Over the past few years, workwear rules for women have changed. No longer are we expected to strut around the office in a power suit (a la Melanie Griffith in Working Girl) or smart shift dress and pearls. But what are we supposed to wear instead?
As the office wear guidelines soften, it’s easy to feel like we’re staring into a style vacuum. Okay, so we no longer need to default to dressing in an austere way to get ahead in an otherwise male-dominated environment. But what are the new rules? How do we balance being taken seriously in a professional environment with feeling feminine, stylish, comfortable and us?
Thankfully, as always, style guru Karen Skagerlind is on hand to share her tips on how to dress for work – or, just as importantly, how not to dress.
What NOT to wear in the office
While it’s obviously essential that you’re great at your job, the importance of being well-groomed and confidently-dressed should never be overlooked when making an impression on colleagues and clients.
Your appearance makes up your brand and you should market yourself well, be appropriate to your field, and sell to your target audience. One small style misstep could make all the difference to the outcome of a pitch, job interview or client meeting.
So to help you navigate the ever-changing landscape of modern workwear – and avoid some of the biggest office fashion crimes – follow my tried-and-tested workwear advice.
Don’t wear a cheap jacket or coat
So it’s goodbye power suit and hello… what? If we’re not marching into boardrooms with padded shoulders and sharp tailoring what should we be wearing instead?
Actually, while we may have left the 80s behind, your jacket or coat is still a vital element of your work wardrobe – and it’s worth spending some money on if you can. And if you want to know why, just try to recall what Joseph wore under his technicolour dream coat.
No idea? That’s exactly the point. If you invest in a fabulous coat, be it a great colour, gorgeous fabric or classic brand, you can expect to be forgiven for wearing high street separates underneath. You’re also likely to be noticed (and remembered) by colleagues and clients for all the right reasons.
Don’t wear unforgiving fabrics
You may think that natural fabrics offer a quality product, but when dressing for the office wearability is more important. So look for fabrics which have a mix of both man-made and natural fibres – and wear skirts that don’t crease and trousers that don’t shine.
No matter how long or demanding your day, you want to give the impression that you can easily handle it – and if your clothes look sad, tired and crumpled then so will you. It’s much better to breeze out of the office after eight hours behind your desk looking professional and polished, so pick your fabrics wisely!
Don’t forget to plan
One of my favourite business mantras is ‘failing to plan is planning to fail’ – a quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin, the master of time management. And when it comes to your work wardrobe, planning is vital.
So look at your diary or planner, and check which meetings and events you have to attend for the week ahead – then plan an outfit for each one. Make sure you have items that go together, and are clean, fresh and ready to wear. The last thing you want on the morning of a big presentation is to discover that your skirt has a stain on it, or your shoes desperately need re-heeling.
Even if you get the odd curve ball thrown at you with an unexpected event, your wardrobe should be flexible enough to pull together an appropriate look at short notice.
Don’t wear unsuitable shoes
Work from your shoes up! It’s something I tell all my clients, and I’m constantly amazed at how many people overlook such an important detail.
When I worked at Harrods I always looked at the shoes, watch and haircut of a customer first, and while it may be true that you should never judge a book by its cover, first impressions really do count. So make sure the first impressions colleagues and clients are forming of you are flattering, and avoid shoes that are dirty, scuffed, ill-fitting, obviously-cheap or unsuitable for your outfit, the weather or the occasion.
Heel height is a matter of personal preference. Go high if you can walk well in heels, but if you’re unsteady in two inch heels then opt for a kitten heel instead. In between your home and the office, plump for a ballet pump (steer away from trainers though, as a whiff of foot odour when swapping shoes is not good office etiquette)!
Don’t overlook your foundations
VPL anyone? It’s not a great at look any time – and even less so when you’ve got your back to a meeting room full of people!
So get your foundations right, and make sure you’ve got a good-fitting bra for your size and shape (see my previous article for some tips), a nude cami vest and seamless pants. It’s also wise to know your hoisery. If you’re not a stockings or hold-ups woman, you could try the new wave of tights – they’ve got much better shape and support (tried and tested brands that won’t crinkle or sag at the ankles are Wolford and Falke).
Don’t be afraid of separates
While dresses may be an easy go-to one-piece for work, don’t overlook quality separates. If you don’t do dresses normally, then don’t do them for the office. Let your innate style dictate your workwear rules and go for a great blouse, pencil skirt or tailored slim trousers and heels.
As filming starts for the second series, take style inspiration from Gillian Anderson in The Fall – it’s all about the power blouse! (some good brands to try are Theory, Equipment , Iris and Ink, Sandro and Uterque).
Don’t fall for these office fashion crimes
If you want to look stylish and be taken seriously, say no to these all-too-common office fashion crimes too:
- Crop tops, plunging necklines or other skin-bearing clothing.
- Mini skirts (even when worn with opaque tights).
- Ill-fitting, unflattering tailoring (a good local tailor or alteration service in your area can breathe new life into an old suit – then wear as separates rather than together).
Dress well and you’ll feel and look great
Dress well for work, and you’ll not only feel (and look) great, but your performance will improve too – you’ll feel more confident delivering a pitch, meeting new clients of negotiating a deal.
And if that alone isn’t enough to tempt you to invest in a stylish and well-considered work wardrobe, just remember that you’ll spend around 70% of your time wearing it – much more than any other outfit you own, so it’s worth investing time, thought and money in something you really love.
By Karen Skagerlind of Wardrobe Wand.
Pink skirt featured by Moschino Cheap & Chic