, and Smile
Now that part of my job is to smile at people, I've begun to notice outside of work how few people do this.  I used to be one of them, and that embarrasses me just a little bit!  I sit at the front desk of the international headquarters of a Fortune 500 company and am exposed all day long to engineers, doctors, lawyers, nurses, and other professionals, and I would say the percentage of people who meet my eye and reciprocate when I greet them is around the 70% mark.  Yup.  Sorta shocking!  This is one thing however that Georgia has perfected.  I know that odds are she doesn't feel on the inside as she looks on the outside every single day.  But I can't remember ever seeing her walk by my desk on the way to hers and not look me in the eye and say 'good morning'.  She doesn't shuffle when she walks.  Her shoulders are back and she makes eye contact.  She smiles, and it's a genuine smile.  Most days, that's the extent of our interaction; but she's made an impression, and one I've tried to emulate.  Confidence is the absolute best thing you can put on every day.  No matter what you're wearing, how overdue you are on a manicure, or even if you forgot to put on lipstick: if you look someone in the eye, say hello, and smile like you genuinely mean it, you, like Georgia, are going to leave an impression.                    ~M

How to iron a dress shirt:

How to iron dress pants:

Videos on the proper way to apply all types of makeup:

Ways to wear a scarf that you might not have considered: