Welcome back to “So You Want To…” the series wherein I provide you with outfits and inspiration based on specific vibes, energies, and events!
One of the most popular requests I have gotten for this column is “What do I wear to work?” And I get it! You have to get dressed for work, and the kinds of clothes that are typically deemed “workplace appropriate” are absolutely racist, classist, ableist, transphobic, homophobic and sexist. Not to mention, no two workplaces are the same! Some are much more conservative than others, some pretend to be pretty chill but actually aren’t, some are actually kind of chill. Not to mention that there are a ton of people for whom “work” does not mean an office. Only you know what is accepted in your line of work, I am just your friendly neighborhood columnist! I focused on giving you staples here, pieces that can work as a base for you to layer on your own vibe, and adjust for your own work place as necessary. Because these are basic pieces, describing them… well, it was kind of boring. But I have a solution for that!
I brought our Main Characters back for a special work themed follow up! Everyone’s a little dressier this round, and I cannot stress enough how much I encourage mixing up these items! Maybe you’re a little bit of a Bad Boy with a Heart of Gold and a little The Mysterious Neighbor Who is Obviously a Witch! Wilder things have happened! Now go forth, dress and enjoy!
Widow with a Shocking Secret
The kids are back in school three days a week, and it is a lifesaver. You would do anything for them (you’d done so much already) but when the door shuts, the blissful silence that follows is like slipping into a warm bath. Two hours till you have to get on a call with your boss, and they’re all yours.
You decide to take your coffee out on the back deck. After the last year, you’ll take any chance you can get to soak up some sun. And if you happen to know that she also takes her coffee outside after the kids leave? Well. That’s barely a factor.
The sun is glimmering on the tasteful lowlights she gets on Thursday mornings while her twins are at swim practice. You pretend you don’t notice and sip your coffee, enjoying the warm air on your skin. Force of habit makes you start running through your to-do list for the day — ever since your office went remote it feels like you’re never working and always working at the same time. As if there aren’t other things you should be worrying about (like that gun under the floorboards in the attic).
Her voice startles you out of your thoughts, you realize she’s saying your name. You chuckle ruefully. “Do you ever find yourself totally zoning out?” You ask, turning to look at her. “Just…here one minute and gone the next?”
“All the time.” Her eyes track thoughtfully down your body. “Do you have time for a cup?” She gestures with her mug, as if to say that’s all, really. You don’t believe her.
“As luck would have it,” you say, meeting her curious gaze. “I do.”
Bad Boy With A Heart of Gold
The espresso machine has been displaying a “service error” warning for at least three weeks, but it’s been working fine, so you wipe it down before glancing out over the counter. This is your favorite time of day, the twenty minutes before the cafe opens, when it’s just you and whatever music you’ve decided to wake up with. This morning is Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (it’s cheesy, but it reminds you of your dad). You sing along under your breath as the grill heats up.
Think about how many times I have fallen // Spirits are using me, larger voices calling…
The hairs on the back of your neck prickle. Someone is singing along behind you. It’s her. Again. Of course. Her hair is out today, a halo of dark brown curls surround her face. She looks perfect.
You frown. “We’re not open for another fifteen minutes.” You’re aiming for stern but land closer to flustered.
Dark brown skin wrinkles over her nose as she takes a moment to think. “You should have special hours for knights in shining armor who save grumpy tough boys stranded on the side of the road.”
She doesn’t find you intimidating, you don’t know why you keep trying. You sigh. “Fine. Grill isn’t hot yet, so you’ll have to wait for food.” You turn to the espresso machine and pull a double shot, adding the tiniest bit of caramel syrup to a cup of ice, along with a good amount of oat milk.
When you set the drink in front of her, she grins; full lips stretching over even, white teeth. “You remembered my order.”
A traitorous blush starts along your cheekbones. “I guess. Force of habit — whatever.” It’s not. You have a terrible memory.
She takes a long, slow sip, still smiling. “If you say so.”
Recently Divorced Contractor Raising Their Three Kids On Their Own
You don’t have to go into the office that often, thank god. You have been running the firm with Jordan for years. She handles the paperwork and the office side, you’re the person on site. So when she asks you to come in every few months and remind the staff that you are actually a part of this company, you might give her a hard time, but you always come through. You’re the steady one. Dependable. Trustworthy. Not the one who kisses a client halfway through a build before your divorce papers are even finalized, that isn’t like you at all.
But you did. Then you panicked and left without saying a word, and now you’re trying to get the boys ready for school with enough time to make the all staff meeting, but you forgot to switch the laundry last night, which meant you had to get Ian dressed without his favorite shirt, a process he was none too thrilled about. You can’t stop thinking about them, about how much you want to do it again.
Luca, your oldest, notices something is up. He is just like you were at his age: focused and intense, dark brown eyes taking in everything around him.
“Dad, you’re being weird.” He says flatly. “The oatmeal doesn’t go in there.”
In your hand is a can of rolled oats you were about to put in the fridge. You chuckle to yourself and tuck them in the panty. “You are absolutely right, little man, good eye.”
“Don’t call me that,” he mutters, heaving himself off the counter stool. “I’m not little anymore.”
It feels, for second, like there is a fist around your heart. Your baby, so grown up at eleven. “I know, I’m sorry. Can you be a big man for me and help get your brothers in the car?”
He grins, and sprints upstairs, yelling for Noah and Jake.
Your phone lights up on the counter. Just reading their name makes your heart race, you hold your breath as you open the text.
“Come over. Please.”
Cool Girl Next Door Who Knows All The Good Parties
The harsh light of your office is doing nothing to help your pounding headache.You know you are getting too old to go out like you did last night. And honestly, most days you prefer to be in bed before midnight.
Well, most work days, anyway.
But you are quickly discovering you are putty in her hands, and last night, when she leaned in and suggested drinks at your favorite dive, with a smirk tugging across her mouth, were you supposed to say no?
“Someone’s hurting today, huh?” Kendra leans against the wall of your cubicle and laughs, taking you in.
“I’m fine. I just… need to drink this coffee and find my will to live.” Your email pings, reminding you that you have a meeting at ten. It’s 9:52. “Preferably in the next five minutes.”
“Oh, right, you’re in the meeting today. Well, that will be fun. No better way to spend a Tuesday morning than listening to those nightmares from development tell us how to raise money.”
You let out a sigh that sounds a lot like a whimper. “I am never doing that again.”
Kendra’s laugh is too loud, you glare at her as you dig through your desk for your notebook. “Doing what again, going on an excellent date with a hot girl who likes you? Yeah, that sounds awful, definitely don’t do that again.”
“Shut up, you know what I mean.” You can’t find your favorite pen, and if Derek “borrowed” one again, you are gonna lose it. Just because you have adjoining cubes doesn’t mean he can just come in here and take them.
“So it was an excellent date.”
This earns her another glare from you, as you try to ignore the flush creeping up your chest. “I have a meeting.” Finally, you spot a pen under a stack of papers. You have got to do a better job of keeping your desk together.
“Mmmhmm.” Kendra singsongs, waving at an approaching figure down the hall. “Hey Patrick, how are you? Ready for development?”
Your boss smiles back. “As we’ll ever be, I suppose?” he directs the end of his sentence to you.
“Yep.” You chug the rest of your coffee and glower at Kendra while Patrick looks at his watch. “Let’s do this.”
The Mysterious Neighbor Who Is Obviously a Witch
She manages not to say anything when you come downstairs dressed for work. She wants to, you can tell by the way her mouth quirks around her cup of coffee. She always thought it was ridiculous, you having a job.
“A witch with your skill and talent, living here, working with… them.” The revulsion in her voice made you shiver. “I’ll never understand it. You know how they would react if they found out, and still you stay?”
It was a fight you’d had countless times, it was the reason she left. She’d never intended to stay, she wasn’t meant to sit still. There was always something, the next town, the next adventure, the promise of another distant horizon. You’d never been able to explain it to her, why being here was enough for you. From the moment you arrived, you knew this was where you needed to be, in the house at the end of the lane, mountains above, river below. It was waiting for you. She didn’t understand — she wouldn’t understand, and she’d left.
You knew she’d come back, in the end.
You cross the kitchen on autopilot, drawn to the rich, fragrant coffee she’d made. The moan that escapes you after the first sip is indecent, she coughs. Suddenly the air in the kitchen feels heavy and alive.
“I won’t be back late,” you say lightly, reaching for your water bottle, needing something to do with your hands. “The term is over on Friday, the children are checked out. I just have some budgets to approve before the fiscal year closes.”
“Midsummer,” she murmurs under her breath.
“Yes, I know very well what day Friday is, thank you.” You hear how peevish you sound and wince. Old patterns, hard to forget.
“It will be then. From the mountaintop and the river, they’ll come.” Her voice is low and toneless, the lights flicker once, then twice. She speaks with the Sight, now. “Do not discount the life you’ve made here. It will save you, in the end. They will come.”
You are kneeling at her side with a glass of water, brushing her hair out of her face when she comes back. “Careful,” you murmur, watching as she takes a deep breath and closes her eyes. “I thought the Sight had abandoned you.”
She opens one eye slowly, squints at you. “It has never left me. It goes quiet, sometimes. But now… it is relentless. It brought me here.”
“And it has given us four days to prepare. Will it be enough?”
She laces her fingers with yours, squeezing once. Then she lets go. “It will have to be.”