Working 9 to 5: how to dress to impress in the office
The other week my seven year old, tracksuit bottom and hoodie wearing son said to me in a very matter of fact tone, “It’s all about those important first impressions mummy.” Wow. I have been trying to rack my brain to see if I had been the culprit here but he is right: what we wear in our professional lives does matter. It matters because how we dress gives unconscious clues about who we are professionally. What we wear should be an asset, not a distraction or detraction. And there is so much more to work-wear than black tailored dresses and patent pumps. You don’t have to leave your style or personality behind at the boardroom door.
So with that in mind, this week is a bit of a focus on what to wear to the office. The autumn always has a real back to school feel to it so although half term is round the corner, there is still plenty of autumn and winter left if you haven’t already invested in your work-wear wardrobe.
But if you feel that doesn’t apply to you, then don’t stop reading because I am looking at styles that go beyond the corporate world and are wardrobe essentials which can bridge the smart casual divide.
First up is the particularly thorny issue of trousers. This is the one that people tend to find trickier than others and I see so many clients who bemoan the fact that they cannot wear trousers because of their shape. Undoubtedly, certain shapes suit trousers better than others but here are a couple of styles to try if you haven’t already had any luck. They are crease resistant and the elasticated waistband at the back of the style helps work with different body shapes. Plus the tapered leg looks modern.
I’m going in with an unexpected winner in the form of Uniqlo’s Smart Style Ankle Length Trousers £24.90. Now these look much more expensive than their price tag would suggest and have converted many a trouser-naysayer, particularly those more curvy body shapes who often find the perfect trouser more elusive.
For a more mensy look they also come in navy and black pinstripe £24.90. Although made very feminine here with the addition of heels and a twinset – in a good way.
As well as this season’s key checked trend. These ones I personally find a little bit too down the golf/Paddington Bear tracks.
So I would go for these less window-pane checks instead.
Whistles’ Anna Elasticated Waist Trouser £110 is a similar concept to the Uniqlo style.
Reiss also has a good trouser in its Joanne Cropped Tailored Trouser £110.
If you feel you have the basic trouser sorted, then why not up your fashion game with either a smart jogger or a pair of culottes?
For a smart style track pant try Whistles Popper Side Stripe Trouser £119 which has a little bit of red piping next to the white stripe for extra fashion points.
For something a bit more subtle try ME+EM’s Grosgrain Stripe Slim Crop £119 which comes in black and navy.
Alternatively go wide legged and cropped with these Winter Tallulah Culottes £110 from French Connection.
How you style these will depend on your shape but there are several ideas here from smaller fitted knitwear and tailored shirts, to oversized shirting. You can either go for fitted tops that you tuck in, looser fitting styles that you wear out or a bit of both where you do a front tuck and blouson to tame the volume and create a bit of waist shaping. This applies to knitwear, jersey and tops and the possibilities are endless – stripe tops, tailored shirts, soft blouses, floral prints….the list goes on. Once you have your building blocks, then you can add a bit of trend if you want with colour and print.
Ring the changes by choosing different footwear – v shaped courts/brogues/loafers/traditional court shoes etc all work well.
Can be just the midway ground you need between ultra feminine and mensy, a bit less formal than a dress and also a bit softer too. It’s all about knowing your audience and what will work best for your environment.
Jigsaw’s Boiled Wool Pencil Skirt £98 is a real goodie. Fashionable colour, great length and in a material that doesn’t make you look like you have just got on the bottom half of a suit.
Hobb’s Mylene Skirt £99 is another great style. It has a deep waistband and a fixed wrap (so there isn’t any indecent leg flashing).
If you can get away with leather then a leather pencil skirt is a nice alternative to a more traditional wool style (if not the Jigsaw has it’s Paris style in various colours). Jigsaw’s Leather Pencil Skirt £199 comes in back or rich cocoa. Both of these have limited sizes available.
If it works for your shape, then tuck in a piece of fitted knitwear as above. Otherwise, go for a looser fitting knit that you can tuck in at the front only.
If these still feel too corporate then go for a more fluid skirt like this Heavy Satin Fluid Skirt £120 from Jigsaw which comes in dark grey, dark green and bright pink (to be avoided). This is more flattering than a pleated skirt which tends to add breadth to the majority of folk. You can either pair this with an oversized knit that you tuck in at the front as here, or a more fitted style worn inside. The styling will depend on your shape and work-wear etiquette.
Alternatively, go for Hush’s Marina Skirt £65. While this is not styled in a formal way, a fine gauge piece of knitwear would do the job. Check out J Crew’s Tippi sweaters or Uniqlo’s Merino Wool Crew Necks.
You can’t deny it -they are easy, it’s your outfit done in one go. If you want to channel Claire Underwood or the female Suits cast and wear a form-fitting dress then you have several options depending on your price bracket.
I think Boden has a good and affordable range of styles which include the Marisa Ottoman Dress £90. This style comes in Petite, Regular and Long and various colours, including some of this season’s key shades – plum, forest green and red – as well as black and navy.
There is also the Edwina Ottoman Dress £65 which comes in navy and white or navy and red.
Or the Marianna Ponte Dress £90 in black with white or red piping.
Alternatively, Whistles dresses are always a good length (unlike so many other high street retailers) like this Textured Izzy Bodycon Dress £155 which has an exposed zip running from the neck to the hem.
Winser London is another brand to consider and their Grace Miracle Dress £150 comes in a stack of colours which mean you don’t have to stick to black and navy.
If you have more money to spend and need some power dressing pieces then check out Libby London which has a lot of styles to choose from including this Romsey Dress £198. I like the bit of detailing which makes this more interesting than a bog standard shift dress. They currently have a pop up shop on the Kings Road so you can actually try on their garments.
The Fold is another on-line retailer with a showroom in Clerkenwell. Their Berkley Dress £275 will definitely make you look the part but they do also have other looser fitting styles.
This Northcote Dress £195 is a compromise between a looser top half and a more fitted skirt.
A lot of ladies want some shape without a body con style, in which case these two dresses may be for you:
Baukjen’s Maeve Shift Dress £149. I wouldn’t put this with boots but a good old court shoe and you are sorted.
Linea at House of Fraser has this Cora Tie Front Dress £69.90
If you definitely don’t want to draw any attention to your tummy, then I think Whistles has a great couple of styles in its Paige V Neck Crepe Dress £120 in black, navy, red or orange. This has very flatteringly positioned waist darts which draw the eye-line inwards and help to slim your silhouette.
And the Raven Fluted Sleeve Dress £139 which also comes in red.
Or try Baukjen’s Kiara Contrast Dress £159.
And with that work-wear tome, here endeth the lesson. Go forth and make that first impression.