The Quest To Wear Sweatpants To Work

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photo-4Photo: Courtesy of Laura Ruof.


Laura Ruof is a dentist by day, and blogs about fashion, beauty, and wellness after-hours at Call To Style.

Seven years ago, as I was leaving for my hospital-residency interviews, my friend stopped me and asked why I was going to a cocktail party in the afternoon. “I’m going to my interview!” I said proudly. What did they know about fashion? Sure, I wasn’t wearing a skirt suit, but a skirt suit just wasn’t me. My somewhat low-backed black dress, knit stockings (that were in retrospect kind of fishnet-y), and sky-high heels seemed very professional and appropriate when I was packing my bag back in Buffalo. And, besides — a few years back when interviewing for dental school, I had worn a hot-pink-suede pencil skirt, a white blouse with cut-outs, denim open-toed heels (it was 2003, okay?), and an arm full of pearl bracelets. That time, my system of dressing like “me” worked just fine...so it should have this time, as well, right?

In any case, it was too late to change, so I hailed a cab and was off. At my first interview, the doctor thought I was from NYC based on my attire, which was the ultimate compliment to a Buffalo girl, and made me high-five myself. At my next interview, I was feeling confident, and at the end of the interview, I asked, “What do you look for in a resident?” “Hmm,” he said, “Someone who wears fishnet stockings.” I squirmed. Oh god. “They’re not fishnets,” I protested. “They’re from Banana Republic!”

Our clothes can get us all kinds of attention, both good and bad. My non-strategy strategy of dressing like myself while staying within the bounds of acceptable workwear had set me apart from the other candidates and made me feel more comfortable (with the aforementioned minor exception). As time went on, my reluctance to conform coupled with my desire to stand out while maintaining a career in a very serious setting allowed me to develop a style that is both professional and fashion-forward. While I wouldn’t recommend pushing fashion boundaries at work on a regular basis (unless you have a super-cool job where you're allowed to bring your dog and can wear crop tops in meetings), it’s usually best to leave sartorial risks for the weekend. For instance, I wouldn’t try out the new socks and sandals trend when you’re expected to argue a big case in court. The judge may not have heard that the Olsen twins said it was okay and hold you in contempt, and you’re really no good to anyone in jail.

The style formula I had developed was working just fine, until it was tested when the trend of chic sweatpants and sweatshirts came about. Previously reserved for sick days and hangover recovery, sweats have been reimagined and brought into the mainstream wardrobe. The trend that started a year or two ago has now become something that can be worn to the office, so much so that on the morning subway ride, you actually look like you’re going to work and not like you’re heading to Bikram.

This is a trend that — while not new — I’m still a big fan of. My day job is highly physical, so clothes need to be comfortable, functional, and stylish all at the same time. But, you can’t just wear ANY old sweats to work if you want to keep your job. Luckily designers have made it easy to find office-appropriate sweatpants by changing up the materials and cuts.

There are a few rules you should follow to make sure you’re looking chic in your meeting and not being sent to talk to HR about your dress code. For sweatpants, the number one rule is make sure the material is on the thin side (meaning, it doesn't even have to be made of sweatshirt-y cotton!). Thick sweats are thick because they’re ABSORBING SWEAT, and unless you made out with your co-worker after happy hour last night and someone posted a picture of it on Instagram, there should be no sweating at work.

Second, make sure that the ankle is tapered. A tapered ankle slims the leg and can also give the illusion of curves to a straight figure, which makes them magic. Plus, a tapered ankle is scientifically proven to be cute. I highly recommend you wear heels with this type of pant to dress it up and also to accentuate that tapered ankle. If you roll into work in Stan Smiths, I can’t help you if you find an email from HR in your inbox. You must agree to forsake the comfort of your feet for the comfort of your lower half. Life is full of sacrifices.

Third, the pant should have a high-waisted elastic waistband. Can you really call this a rule? It’s more of a salvation. Falling at your natural waist avoids pinching you in your lunch spot, and makes the perfect pant for carb-loading, period convalescing, and cross-country airplane rides (or all three at once).

Fourth, do not try and wear a modern sweatshirt with a modern sweatpant to the office. Otherwise, you might as well just show up in a Snuggie.

And finally, keep those accessories fancy. A statement necklace will dress up your outfit perfectly and keep you from looking like you could abandon your conference call for a pick-up basketball game at any moment. A tucked-in silk blouse looks fabulous with the high-waisted pant and heels. For a little more coverage, pair those sweatpants with a tucked-in tank under a blazer.

Certainly you may be thinking, why should I take advice from the girl who wore fishnets to her DOCTOR interview? Because I’ve been there, and I’ve pushed the limits, lived to tell about them, and learned my lessons. I’ve developed an eye for what’s okay and what’s not while still maintaining a sense of style. The best thing about these types of pants is that they’re the Choose Your Own Adventure type. Depending on how you wear them, they become a totally different item of clothing — extremely valuable since we usually have two wardrobes: our work clothes and our after-work clothes. A piece that can be worn equally as well in a board meeting as at brunch will save you money (that you’ll spend on extra French toast because you’re wearing elastic waistband pants now!), will save you time getting dressed in the morning (I know it takes you an hour to pick out your outfit), and also have pockets. Because you'll need pockets to hold quarters to make phone calls to your mother, who will have to come bail you out of jail because you didn’t listen to me on that socks-and-sandals-in-court thing.