Ditch the navy pantsuits: 5 Awesome work alternatives

Jan 28, 2014 at 8:26 p.m. ET

Consider these ideas for office attire that is still appropriate, but allows you to shine a bit.

I was the kid who learned how to sew (well, I used one of those staple sew-guns) in junior high school because I wanted to make clothes that no one else was wearing. I hated blending in and not being able to show my style. When all the other girls were begging their parents for huge sweaters to wear over leggings, I was churning out maxi skirts and crop tops. But by the time my senior prom rolled around, I was too busy socializing to finish my dress and dashed out last minute to buy one. All those years of looking original, and some other girl showed up in the same dress. Nightmare. Well, nightmare of high school proportions. It was no Sharknado.

Cut to years later, and I still love style that's all my own. One summer during college, I was working in an art gallery. One day, one of the curators who was a well-known fashion plate walked into the offices, took one look at me and said “what are you wearing?” I snapped, “don’t start with me, I’m not in the mood,” to which she quickly replied, “I don’t mean that in a bad way. I mean that you’re always wearing the most unusual things and I love it. I want to know what it is.” It was considered a badge of honor that this style maven liked my style.

So when I see every second professional woman dressed in a navy or black suit, I just want to stop them and say, “don’t you want to be noticed? Don’t you want to show you’re creative?” (Also, sometimes I want to ask for insider stock tips but I don’t do that either.) I’m not saying you should channel Lady Gaga, but consider these ideas for office attire that is still appropriate, but allows you to shine a bit.

  • Your basic white button-down shirt underneath a dress. The classic shirt says "professional," the dress says "feminine," and the combination says: “I’m unique.” Plus, Julia Roberts just did a variation on this for the Golden Globes. If that Pretty Woman can do it, so can you.
  • A cropped pant, kitten heels and blazer. The feminine twist on a man’s suit.
  • A pencil skirt, turtleneck and boots. Very Rene Russo in The Thomas Crown Affair.
  • A patterned or bold-colored dress. This says "I don’t shy away from making decisions." Personally, I love my Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dresses. Can you believe she made her first one 40 years ago and they’re still stylish? Even Dior’s “New Look” didn’t have those sorts of legs.
  • Speaking of legs, how about wide-legged trousers and a silk blouse. Think Katharine Hepburn. A woman who could impress men such as Cary Grant and Howard Hughes, while wearing pants when it was unheard of, would surely run a Fortune 500 company if she was a current player.

Relegate the navy to the navy. They’re all about uniforms, after all. And in today’s workplace, creativity trumps uniformity. Imagination beats homogeneity. Where would we be if Gates and Jobs thought good-old-fashioned books were more interesting than bytes?