Earlier this year, I clocked up 27 years in a corporate environment.
My day job is not something that I write about regularly here on Distant Francophile. It’s just not all that relevant. But, deep down, I’m actually quite proud to have spent almost three decades with one organisation.
An organisation that, until quite recently, I would have described as relatively conservative.
Particularly when it came to the dress code.
Back when I started as a rather naive 18 year old, what we could and could not wear to work was clearly laid out in the induction documentation. Right down to the colour (and heel height) of the shoes we could wear. And the length of our skirts. It even spelled out the preferred shade of hosiery the female staff should wear.
This introduction to working life certainly set the scene for years of conservative suits and sturdy heels. And for a section of my wardrobe to be continually dedicated to ‘work only’ clothing.
However, while both my employer and my industry would, most likely, still be considered on the conservative side of just about everything, I’m pleased to share that I no longer have a work wardrobe and an everyday wardrobe. Things have shifted. I now have a single multi-faceted, multi use wardrobe. And these days my corporate style is so much more chic than it has ever been.
A very fashion forward colleague and I were discussing this shift in dress codes just the other day. This particular workmate just so happened to be wearing a pair of electric pink tailored trousers at the time. She’d teamed them with brilliantly patterned, sky high heels. We both agreed that while we definitely still had standards to uphold, there is so much more room now for both chic and corporate to co-exist.
If I could sum our conversation up in just a few words I’d tell you that corporate women no longer have to stick to suits. (Unless of course they want to. If you really love wearing a suit to work then go for it I say.)
With a little imagination, today’s corporate wear can be both chic and corporate at the same time. Yet, judging by the number of questions I’ve received on the topic recently, it is clear that so many of us struggle to break out of that super conservative, dark suit only mode. But I’m here to tell you that it can be done. Here are my to top five tips to help you break through the restrictions and bring your personality to the clothes you wear 9 to 5.
Chic And Corporate – My Top Five Tips
1. Split The Suit
Mixing and matching your traditional corporate wear is one way to play with your office style. Team your favourite suit blazer over that sheath dress you’ve never felt was office appropriate. That cropped jacket that was originally paired with a pencil skirt could work perfectly with a pair of high waisted pants.
2. Add Colour
You don’t have to stretch all the way to electric pink as my friend loves to do (although you can, especially if you opt to stick with classic cuts like she does). But at the same time, don’t feel compelled to stick to the corporate standards such as black or navy combined with white or pale blue. Do you love wearing red? Or mustard? Maybe turquoise features amongst your favourites? Inject colour into your workday look via all the ’S words’ – shirts, scarves and shoes.
3. Play With Fabrics
This strategy allows you to wear traditional shapes in a fresh way – because let’s face it, it is the structure of a garment that most often defines whether it is considered ‘corporate’ or not. And this strategy allows you to try something a little different without feeling like you’ve taken a massive sartorial risk. Try a leather pencil skirt with your regular business shirt. Or combine a rich jewel toned velvet blazer with dark, slim line suit pants.
4. Consider Cuts
Interesting shirt collars and sleeves, cropped suit pants and refined jackets can all change the look of your office wear without necessarily startling your boss.
5. Details Matter
Even if you don’t feel like could get away with any of the above tips in your particular office environment, you can still inject some fashion fun via your accessories. Cute shoes, patterned hosiery and statement jewellery can all be used to liven up your traditional suit.
One Final Thought
It pays to remember that women’s corporate dress codes were born in a different era. When women were first trying to ‘compete’ with men in the office environment, I guess it made sense on some level to try dress like them. The words chic and corporate wasn’t really a consideration (oh, the things we do to ‘fit in’ sometimes).
But the reality is wearing a suit doesn’t make you smarter or more professional or better at what you do. Don’t be afraid to bring both your personality and your femininity into your work place. After all, these factors are a big part of the recipe that will lead to your success – far more so than whether or not you wear a traditional suit.
Do you have any tips for looking both chic and corporate in the office? How do you feel about the clothes you wear (or wore) to work? I’d love for you to share your thoughts in the comments section below.
And until next time – au revoir.