The new ethic means dressing to impress, for practicality and to suit yourself – all at the same time. Stephanie Smith on the contemporary way to put forward a stylishly professional look.
There’s a style revolution happening right now in workwear, as fashion sets forth its response to ongoing rows over how we all – but women, in particular – are expected to dress within the working environment.
High heels are out, as are revealing cuts and clingy bodycon styles (not that they were ever “in” – old fashioned, tacky, practically unprofessional). Instead, work style now means more gender-neutral designs, with fluid and easy, skimming, even sculptural, shapes. And – hallelujah – flat shoes.
A few tailoring fits and cuts might take some getting used to, such as wide-leg trousers. Theresa May has come in for a fair bit of stick for her favourite Vivienne Westwood tartan suit with neat-fitting jacket and long flared trousers, but comfort combined with colour, strong pattern and stylish tailoring is a look that means business. What’s not to like?
The working wardrobe contains some of the hardest-working pieces we wear through and down the years, so quality is a must. But even classics must be updated, whether trying a different trouser style or mixing in accessories and new season separates such as knits and blouses, to add a fresh touch.
So here are the key pieces you need to update your working look for this year:
The Interesting Shirt: Or blouse, if you prefer. Look out for styles with embellished or embroidered collars, shoulders and placket detail – perfect for giving a lift to a tailored suit. White shirts have been reworked, perhaps collarless, or with tie necks and belts, cut-out and asymmetric cuts, so find yourself something striking.
The Bright Knit: Try a fine knit in bold mustard yellow, to team with black for graphic impact. Or choose pink and blues – or stripes. Long sleeves are great for wearing under sleeveless jackets and pinafores in spring.
The Pinafore Dress: Reflecting the new season’s practical utility themes, pinafore and bib dresses look workwomanlike, but with an edge of fun and flexibility. Team with knits and blouses worn under to create a variety of different outfits.
The Wide-Leg Tailored Trousers: A key trouser shape, not to everyone’s taste, but don’t let that stop you. Wear with neat-fitting (although not tight) jackets and those bright knits and interesting shirts. Flat shoes are the best option if you can. Tailored culottes and cropped wide trousers are also options.
The Sleeveless Jacket: Smart, without being overly formal. Look out for a variety of fabrics from wool suiting to cotton twill and cord. Perfect paired with tailored wide trousers and a white shirt, for a look that says modern businesswoman.
Utility Pink: Especially soft pink. Uniform-style jackets team with cropped tailored trousers. Go head-to-toe pink or introduce a key piece as a new season update. Wear with lace tops and non-clumpy footwear to soften and add interest.
The Work Tunic: Slightly oversized or as oversized as you like, knee-length, maybe an interesting sleeve or neckline, and black or a steel grey is a versatile shade. Probably the easiest piece you’ll wear, able to create a variety of looks, teamed with leggings and slim trousers, belted or not, accessorised and adored.
The Knit Suit: Doesn’t have to match, although should co-ordinate. A ribbed pencil skirt, just below the knee or longer, paired with a knit sweater or cardigan, is modern, easy, cosy and elegant.
The Unignorable Dress: Could be in block colours, or in an all-over bold and bright pattern. Must suit you, with flattering details such as this season’s furled asymmetric hemlines and high funnel, cowl and crossover necklines.
The Oversized Bag: Can be a clutch or a tote or a bucket, but big, like shopper size. How much more practical for work can you get? It will take your notes, laptop, make-up bag and overnight stuff with ease – plus a few magazines.
The Flat Shoes: A plethora of styles to chose from, including smart monks and brogues, neat slip-on pumps and loafers, shiny deck shoes, strap sandals, ankle ties, trainers and plimsoll styles.