The closet struggle is real. As writer and feminist Caitlin Moran puts it, "When a woman says, ‘I have nothing to wear!’, what she really means is, ‘There’s nothing here for who I’m supposed to be today." Professional women are constantly tying to walk an impossible tightrope between dressing professionally and stylishly—and that's even before we add the curveball of an outfit that needs to work for a client meeting and an evening engagement. 

Thankfully Ellevate Houston partnered with Tootsies this week for a standing-room-only fashion presentation meant to highlight on-trend pieces from the store that work for working women. Although there were a few misses—most in the crowd agreed that shorts were never going to fly at the office—Tootsies buyers John Maguire and Kyla Phung offered more than a dozen outfits and ideas to integrate into a successful fall wardrobe.

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Image: Sarah Rufca

Pants/Suiting

A paired pantsuit is one of the staples of office wear, but the stylists suggest breaking up your suits for infinitely more outfit options. Women can sub in a pop of color with a bright blazer like in the Rebecca Taylor outfit, above left, pairing with a trouser in an unexpected hue, like these in hot-for-fall aubergine. Or Phung suggests that if this is too much color for a conservative office, the looks can be toned down by replacing either piece with a classic navy version.

In blouses, among the major trends for fall are turtlenecks and mock necks (as seen above right) and Victorian details (above center), both of which are great for layering under a patterned blazer or something a little more modern, like this white Tahari vest.

Can your office handle a little ankle showing? Both Phung and Maguire love the idea of introducing cropped pants—like these flirty flares—into a work wardrobe. "They rarely have to be tailored and they loom great with sandals, booties, you name it," said Maguire.

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Image: Sarah Rufca

Skirt Suits

The pencil skirt is the bedrock of modern professional dress—effortless and flattering to a range of body types. Ways to update the look include finding a skirt with an asymmetric hem, like on this Milly dress (left). Maguire noted that the colorful version by Milly goes with a sweater (center) or a turtleneck, either of which can be switched out for a crop top to carry it to date night. For a look that brings a hint of edgy, women can go for a pencil with a leather panel, like the Donna Degnan skirt (right). For those not so into the full turtleneck or tie-neck detailing, Phung notes that this blouse, also by has the same kind of neck interest with less fuss.

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Image: Sarah Rufca

Dresses

Lots of solid colored frock in jewel tones are making their appearance this fall—and your closet should celebrate. At left, an emerald green dress (with a questionable hem) is a pretty example of one of fall's hottest trends, bell sleeves. Maguire suggests keeping them cropped like this so they don't end up on your plate. At center, a fit-and-flare dress with laser cut-outs hits all the right notes: The cut is figure-flattering, the detailing is on-trend for fall, and the cutouts are a great way to play with showing a hint of leg while keeping the hem in line.

At right, Maguire wanted to show this dress from Black Halo as an example of a designer that can do a longer, conservative-office-appropriate hem and still make it look great—the lace sleeves and forgiving waist make it wearable and appropriate, and the cut keeps it from feeling too staid. And as Maguire notes, it's better to go long on a hem than short and then tailor to get it right. "We can only drop the hem an inch, but we can raise it six inches if we want," he said.

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Image: Sarah Rufca

Casual Friday/Weekend

For a less buttoned-up look, Phung suggests denim that's slightly cropped, like these jeans (left) by Paige Denim paired with a tie-neck blouse and simple blazer. For mixing up your everyday leggings look, she suggests versions with a herringbone pattern (right) or a coated look (center). And because this is Houston, the best sweaters to invest in are light or loosely woven knits that can be paired with the perfect crisp white shirt—fall is all about layering. Even if it's just for your office AC.

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