Q: I am a bit lost on how to style navy skirts for winter. Which color tights should I wear? And how can I coordinate a top without ending up looking like I’m wearing something that belongs on a schoolgirl? I prefer a more office-casual kind of style, with fun or artistic accessories and touches, rather than polished or preppy.

A: I love this question because it illustrates how we ladies frequently think of navy as a narrowly nautical/preppy color — and it gives me the chance to prove how versatile it can be.

But first, let’s talk tights. In my opinion, charcoal or heather gray tights are the most versatile. They work well with navy in a variety of mixes. You can try a charcoal sweater, navy skirt, charcoal tights and black boots — a combination that creates instant cohesion through repeating that dark gray shade. Or play with a palette of blues by doing a cobalt blue blouse, midnight blue brooch or necklace, navy skirt and charcoal tights.

Burgundy also plays nicely with navy. If you’re bold enough to go for burgundy legs, it makes another great color for tights. Burgundy brings out the richness of navy, plus it creates a great bridge to other dusty colors. Try a burgundy blazer or cardigan, olive green top, navy skirt, and burgundy tights with cognac boots. In fact, explore all the jewel tones and dusty shades in your closet, since navy pairs beautifully with mustard, teal, purple, emerald and magenta.

Still struggling? Here’s my favorite cheat: Track down a printed multicolored scarf with navy in the print. Then pull colors from the print to create your outfit. A scarf with navy, turquoise, pink and mustard will unify an outfit that includes a turquoise top, navy skirt, burgundy tights (close relative to pink) and brown boots (close relative to mustard).

Q: I struggle to find earrings that go with statement necklaces, especially when one or the other contains colored stones or beads. Most of my earrings tend to detract from or contrast with the necklaces. If I go without either the earrings or necklace, my look seems incomplete; earrings tend to disappear into my curly hair or my neck feels too open. Any advice?

A: With a statement necklace, I always default to studs. Since the necklace and earrings are close to each other, you don’t want them to compete. Long, dangly earrings will visually group with a big necklace — and together they look like a lot of jewelry. However, my ears are entirely exposed because of my short hair, so all earrings are quite visible on me. In this reader’s case, she has thick, curly hair that can obscure small earrings. A large stud might work, but another option is the simple drop earring. Whatever you pick, you want your earrings to stay fairly close to your lobes. Something with a single gem or small dangly element should work in most cases.

What to do if your necklace has colored stones or beads, and you prefer that they don’t perfectly match your earrings? Try studs or drops in whatever metal is used for the necklace’s hardware. If doing this creates a visual disconnect for you, repeat that same metal in your bracelet or watch. In other words, match your bracelet and earrings and let the necklace stand alone.

Q: I’m about to start a new job at a law firm. I fear that much of my clothing is a bit too informal and brightly colored — I’m not sure it will be appropriate. I’d love to see a column about holding on to your fun, colorful sense of style when you find yourself having to conform to more conservative environments.

A: There are definitely ways to maintain some color and quirk, even in a law firm. I’ve held six office jobs over the course of my career. I always found it helpful to dress on the conservative side for the first few weeks while performing what I call “Dress Code Reconnaissance.” Turns out, offices that look incredibly buttoned-up often reveal themselves as more accepting over time.

Once you have the lay of the land, here are a few tips to bear in mind:

Jackets and blazers make everything more formal. OK, maybe not everything. Throwing a blazer over frayed denim shorts and a Mickey Mouse tee might look cute, but it’ll never be office-appropriate. However, a structured jacket or blazer boosts the formality factor on most dresses, especially ones made from substantial fabrics. Adding a blazer to a solid sweater shell and subtly printed skirt works for most offices. So does pairing a jacket with a colorful printed blouse and dress pants.

Bright colors work well in conservative shapes. Remember, structure trumps shade in most cases. A blazing-red jersey wrap dress looks out of place in most formal workplaces, but a blazing-red ponte sheath dress? That works. Especially when worn with balancing pieces such as a jacket and pumps.

Mind your fibers. Some fibers read as more formal than others. Drapey jersey is on virtually every mall store rack these days, but it’s not substantial enough for the average law firm. Ponte is fabulous for dresses and some skirts, but it doesn’t have enough gravitas when it comes to blazers and jackets. In terms of fiber winners, wool tops the list and can be worn in any format, from pants to skirts to blazers to dresses. Silk, polyester and rayon are all fine for blouses, but avoid jersey knits on top. Sweaters are naturally more formal than tees. Cotton, cashmere, wool and man-made fibers are fine — as long as they don’t come with an intarsia owl or neon floral print.

Throw in one colorful or sparkly piece per outfit. This can mean a bright or printed top, a funky necklace, eye-catching shoes or a patterned skirt. Keep the rest clean, classic and conservative.


Sally McGraw is the author of Already Pretty, a daily blog about the intersection of style and body image.