She left the corporate world, founded her own brand – TAM ARA – and dove into designing women’s fashion for the workaday world. She’s Slovak fashion designer Tamara Bodnarová, and she says that office workers should watch their colors, shoes, and fragrances.
Let’s say I’m working at a company with a clearly defined dress code (for example dress suits and high heels for women). How can I express myself while staying within these boundaries?
Naturally there are lots of ways to express your own personal style even within a strict company dress code. There really are a lot of styles and patterns out there, and you can always choose something that makes you feel more confident without breaking your company’s dress code.
Can you be more specific?
For example, some people like delicate blouses and others prefer the starker look of a dress shirt. Some prefer pantsuits, while others would rather wear a dress. My advice is: Try several different options and see what makes you feel self-confident, and then build on that.
You can also play around with colors, accessories, and jewelry. Ladies often keep their clothing fairly conservative while getting playful in their choice of a purse. And one other lovely and unforced way to underscore your personality and style is with a fragrance. I even think that if it has personality and it fits you, people will remember it more than what you’re wearing.
Tamara Bodnárová, the founder of fashion brand TAM ARA
When you founded your own fashion brand, it was a little bit out of spite, let’s say, towards the ready-made fashion you used to wear to work. What are some of the other major vices you’ve noticed in office fashion?
I can still recall a few things from the times when I was in an office environment daily. One of them was that people sometimes seemed to feel that wearing black is a cure-all. Unfortunately it’s not, and a sloppy outfit is truly a misstep even when it’s black. I actually don’t even think that a black suit or jacket belongs in the office at all – unless they’ve been put in the company’s dress code. Dark blue or anthracite men’s or women’s suits look far less strait-laced and are easier to combine with other colors.
What else should people keep an eye on?
Shoes are another problem. Often a great outfit gets ruined by beat-up boots or tattered toes. Not to mention footwear that’s just poorly chosen. Men have almost always been better than women about this. And I’ll mention one more horror, which I keep running into on the street as well, and that’s leggings. Of any kind.
You don’t feel they belong at the office?
Sometimes in offices (and at company parties), I have seen leggings in combination with dresses or long tunics. But unless you’re an instructor at a fitness center, this isn't suitable clothing for the office.
THE BASIC WARDROBE
So what would you actually recommend to office workers? Let’s start with the women – what should a manager have in her wardrobe as its foundation?
A woolen outfit – ideally three-part (jacket, pants, and skirt), woolen dress shirt, and silken blouse. Several dresses, whether that means pencil dresses or looser ones, at the knee or under the knee, a little black dress. A trenchcoat and a woolen coat. Good heels and a good purse. This is the bare minimum, yet it’s also enough for both company parties and lunch with a client.
And as far as materials and colors go?
High-quality materials like wool, cotton, and silk are the foundation. As for the colors, I’d run with blue, white, beige, gray, and also bolder choices like red or violet. Start with pieces like these, and it’s easy to then combine them with something more colorful or interesting. And I wouldn’t be afraid to use bold patterns either, checkers, stripes, or something abstract – in a muted form, of course.
What should men working as managers use as the foundation for their wardrobes?
Except for the dresses, everything that applies for women also applies for men. Suits with an excellent fit, ideally at least two, so that they can alternate between them to let the material rest and breathe in the meantime. Several cotton shirts; they don’t have to be white. It’s important that they not be made of an overly thin, translucent material.
Men can also play around a little with accessories such as ties, handkerchiefs, or socks. Good shoes are of course also an integral part of a basic wardrobe. There are also some things that it definitely doesn’t include – summer shorts, sandals, and short-sleeve shirts.
DARE TO BE YOURSELF!
Do you have some kind of personal motto that you follow in how you dress?
“Dare to be yourself!” That is my brand’s motto, and I also try to follow it myself. I like seeing brave people who wear what fits them even when it doesn’t reflect the latest trends. One beautiful example of clothing freedom is Berlin, a city overflowing with different styles. I’m especially inspired by Asian women, who are unafraid and can “pull off” even some fairly wild combinations, and at the same time aren’t dressed vulgarly. Even though in their case, very often it’s mainly about the latest trends.
You’ve subtitled your TAM ARA brand “urban chic.” What should we imagine here, and how is this reflected in the office environment in particular?
My creations are made to look right on the urban woman. For my brand, I create pieces that look good both in an office environment with a strict dress code and on women who like to dress more freely, but still wish to look elegant. At the same time I try to design universal pieces that you can make use of both in the office and outside it, for anything from travel to meeting up with your friends.