The New Normal of Corporate Dressing: Allyson Reaves

To kick-off this new series, I would like to present Allyson Reaves. We became fast friends during our college orientation and now she has become the Assistant Vice President with a global philanthropic fundraising organization. It has been nearly 20 years since we met and having a purposeful and evolving style of dressing has been a constant desire we share. Naturally creative, Allyson has developed a unique sense of style that shows her flare and personality of life. However, after joining the firm in 2011, she was weary of having to adhere to a “Brooks Brothers” like standard of dressing. Through acknowledging that a professional image is as critical as having the necessary skills, Allyson has developed her own standard of dressing with clean silhouettes, decadent blazers and accessories that pop without being overwhelming. The ability to master these traits is no small feat and this is why she is perfect reflection of The New Normal of Corporate Dressing...

Hall Of Style (HOS): When you first learned of the dress code with your organization, how did you think that would impact how you dressed for work?

Allyson Reaves (AR): I thought I'd have look a lot older!!! The company suggested suits in muted colors. I'm a southern girl who lives in jewel tones, so I thought I had to make a drastic change. My concern was that I’d be forced to buy expensive clothes that wouldn't fit me well.

HOS: So you felt you would have to add age to your style, dull down your vibrancy and spend your salary on clothing? Yet look at you now, how have you managed to combat these fears?

AR: Indeed – in corporate America, Brooks Brothers seems to be the standard, which is incredibly pricey! I try to look out for suit-like options with unique designs, patterns, and textures that uphold the integrity of a suit, but allow me a bit more artistic independence. I’m really not a fan of wearing pants, but love shift dresses with interesting blazers! It's been a journey to find dress-based attire that's corporate-code friendly.

HOS: It is now evident that you have mastered "your look" for work. What concerened you most along this journey?

AR: Wearing clothes that don't fit and that tailoring won't fix. I'm short (5'2") and busty (34DD). Typical silhouettes swallow my frame, so I had to find a way around that.

HOS: For the pieces that you are willing to spend a little more on (investment items), do you try to incorporate them into your after-work, evening, or weekend attire? If so, how? If not, is this something you would be interested in exploring to get a higher ROI?

AR: I need to do this more. I've started to wear some of my favorite blazers with jeans for a night out, but my dresses usually stay in office mode. I need to be more creative with how I use them.

HOS: Paring your structured blazers with jeans and a delicate top is great for nights out. Would you consider wearing this same black shift dress with a long ivory knit cardigan and cognac-colored riding boots for a weekend lunch?

AR: I would be willing to give that a try! It's funny – I have this preconceived notion that work clothes are for work, church clothes are for church, and play clothes for weekends. I'll definitely try to coordinate some cross purpose attire – it'll make getting dressed a whole lot easier!

HOS: On accessories, how do you incorporate shoes for work? Do you utilize statement pieces of jewelry with specific outfits?

AR: Accessories are my second skin! Most of my necklaces are customized and handmade. I appreciate statement pieces that are on the heavy side architecturally and that have an ethnic nuance. Most of my work shoes are patent leather; black or nude (during summer). It just wraps up the total look sharply. I've recently added these black suede boots with a pointy toe and block heel. It looks light, but gives you sturdy support. Pointed toe-shoes are a must for me; they extend the leg and give the optical illusion that make me look taller.

HOS: It is wise to provide optical illusions via shoes. As another "vertically challenged" female, I often advise on investing in flesh colored footwear to extend the legs. It adds length, can be extremely slimming and a great way to provide overall balance. Kuddos to you!!!

HOS: Daring to add jewelry with "an ethnic nuance" can be a bold, yet taboo statement in the corporate world; clearly this does not bother you. As a woman of color, I know that there are often conversations of appearing "too ethnic" at work.

AR: My choices in jewelry are along the lines of "wearable art" and most people get that. It’s a part of the overall package and an important element of how I show up. One can never tell where my jewelry comes from, which is always the launch of an interesting story and conversation.

HOS: You have mentioned in the past the need/desire to collect timeless/classic pieces, how have you done so and why is this so important to you?

AR: I don't want to buy something over and over because it's not made well or suffers in quality. The style must be cut for my body type, the details should make it special, and the fabric should be durable and of the best quality I can buy.

HOS: I am glad you noted to get the best quality you can buy. Too often people over-extend their wallets by buying “the best” on the market. You can aspire for the best while still living within your means.

HOS: You have a gift of selecting amazing blazers that work for your build. What are the key features that you look for in doing so?

AR: Silhouette is everything! Blazers that are slightly shorter in the back, petite angles in the shoulders (so I don't look like a kid playing dress up), and textured. I try to find fabrics that aren't flat. I love black jackets with interesting pattern details.

HOS: Like the one you are wearing, blazers of this nature with asymmetric hems are ideal for creating curves where there are fewer and covering curves we may not want to showcase. Again, it's all about the optical illusion!!!

HOS: Do you do anything differently for board meetings or promotional hearings than every day?

AR: I usually wear all black. It's provides gender balance with a bit of sexy. I'm pretty expressive in language and presentation, and the black gives me a solid balance.

HOS: I'm glad you brought up the necessity of balancing gender roles, but still wanting to hone the sensuality of being a woman. This is a very difficult task to achieve and one that so many professional woman encounter. How do you feel that you have achieved an image of gender neutrality while simultaneously conveying confidence and respect with a nod to sexiness?

AR: I ask myself the following questions: 1) Do I take myself seriously? 2) Will anything that I am wearing distract from what I am presenting? 3) Is the length of my dress or the formfitting nature of my outfit appropriate for nightlife? 4) Do I feel confident in what I'm wearing? 5) Do I have to keep tugging at or adjusting my dress? When I am satisfied with the answers to these, I feel balanced and work appropriate.

HOS: After all of the thought that you put into your professional attire, what is your end result? What do you want your image to say about you?

AR: I want my look to represent my work style: thorough and trustworthy. People put a lot of stock in presentation, and one glance can make or break a contract.

HOS: Well put...When people say that "it's what's on the inside that counts", how much do you agree or disagree; specifically professionally?

AR: I'm afraid I don't agree with that. If you have a professional athlete, you should have endurance and strength on the inside, but shouldn't you also have the lightweight running shoes, breathable fabrics, and durable protective gear? If you are in education, shouldn't you have an appearance that bestows confidence and trust for parents? If you work in the restaurant industry, shouldn't you have an appearance that's clean and crisp? How you show up is 100% of how you will be received. People trust me with financial decisions, and I have to look like I can make them.

Not only is Allyson proof that individuality and functionality is the new normal of the 2016 workplace, she is also evidence that an authentic style takes great thought about what works for your lifestyle.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on how you view The New Normal of Corporate Dressing! Stay tuned for the next installment as we explore another professional that has dared to defy the mundane fashions of the workplace!


M. Renee

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