Ask Nelia: 19 Going on 40

This article was last updated on April 16, 2022

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“I am a 19 year old university student who just landed a job working in an office at my school. There is no official dress code, but I want to look professional and put together while working alongside women with advanced degrees, often 20-30 years older than me. I am struggling to find outfits that work both in the office as well as hanging out in the library, riding the bus or sitting in a lecture hall (i.e. not too stuffy or overdressed) since my working hours are mixed throughout my school schedule. Also please take into consideration that my hometown has a long, cold and snowy winter season. I want to look youthful, conservative, professional, yet blend in with a casually-dressed student body.

I am thinking along the lines of fitted pants (no denim, but not “dress pants”) and blouses, cardigans, maybe a casual blazer, and flat closed toe shoes and boots.” – Nicole

Hi Nicole! First of all, congrats on your new gig! During college, I worked at the computer lab for a while, and though dress code wasn’t an issue there either, I wasn’t nearly as concerned as you are. I think it’s wonderful that you are eager to project a professional image, because those older women will make great work references in a few years’ time. So let’s get to it, shall we?

Knowing that you want to look both youthful and put-together, fitted pants are a great staple to have in your wardrobe. Black trousers are a classic and go with pretty much everything, but so are colourful trousers…and they are a lot more fun to wear! Stores like Joe Fresh,H&M, and Zara have a great selection of slim-cut trousers in various colours and patterns, and the best part – you won’t look stuffy at all!

Since you’d like to avoid button-ups, Breton stripe shirts are a nice neutral option, as arecrew-neck sweaters. I have several work sweaters in my closet, ones that you can throw over a pair of pants, skirt, or even a dress! Lucky for you, J.Crew has some nice cashmere ones on major sale right now! In order to keep your look work-appropriate, stick to a fun top OR bottom. If you wear a pair of black pants, you can choose a more vibrant top, and vice versa. To add a little polish to your outfit, throw on a statement necklace of your liking or a pretty scarf, and you’re almost done!

For your footwear, I would stick to a pair of comfy ankle boots with a mid-height heel (the ones pictured are from ALDO). You can wear them with pants, dresses, and skirts, and the heel will make your outfit appear less casual. If winters are too brutal to wear heels where you are, it might be worth it to tote another pair of shoes in your bag, while sticking to a more practical pair for shlepping around in the snow.

And while you didn’t bring up dresses, I feel like I should really mention this. There’s a reason why LBDs are so ubiquitous – it’s because they look good on pretty much everyone, and you can style them a million different ways. Pick one that shows off your best assets, throw on a colourful cardi or a jersey blazer on top, a pair of tall boots (this pair from La Canadienne looks comfy and is super stylish to boot!) and warm tights, and you are good to go! I wear dresses all winter long, MOON Apparel has some that are both work-appropriate and stylish.

These are just a couple of outfits you can rock at work and to school without having to change, but in reality, you can wear a myriad of fun things to the office without looking unprofessional. A couple of things to avoid is anything too short, too tight, or too loud, but as long as you wear clean, ironed, well-fitting clothes, your co-workers will take notice…and of course, some colour and fun jewelry couldn’t hurt!

Hope this helps, and have a great time at your new job!



PS. If you have a style dilemma, email with subject Ask Nelia and your question might be featured on the blog!

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