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The impromptu revamp: or, how to move from "Desk-to-dinner"

Posted by Karyn Polewaczyk  March 12, 2013 11:30 AM

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Photo credit: Karyn Polewaczyk. Dress: American Apparel; ink stain: Pilot Vision V5

It’s 5:30 PM and you’re about to check out of the office when your phone chimes with an incoming text: a friend you haven’t seen in ages wants to know if you’re around for dinner. Ten minutes beforehand, you couldn’t wait to go home; now, you’re excited at the prospect of catching up—but a quick once-over in the bathroom mirror says there’s no way you’re going anywhere except your couch with a toaster-oven pizza in hand. Your skin is greasy, your hair is flat, and your outfit, which seemed so fresh and “Who Runs The World? (Girls)” this morning, is now sad and tired-looking from sitting behind a desk for eight-plus hours. (Or, as evidenced from my photo above, is blessed with an idea meant for a notebook.) It seems silly to forgo plans for the sake of vanity, yet looking less than your best has dampened your confidence. What’s a modern day Tess McGill to do?

If you follow the advice that appears in certain women’s glossies, there’s not much to do. Just swipe on a coat of red lipstick, swap your sensible flats for a pair of towering stilettos, add a festive accessory or two, and you’ll be good to go!


Unfortunately, chandelier earrings and a can-do spirit are no match for the unpredictable nature of New England weather, much less the disgruntled attitude of fellow T riders at rush hour who couldn’t care less about your shoes. (Plus, I know I’m not the only one who feels like red lipstick requires more than just a dab from the tube—its application is practically a science.) I’ve changed in my car, snuck into fitting rooms en route to my destination to reapply mascara, and diverted cabs around the block so that I can fasten into sexier footwear before arriving for a date. Yes, I'm that awkward friend who always seems to have a spare pair of tights in her purse and a makeup bag overflowing with blotting papers—and for good reason. Having gone through the desk-to-dinner motions so many times over the years, I’ve learned a thing or two about the art of the impromptu revamp, which is why I'm here to share my tips. You don’t need much, except anticipation of the unknown. (And, perhaps, a stain stick.)

Start at the beginning. I’ve heard enough about shrugging off cardigans to show off lacy camisoles, thank you very much. I like fashion writer Jennifer Scott’s credo: “Look presentable always.” Your best bet is to pick an outfit that’s both work- and nighttime-appropriate. I like the all-in-one appeal of a wrap dress, which can be purchased on any budget (and, if you invest in a good one, it’ll last you for years) and give you the most bang for your buck. I work in a creative environment and have some flexibility with what I can wear to work; if you need more polish, keep a blazer at your desk and remove it before you dance your way out of the building.

A Tide pen: your BFF. I can’t be the only closet slob in Boston, right? You don’t have to raise your hand—you know who you are—but if you’re prone to knocking over mugs of coffee, dropping food into your lap, and leaning into things that are sticky or wet throughout the course of the day, it’s probably a good idea to add a stain stick into the mix. And if you’re one of those people who remains remarkably pristine throughout the day with nary a smudge or hair out of place: in theory, I dislike you, but I’m sure you’re a good person.

A scarf: your other BFF. A scarf is about as versatile of an accessory you can have. You can easily layer on a pop of color without having to change clothes, and if the temperature wanes (like when you’re in a crowded bar and rivulets of sweat begin to form at the back of your neck because why is it so hot in here?), it just as easily folds into a bag or coat sleeve. Presto!

The emergency kit. Think of this as a first-aid kit for your face—and hair, and underarms, and, well, you get the idea. The idea here is to include things that will beautify you in under five minutes, and includes grooming essentials. In mine (a nylon zip-top bag from LeSportsac), you’ll find mini replicas of my makeup staples (mascara, beloved eyebrow brush, lipstick or gloss and those aforementioned blotting papers, plus a thimble-sized amount of BB cream I’ve squeezed from the tube into a plastic paint well (you can find them at art supply stores)); collapsable hair brush and dry shampoo; a mini toothpaste and toothbrush; deodorant, nail file, and small bottle of clear nail polish (I prefer Nailtiques, which dries quickly and doubles as a nail strengthener). Most items can be purchased at Sephora or in the travel aisle at CVS. I keep this kit in my desk drawer, though it also travels just as well inside a tote bag. Seriously, though: nix the red lipstick here in favor of something neutral. The point is to get ready quickly, and with minimal effort.

Boots made for walking. In a city like Boston, boots—in which to walk when cabs are few and far between, and in which to wear on a grimy subway—are much more practical than pumps. In warmer months, I prefer flat, gladiator-style sandals to get me around town (don’t get me started on my disdain toward the commuter flip-flop), but since we’re still in the throes of winter, I lean toward a trusty pair of Frye boots, which are both stylish and comfortable, and won’t take too badly of a beating if the sunshine turns to rain (or snow).

These are just a few ways to simplify the transition of moving from weekday warrior to dancing (or dining) queen. What are your tips?

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About this blog

Karyn Polewaczyk lives and writes in Boston, and believes that heading out into that good night, like any adventure, begins with the first step. Let's Go Out is a conversation about dating and nightlife in our notoriously chilly city, with first-hand tips from the trenches. Karyn's writing, which focuses largely on women's lifestyle topics, has appeared in the Weekly Dig, Jezebel, xoJane, Northshore Magazine and, among others. Follow her on Twitter at @KarynPolewaczyk.

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