Throw out the rule book, it's time to ditch the work uniform

As the summer ends and thoughts turn to smartening up. Stephanie Smith explains how to achieve an effortless on-duty look.

Check jacket, £69, and skirt, £49, Label Lab; top,£25, Biba. All at House of Fraser.

All absolutely brilliant things must come to an end, and here it is. The long, hot summer is dawdling to a close, along with those all-too-short holidays (wistful sigh). Autumn is unmistakably here – well, almost. You don’t have to have children at home to feel, somehow, that playtime has ended and it’s time to buckle down to it once again.

“It” being work, and part of that buckling down exercise means getting suitable dressed for it. Primed by our school years, most of us wear a uniform of some sort to do our job, even if it’s not regulation issue, but rather one of our own devising. The black tunic dress and long black cardigan – that’s my default autumn uniform (I sometimes mix it up with grey). It’s easy, it co-ordinates, it can be accessorised in a flash and it means I can get dressed in the dark and still look as if I mean it, most of the time.

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But it’s lazy, unimaginative and it denotes that I am not experimenting with style or taking advantage of new ideas as much as I could or should. I suspect that I am far from alone in this.

Collection blouse, £27.50; M&S Collection trousers, £19.50; earrings, £15; belt, £9.50; shoes, £25. All at Marks & Spencer.

Also, it’s quite unnecessary. No longer is workwear any one thing. It’s fluid and eclectic. There are no rules, or very few. In many offices, if you want to wear jeans, you can, especially if they are black and neat-looking. Tracksuit bottoms are also do-able, as long as they are sleek, don’t look cheap and work well with the rest of your look. Mixing in items that were once classed as leisurewear-only is now a cool and elegant way of upcycling a work look, turning it from utterly ignorable to effortless workwoman-like chic.

So here are the pieces that I am currently considering as I put together my working wardrobe for the coming season.

First off, the slogan or branded tee. Clearly, you have to be wise regarding the words and images you choose to wear on your chest – if in doubt, or if you don’t know what something actually means in modern parlance, don’t do it. But a sports or fashion brand logo is ideal, and it’s a great way of adding an easy edge to a tailored look. Not with jeans, though – that’s weekends.

In the same vein, switch heels and boots for trainers (clean, modern and maybe with detailing, such as studding) and your tailored trousers for sleek track-meets-tuxedo pants. Add a roll-neck and this new season’s must-have tweed check jacket, and you’re good to go (at twice the speed you usually manage, if you wear heels).

White blose with contest trim, £175, by Joseph Ribkoff at stores on

While we’re on footwear, it’s easy flats all the way for atutmn. Depending on your style, put chunky brogues and neat loafers at the top of your shoe list.

Next comes a subtle statement blouse. With this, detail is all-important, so look for unusual sleeves and necklines, contrast piping and trims, perhaps a relaxed or billowy shape. An eye-catching print shirt is another great option. Team with tailored trousers or skirt, or pair with jeans to elevate them to office-friendly status.

Try a block colour pop. This season, the bright knit is queen, especially in yellow, but you could try trousers instead, like these chinos from Joules in a burnt orange shade that’s striking, but not enough to concern your colleagues.

Trouser suits are going to be big office news, in many guises, from pared-back and fluid in black and navy to powder pink and smartly tailored, perhaps double-breasted and ankle-skimming. Again, rescue them from the overly formal by mixing in tees and adding flats or trainers. But also, make up your own casual trouser suit by matching relaxed trousers or track-style pants with a same shade zip jacket or luxe hoodie. With a crisp shirt or beautiful blouse beneath, there’s no working day you can’t take on.

Blazer, £135; white blouse, £70, coming soon by Betty & Co at department stores.

*WORK FRIENDLY PRICES: Check jacket, £69, and skirt, £49, Label Lab; top, £25, Biba. All at House of Fraser. White blouse with contest trim, £175, by Joseph Ribkoff at stores on Print shirt, £44.95, and boots, £140, from Joules. Blazer, £135; white blouse, £70, coming soon by Betty & Co at department stores. M&S Collection blouse, £27.50; trousers, £19.50; shoes, £25. All at Marks & Spencer.

Print shirt, and cotton chinos, and boots, all from Joules.
M&S Collection shoe, £55, at Marks & Spencer.
M&S Collection jacket, £69; jumper, £12.50; polo neck, £17.50; trousers, £27.50; bag, £29.50. All at Marks & Spencer.