How to Accessorize for the Office

Bored with your wardrobe? Spice things up a bit with the right accessories.
Bored with your wardrobe? Spice things up a bit with the right accessories.
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Tired of office grays? Bored with a wardrobe jammed with near-identical pantsuits? Worried that your workplace is starting to suck you into a black hole of fashion? Looks like the time is ripe to start flexing your accessorizing muscles.

Simple yet effective, accessories are the perfect way to keep your workplace style fresh, flexible and professional. If your wardrobe is just getting started, accessories are a stealthy way to add variety to your budding collection. If your closet is already the envy of your coworkers, accessories are just the icing on the cake.


As with any outfit, the accessorizing basics apply: Pick one item as your main attraction and keep everything else small. Like a good team of backup singers, accessories should complement your style without overpowering your overall motif. Be mysterious: Your coworkers will know you look good, but they won't know how.

Keep your attire adaptable -- which means being sensitive to the particular demands of your workplace. Clerking at a law firm? Your rainbow leg warmers may have to be relegated to weekend custody. Vice-principal of a high school? A "Go Tigers!" sweater may trump your white cashmere. If you can, do some homework on your office dress code. When in doubt, watch your boss. By carefully monitoring what your superiors wear, you can usually keep yourself on the right track.

If you're at the point where you've upgraded from cubicle to corner office, chances are your fashion constraints are a bit tighter than the average receptionist. The higher you've made it up the corporate food chain, the more your legs and feet will need to go into hiding. Consider celebrating your latest promotion with a new set of closed-toed shoes and hosiery.

So what are your options? Find out on the next page.


Office Accessory Options

First thing's first -- jewelry. Rings, bracelets and earrings are the staples of the accessorizer's tool kit. Consider complementing any rings with a leather watch or bracelet on the other hand. Bracelets, whether worn solo or as a left-right pair, work best when paired with short sleeves. Since your wrists will often be resting on a desk, think about avoiding clasp bracelets. Elastic bracelets are not only more comfortable, but they'll avoid bothering your coworkers with the constant sound of scraping metal.

Your purse isn't just a good way to schlep around mints and makeup; it's also the most versatile part of your outfit. Even though your closet may be stuffed with pleather and nylon cases from your last regional conference, consider investing in a smart, elegant handbag. Even a lineup of two purses (one light color, one dark color) can go a long way toward complementing your overall attire.


The versatile silk scarf is always a good accessorizing choice. There are dozens of different ways to tie a scarf, and by spending a bit of time refining your tying skills, pretty soon you'll be able to serve up a scarf style to match any motif.

Shoes are the natural bullet point to any outfit. Whether you prefer pumps or flats, leather is usually your best bet. Black and brown work great for dark outfits, bone and teal for lighter ensembles. Simple and hushed is usually best when it comes to shoes. You might be able to pull off shoes with minor embellishments, but that's going to depend heavily on the rest of your attire.

Your most visible accessory, conveniently, is already attached to your head. A set of highlights, a few minutes with the curling iron or even a barrette is an easy way to completely transform any workplace ensemble. An office job shouldn't require that you put your hair into pause mode. Be open to changing your hairstyle with the seasons. A changing hairstyle denotes an open-minded, team-friendly woman -- both of which are very valuable professional assets.


Keeping Form and Function Balanced

If your accessories are slowing you down or turning you into a bruised wreck at the end of the day, it might be time to give them the heave-ho. Go for accessories that complement your clothes without constricting your ability to be an alert, productive and energized worker. Office fashion, fortunately, is one art you don't have to suffer for.

First off, don't be afraid to let your purse do more than hold makeup. Laptops, cell phones and PDAs -- there's a lot of equipment the modern worker has to carry back and forth between home and office. Make sure you pick up a handbag that has a sleek design while still maintaining enough carrying capacity to match your needs.


If your workday calls for 8 hours of hoofing it around sidewalks and down stairs, you might want to go for a pair of flat soles and save the pumps for a day at the desk. Or compromise with a pair of kitten heels. With a heel of only 1.5 inches (3.8 centimeters), they'll give you the heel "look" without sacrificing your feet in the process.

If you're making an important presentation, the last thing you want is to be upstaged by your attire. Flashy earrings, 3-inch heels and gaudy necklaces can all become distracting. At the office, you're the main event, and your wardrobe should never be more than a sidekick. Your accessories work for you, and don't let them forget it.

Above all, stay safe! If your job is going to put you anywhere near spinning equipment, you'll want to make sure your loose ends are tied. Around heavy machinery, a low-hanging necklace is practically an invitation for a beheading. But even if the most dangerous machine in your office is a desktop computer, a poorly-planned wardrobe could still put you at risk for carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive strain injuries. Make sure your bracelets, belts and necklaces aren't constricting your air or blood flow. A slightly clunky or too-tight accessory can easily leave you feeling strained or ill by lunchtime.


What to Leave at the Door

If you're going to wear a bracelet, make sure it won't be too distracting or noisy.
If you're going to wear a bracelet, make sure it won't be too distracting or noisy.

Keep your imagination free when planning your outfits, but keep in mind that if your accessories get a little too bold, they could get you reprimanded -- or sent home.

Unless you clock in at Rolling Stone, nose piercings and visible tattoos are usually a strict no-no. The same goes for overt bling. There are moments when everybody is tempted to pull out all the stops and put on an Elvis-style menagerie of jangly jewelry. But remember: In most offices, jewelry should be seen and not heard.


It's a fair bet that your top drawer contains a pretty impressive headband collection. Headbands are fun and functional -- but they just shouldn't be in your 9 to 5 wardrobe. Looking youthful is good, but many accessories above the neckline will simply leave you looking girlish.

In many circumstance, a quick jet of perfume is the perfect way to add a second sense to your outfit. But in cramped, poorly-ventilated office quarters, even the gentlest perfumes can be akin to a tear gas attack on your coworkers -- especially those with specific allergies. With more and more workplaces going "scent-free," fragrances are gradually joining the martini as an indulgence best enjoyed outside of working hours.

Casual Friday! Time to let loose -- or is it? Use casual days as an opportunity to widen your fashion options, but don't go over the deep end. If anything, casual Fridays are when you're best positioned to hit a fashion home run. While your coworkers flit about in corduroys, t-shirts and faded jeans, you can knock them out with a smart, casual summer dress complete with matching shoes and handbag.

Got a sleek, sexy outfit for Friday night? Wearing it to work might be a great way to save you a trip home before hitting the scene, but be wary -- sleek and sexy do not an office worker make. If you need to duck around a commute back to your closet, simply bring your Friday night finest in a discreet garment bag. Once 5 o'clock rolls around, you'll be ready to slip into your evening wear like Superman in a phone booth.


Lots More Information

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  • Goodlight, Athena. "Tips on Power Dressing for Corporate Women." April 8, 2010. (May 6, 2010)
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  • Saint-Cyr, Yosie. "Dealing with fragrance sensitivity in workplaces." February, 2005. (May 16, 2010)
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