Having worked for many years in a corporate field and recently finding myself returning to these environments through meeting clients, it is plain to see that business dress codes have become more relaxed and for some, confusing.

For a working women, it can be problematic getting the balance just right and I am often asked ‘how to navigate the dress code dilemma and look the part’?

Our clothing influences the way we feel about ourselves and so too our own cultural and fashion preferences play a large part in this but what is clear is that if we feel comfortable in the clothes we wear, we appear and feel more confident.

To feel really comfortable at work, we first need to determine the level of business dress code appropriate for the organisations we represent and positions we hold.  Our clothing helps us to represent our positions, our companies and colleagues.

Everything we wear on our bodies says something about us so our clothing needs to reflect our status, personality, our lifestyle and preferably complement our natural colouring.

You will be familiar with the expression – ‘dress for the job you want and not the job you have’ suggesting that we are continually striving for personal improvement and development.  However working in an office or a corporate environment does not exclude us from expressing ourselves through our clothing, so these guidelines to dressing appropriately may help you.  There are a number of levels and this should provide an easy guide.

Hobbs Caitlyn SuitFORMAL BUSINESS WEAR  (click on the title for inspiration):

  • A suit comprising of matching jacket, trousers and/or a skirt, paired with a smart collared blouse/shirt with a collar or a smart structured dress with jacket. Whilst stripes, spots or discreet abstracts are acceptable,  floral dresses should be avoided for formal business
  • Choose deeper colours for your jacket, trousers or skirt
  • Choose your blouse, shirt or top in a lighter or brighter colour. Avoid anything too fussy – simple lines are more effective
  • When choosing a skirt, it should be no shorter than knee-length and a comfortable fit that is not too revealing
  • Avoid anything that exposes too much flesh
  • Tights or stockings should always be worn
  • Smart court shoes

pexels- free photo-336372 ShoesRELAXED BUSINESS (click on the title for inspiration):

The same rules apply here as with formal business wear but it is more acceptable to inject some colour and personality to your outfits:

  • Add colour to your outfit using lighter or softer colours and you may comfortably add more pattern to your clothing
  • Instead of a matching skirt or trouser suit, choose coordinated separates using a smart jacket with trousers or skirts in differing but complementary colours. For example, a smart navy jacket paired with a red skirt.

Photo credit HobbsBUSINESS CASUAL  (click on the title for inspiration):

Remember that dependent upon your position, you may still need to project authority, credibility and inspire trust in your competence.  You will still need to strike the right balance between being comfortable and being taken seriously.

  • Shirts and blouses with discreet patterns acceptable
  • Fine gauge knitwear
  • Smart tailored trousers, or smart cropped trousers
  • Structured skirts or dresses
  • Smart jackets but not denim
  • Shoes and accessories appropriate to your outfit but no scuffed or casual shoes

Dress Down Days

You should only dress one level down on a designated ‘dress-down’ day (a day to foster engagement and boost morale) and typically this falls on a Friday.  Remember that we may still be required to project a professional image and rather than a free-for-all, there should be company guidance on what is expected of you.  As a rule of thumb, if you wear it on the beach or in the nightclub, it is likely not acceptable in the workplace!

It’s the little things…

Other points to bear in mind when dressing for work is that your hair and nails should always be well groomed, your clothes should be neat and clean and shoes always polished.  In any work scenario, your clothing should always be professional and never revealing of too much flesh.  Dressing well is a way of showing respect to your colleagues and superiors that you are serious about your role.  It says, “I’m here, I’m capable and take my job seriously”.   In addition this projects confidence and self-awareness.

I do hope this helps you with some general guidance for your working wardrobe, but do please make contact with me if I can help you to build a wardrobe of clothes that supports your working and social environments.

Jackie Crawford

Image Consultant

07494 644788


NOTE: Not all outfits shown on Pinterest Boards are current retail offerings but give an indication to the style of clothing suitable for the business dress categories highlighted above.  Some of the clothing brands indicated such as James Lakeland, Gerry Webber, Basler, Betty Barclay and Phase Eight are all available from Browns of York.