Nine months of the year I'm cloaked in grays, black, and occasionally a dash of purple. It's the New York uniform. It can take you to the office, a corporate cocktail party, or a memorial service for the senior partner. (Come to think of it, "funeral chic" describes a lot of law firm attire.)
But come summer I transform into someone decidedly unManhattanish: the Lilly Pulitzer girl. Unabashedly bright and nauseatingly cheery, Lilly Pulitzer prints don't reflect my true personality at all. But for reasons that would take a Freudian analyst to explain, I can't resist them this time of the year. I own about two dozen Lillys, and I can't get enough of them.
Luckily, I no longer have to stand out as the oddity in pink, green, and yellow, because wild prints are all the rage right now. Almost everywhere you look—J. Crew, Kate Spade, Jason Wu, Altuzarra—flashy, splashy prints abound. So the issue is this: How far can you go in sporting bright, loud designs while still maintaining professional dignity?
In my field—journalism/blogging—what's acceptable as office wear is a nonissue. Just as long as you're dressed in something that comes from a respectable thrift shop, anything goes. Indeed, I could wear vintage Hawaiian shirts every day, and no one would give me a second look. (In fact, one guy at The American Lawyer did wear Hawaiian shirts and shorts to the office for years—even in the dead of winter.)
But what if you work in a stodgy field like law? Corporate fashion stylist Gretchen Neels offers this advice: Break out those bright floral prints this summer—but do so in small doses. She suggests "adding a printed blouse, scarf, belt, or handbag to coordinate with one’s core neutrals."
Neels, who recently released a series of e-books called I Hate to Shop! But Still Want to Look Great, adds, "Personality and proportion, however, should be taken into consideration. An all-over print that looks fantastic on someone over 5’ 7” could be overwhelming on a petite frame." Whether you can carry it off depends on your persona: "Extroverts can usually carry bolder prints and colors better than their introverted office mates, who find too much color burdensome."
Kat Griffin, the founder of fashion blog Corporette, offers similar advice on her site: "Depending on your confidence level here, I’d start small—leave the print to a small proportion of your outfit, and look for smaller, tighter patterns as opposed to very large patterns."
So both Neels and Griffin seem to think it boils down to attitude. Personally, I think you should dispense with the gradual approach and self-analysis. I say go whole hog with the crazy florals. If you are in the mood to wear an over-the-top print in the summer—assuming that the dress is simply cut and not too revealing—what's the downside? It will probably make you cheerier—and maybe even lighten up the sullen souls around you.
Really, what law office couldn't benefit from a dose of gutsy color?