The Gen Y Office: Keeping the Young in Young Professional

by Rachel Yeomans | April 6th, 2010   

By Sharalyn Hartwell

As female young professionals, we have to walk a delicate line. In my career, I’ve seen far too many women make the mistake of either thinking only about portraying their age in their office attire or only portraying their professionalism. Neither extreme works. You can convey both professionalism and youth, in a good way.

The ticket is really a simple formula: Combine structured with unstructured. Slip a fitted blazer over your favorite tee or cami. Trade in jeans for a nice pair of slacks. Then add the fountain of youth when it comes to your working wardrobe – shoes.

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Shoes are the one area you can really get about as creative as you like and still retain a professional look. Add colorful platform heels or a pair of gladiators and suddenly you’re professional without compromising your youthful energy or exuberance for fashion. (Note: this does not mean you can wear flip flops to the office. I’m talking fun, edgy shoes – not sloppy shoes). Not to mention, there’s nothing like a great pair of shoes to make even the most lackluster or unimaginative outfit look amazing (or at least make you feel like a million bucks).

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I tried this tactic a few weeks ago for a job interview. As I was meeting with the president of the division, I wanted to look incredibly professional. However for the position, I needed to emphasize being a member of Generation Y. I wore a feminine three-quarter length black Nine West jacket with lace trim, an untucked comfy turquoise t-shirt, and my favorite pair of wide-legged black slacks from Zara. To pull it together, I wore these Harajuku Lovers navy, baby blue and turquoise heels.

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It worked perfectly.
The other great benefit to this foolproof fashion formula is that it eases that difficult transition between campus wear and career wear. Invest in a few solid separates (jackets, blazers, pencil skirts, slacks, etc.), and work in your favorite casual tops to create your own professional look–a look that reflects your youth and style and still goes easily from day to night.
Add fun shoes and you’ve not only created a professional look you can actually feel good about, but will likely start some water cooler talk as all the other women WISH they had the guts to wear something so fun to work.

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For as long as she can remember, Sharalyn Hartwell has loved clothes and has loved to write. Writing Gen Y fashion tips for TheWorkingWardrobe provides the ideal outlet to combine her two distinct passions. As the National Generation Y columnist for the online newspaper,, Sharalyn makes it a point to keep her finger on the pulse of all things Gen Y. And, as a self-proclaimed fashionista, she makes it a point to keep her finger on the pulse of the fashion world. Talking about either one most generally gets her pulse racing! Typically heralded by all her friends as the best shopping partner ever (or worst, depending on how much buyer’s remorse they feel after purchasing all the treasures she finds them that they look so fabulous wearing), Sharalyn is a big bargain hunter. Her latest brag? A dupioni silk dress originally tagged $375. Sharalyn scooped that beauty up for $15. You can read more about of Sharalyn’s thoughts on Gen Y and fashion on the and Oh yeah, and she hearts shoes. A lot.

Renee Bouchard
Renee Bouchard

All of those shoes pictured are amazing! I love them! And I completely agree about using shoes to make a style statement without being unprofessional. Great advice!