In a modern world, we need different looks for a wide variety of roles and functions. Stephanie Smith has tips on dressing the part for work.
What, exactly, is business dress? For some, it’s a uniform – a dark, tailored suit of matching jacket and trousers or skirt, worn with white or pale shirt, tie for a man, discreet necklace optional for a woman, all the while taking care that there is nothing so remarkable about the ensemble that it shouts, or detracts from the job in hand.
It’s the simple option, it works for all occasions and it saves time, imagination and energy, with no real thought or planning needed for what you are going to wear the next day or to that business engagement. Just like your school uniform used to be.
Men, of course, are the ones who adhere to the uniform policy with the most loyalty (I hesitate to say “enthusiasm”), but there are plenty of women too who embrace the uniformity of the matching suit. There is, after all, much to be said in its favour, especially if you like quality, attention to detail and true craftsmanship of design and cut.
Those who understand and appreciate quality tailoring enjoy their suits and respect those who share their appreciation. And, without doubt, there are occasions for which nothing speaks quite as confidently, as eloquently or as impressively as a well-cut, well-made and beautifully fitted suit.
This applies to women as well as to men, but women undoubtedly have more choice – and with choice comes confusion. Every season, hemlines go up or down, new colours are introduced, new fabrics and prints and types of cut – fitted, voluminous, draped.
It can be hard to strike a balance between looking on-trend and looking completely professional. Lime green and vibrant purple might have been all over the catwalks, but dress head to toe in one of the shades, or both, and you might well find that no one has caught a word of that informed and lively presentation you have just given because your audience has been mesmerised by your all-too-engaging outfit.
The same goes for short skirts with bare legs and low-cut or see-through tops. Men and women should dress as they please (I always do), but it ought to be appropriate to the occasion, especially if you are in a business environment and want people to pay attention to your message. This season, transparent panels are a major trend, but here again, if you are giving any sort of presentation, your audience will not be able to keep from checking to see what they can peek through the sheer bits, no matter how demure your underwear is. It’s hard not to.
There’s no need to dress safely or boringly though. The clothes you wear while presenting should be bold and statement-like. A tailored trouser or skirt suit in burnt orange or a deep red or olive green, for example, combines fashion and confidence with professionalism (but steer clear of a little scarf or tie, especially one that picks up on the main colour, unless “cabin crew” is the look you are hoping to achieve).
I am often asked if jeans are acceptable. It depends. If you are on location, such as a fashion shoot, then yes – there’s lots of climbing and bending and jeans work well. If you work for a jeans company, yes. Training? Probably. But generally speaking, there should be a distinction between your down-time and ritzy going-out wardrobe and your working wardrobe. That way, we all know where we are.