Stephanie Coughlan, Founder of Image Intelligence
While everyone appears to be returning to the office at different times, and it seems as if many of us will still be working remotely at least part of the time for the foreseeable future, the question many clients and friends pose to me is:
How can I bring my style into work while still adhering to some form of a dress code?
Most of us have distinct wardrobes for work and for play and there may appear to be little overlap. Fashion and style provide the opportunity to create a great first impression whether at work or play. Why is this important for all of us? Because fashion leaves an imprint and gives us each a voice. What more informative means of self-expression is there?
Below, you will find some ideas for creating a look that is creative, reflects your personal style and will cross over into your professional life.
How is business casual defined today, and what is considered a more formal or conservative dress code?
In a recent article, I do a deep dive into the differences between business casual and business formal dress codes. So, how do you figure out what is appropriate for the office now while still dressing with your own sense of style? In a business professional setting, it’s easy to add more formal elements to clothes that define your personal style—and you don’t need to wear a suit if you don’t want to.
1. Think about garments that are relatively tailored but have surprise elements in the look.
Outfits where some embellishment is added to your blouse or jacket in the form of a pin, necklace, dressy buttons or handbag may be appropriate. You might also wear clothing pieces that offer fringe, textured treatments or monochromatic looks. These help support your personal style. More whimsical elements will create an opportunity to make a statement all your own.
2. Choose a color palette that suits your skin tone and hair color, creating a halo effect of youthfulness and leadership.
Color is a multi-tasker for any wardrobe. Gray, black and nude colors are often more accepted in a formal business environment. However, while these colors are universally accepted, neutral colors tend to create an “invisible” look, thus diminishing your voice and presence. In a more conservative industry, think of using 40% to 50% color or print as a rule of thumb. In fashion, design and technology industries, color is encouraged and more acceptable at any level.
3. Seek out collections or brands that offer a professional look with simple silhouettes that reflect a modern personal style.
My go-to brands that help me create a professional presence include Burnett New York, Duncan New York and British brand ME+EM. If you are just starting to explore options, moving away from an all-neutral base is a good strategy. You might feel comfortable starting with a small change, such as a different color or patterned blouse, a statement shoe or a striking accessory. The combination of color, pattern and straight lines creates a commanding yet approachable tone.
Simple silhouettes are best for business attire; these include A-line skirts, crisp lines and nothing overly extravagant with a multitude of pleats or floor-length dresses. Patterns with geometric shapes are generally considered the most appropriate for professional attire because they give off an authoritative presence.
Some staple wardrobe pieces to invest in include the traditional suit, but you can also change up your look without sacrificing professionalism by wearing a formal business dress. A formal business dress is knee-length, elegant, conservative and simple in terms of color. Think about what you are trying to accomplish during each business day and consider the message your outfit sends.
4. Find the most flattering silhouette.
When searching for any new professional waredrobe pieces, consider your body type in order to find the best silhouette for you. The goal is to find pieces that make you look balanced in terms of proportions. For example, if you have an oval-shaped body, go for pieces with shoulder pads that strengthen your shoulder line and draw attention to your neckline with a contrast collar to de-emphasize the waist. If you have wider hips than shoulders, accentuate your upper half with eye-catching details and wear relaxed fit pants with the shirt tucked in, in order to make the eye look upward.
You can create a personal style for yourself by including unexpected details in your attire, wearing colors that make you look youthful and noticeable and by experimenting with dresses that are professional and elegant with silhouettes that complement your body type. Experiment away!