How To Own The Office Dress Code

Don’t let work get in the way of a good outfit

The times are changing. Corporate attire for women used to be clear-cut but strict. Pants or skirt (depending on what decade you lived in – pants weren’t an acceptable staple in women’s work wardrobes until the 1960s) with a matching blazer. Maybe, just maybe, a printed blouse with some kind of whisper of personality, or if you’d rather play it safe, a simple white shirt underneath.

While this classic corporate dress is still around today, and can be done well, the good news is us ladies now have more flexibility and more room to show off our style personality.

What is corporate attire?

While the expectations of corporate attire for women varies from office to office, a typical corporate dress code features a classic tailored business suit in a muted palette of dark or neutral colours. While the pieces, styles and colour palette can vary, keep these female business attire rules in mind:

  1. Everything should fit well. Tailoring is your friend. Avoid oversized pieces as they can come across as sloppy.
  2. Keep it respectful. Hemlines, necklines, fabrics – consider your office environment and adjust accordingly. If you’re unsure if an outfit will be appropriate, always err on the side of conservative just to be safe.
  3. Balance. Get noticed in the office for your performance, not for your bold and outlandish outfits. That’s not to say you can’t show of your personal sense of style with some colour or fashion-forward pieces; just stick to one statement piece and complement it with something classic and formal.
  4. Attention to detail. A quality that’s well respected in the workplace is attention to detail, and the same applies to your office attire. When you present yourself well, you exude confidence. Never wear anything that needs mending or has holes and stains; always iron items with creases.
  5. When in doubt, black and white are best. You can’t go wrong with this tried-and-tested colour combination. You’re guaranteed to always look sharp and sophisticated when these two tones come together.
  6. Wear closed-toe shoes. Some office environments will be relaxed with this rule, but in general, closed-toe shoe styles are considered more office appropriate than open-toe shoes.

The corporate style staples every woman should own

A smart blouse or shirt

Versatile and easy to style, a blouse is the perfect balance between smart and feminine. It can also take you from workweek to casual Friday with the switch of accessories. If you want to put your style stamp on your outfit, this is the simplest way. Prints, detailing like ruffles or embellishments, and colour has got your back.

What to be careful of: Look out for anything too sheer and always iron out those creases.

Make it modern: Pussybows are back, bell sleeves continue to trend, and tie waists move your hemline from your hips to your waist for a figure-flattering silhouette that feels sophisticated and fresh.

See by Chloe Crepe de Chine Blouse, $396.92; at
See by Chloe Crepe de Chine Blouse, $396.92; at

A classic pair of pants

Slim and straight are a top choice when choosing the best pants style for the workplace. Pants need to fit well – not too tight, and not too loose (the exception being wide-leg pants, but these need to fit perfectly around the waist). Black is classic, as are shades of grey as they go with everything.

What to be careful of: Getting the fit and length right.

Make it modern: Wide-leg pants cinch in the waist and elongate the legs – who wouldn’t want that?! Tip: Buy them a little long so that when you wear them with heels, the hemline falls just above the ground. Alternatively, opt for a coloured pair of pants with a matching blazer for the ultimate modern power suit.

Saint Laurent Wool-Gabardine Slim-Leg Pants, $1224.99; at
Saint Laurent Wool-Gabardine Slim-Leg Pants, $1224.99; at
Ochi Twill Wide-Leg Pants, $495.92; at
Ochi Twill Wide-Leg Pants, $495.92; at

 A polished skirt

You can’t beat the timeless pencil skirt: the length, the sharp lines – it is an effortless piece. Midi skirts in an A-line silhouette are also suitable; avoid anything above the knee (unless it’s a pencil skirt).

What to be careful of: Short or too-tight styles, and anything that you would wear on the weekend (read: too casual to be corporate).

Make it modern: Slip dresses are too sultry for the workplace, but a slip skirt adds an elegant touch.

Witchery Ponte Pencil Skirt, $89.95; at
Witchery Ponte Pencil Skirt, $89.95; at
ALBUS LUMEN  Fluir silk-satin midi skirt
Albus Lumen Fluir silk-satin midi skirt, $690; at

An elegant dress

You have a lot of options here, so let your personal preference lead the way. A well-fitted sheath dress that falls just above or below the knees is a classic and modest option that will never steer you wrong. If you prefer a more flowy silhouette, try a wrap dress. Capped to long sleeves are recommended no matter which dress style you choose.

What to be careful of: Low-cut necklines, short skirt lengths, and sexy styles.

Make it modern: Elegant is in. Think longer dresses that accentuate your waist; and trade in bright prints for solid block colours.

Closet London Tie Back Short Sleeve Dress, $110; at
Closet London Tie Back Short Sleeve Dress, $110; at
Manning Cartell Miami Heat Dress, $599; at
Manning Cartell Miami Heat Dress, $599; at

A tailored blazer

Reiss Naiya Satin Lapel Jacket, $650; at
Reiss Naiya Satin Lapel Jacket, $650; at

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