I was getting some braids done at Osu the other day when we ran out of hair extensions. The hairdresser reached into her drawer, pulled out a small pack – likely leftovers from braiding other clients’ hair – and started preparing the extensions. In the glint of sunshine, I saw an unmistakable glare of blue. Thinking it was just a trick of light; I waited until she stepped closer. Yes, the hair pieces were indeed blue or “blue-black” as she described them. I quickly declined and requested that she find black hair pieces to complete my look.
The encounter got me thinking about how many of us make style and beauty choices, not because they represent who we are, but rather for the sake of being trendy and keeping up appearances. Our sense and choice of office style – what we wear and how we wear it – is essential, especially as professionals or women in business. How much color keeps an outfit interesting but not outrageous? How high up the leg should a skirt go when it comes to office style? How loose or tight should a pair of trousers be? How much makeup is too much makeup? It is always a delicate balance figuring out what works for office style and also complements our personality. What’s your office style and can you rock it all the way to success? Ultimately, it comes down to context and comfort.
What’s Your Work, Cultural or Career Context?
Context depends on where you work as much as who you work and interact with in your line of duty. While an African woman living and working in an office in a country like the United States might find herself grappling with how to style her hair, that same woman might be more concerned about the fit of her clothes when working in a largely male office in Accra or Lagos. Jeans and a dashiki top might be acceptable dress for a kindergarten schoolteacher, but could raise eyebrows if worn to the office by an investment banker. Likewise, the blue and black hairdo my hairdresser tried to create for me might work for an after work meet up with my girlfriends but could be quite distracting when I’m making a presentation to clients. It’s okay to try experimenting with your clothes, but it’s also important to keep your lifestyle in mind. Before I opted for entrepreneurship, my rule of thumb was simple: business casual for a regular work day – shirt or top with pants or a skirt and a blazer on hand, flats or low heels – and business attire for when I had meetings or events. Unless you work in an air-conditioned office or skip out entirely on evening traffic, jackets may be impractical in our part of the world. Thankfully, brands like Raffia offer simple yet stylish outfits that are not only Africa-inspired but also double up for both work and after-work.
Office Style: The Comfort & Confidence Factor
Comfort ranks highly on my list of considerations when it comes to style. Sure, I might wear a pair of toe-pinching power heels from time to time, but I usually have a pair of flats close-by in case I need it. Why? Confidence. Being comfortable in your skin – and clothes – has a strong influence on how confident you feel. Imagine an outfit you saw recently and immediately thought, “I would never wear that”. Now imagine you are wearing it – and standing in front of a room of people to make a presentation that could impact the company’s profit margin. Very discomfiting, isn’t it? It’s always a good idea to have a number of outfits or fashion accessories that help you feel your best, regardless of how unfashionable others might think it to be.
There’s also the money factor. Chances are you’ll feel uncomfortable each time you wear an outfit you felt uncomfortable dishing a certain amount of money for. I know this has been true for me when an outfit has been unbelievably cheap or outrageously expensive. Consequently, it’s important to consider what is comfortable for you money-wise when selecting your work outfit and defining your office style. Thankfully, Ghanaian designers like MAKSI, Charlotte Privé and Akataasia offer a range of affordable options that maximize both style and comfort – look out for their sales! With Instagram and Pinterest, you can also find simple but stylish outfit ideas for your local seamstress or tailor. All you have to do now is figure out what works best for you. As Vogue Magazine Editor-in-Chief said, create your own style… let it be unique for yourself and yet identifiable for others.
Do you have any specific fashion articles or clothing that are professional style essentials? How do you balance out being stylish and being comfortable? Share in the comment section below.
Jemila Abdulai is the creative director, editor and founder of the award-winning website Circumspecte.com. A media and international development professional and economist by training, she combines her business, communications and project management expertise with her strong passion for Africa. Besides writing and reading, she enjoys travel, global cuisine, movies, and good design.