Last weekend, I attended the Urban Lawyers Careers Conference and for the first time in my life it was to be a speaker. I was ecstatic when the organisers invited me by getting touch on Twitter. When I started my blog just over a year ago, my intention was to curate outfit inspiration for dressing for work but I had also hoped that I’d be able to have some interaction with young and aspiring lawyers. I wanted to pass on my experience and knowledge in a conversational and open way.
So last Saturday, I traveled back into the City to Herbert Smith Freehills (with grey skies and rain overhead might I add) to network with some old faces, hear the amazing speakers and to share some of my own nuggets of wisdom with the attendees.
I turned my slides into a blog post as some of the delegates asked for them and I thought these would be more useful and I can keep them updated.
This post is also a good read if you’ve been out of the workplace for quite a while or returning from a lengthy maternity leave.
My Tips for Curating Your Casule Work Wardrobe
Buy the best you can afford – you should consider your work wardrobe an investment. My suggestion is to separate your work wear pieces from those you wear on the weekend. If you can keep them in separate sections of your wardrobe – even better – experts say that your suits shouldn’t be touching in your wardrobe. This is not only to keep those work pieces lasting longer but, as heralded by Arianna Huffington in her new book, much like wearing pajamas for bed, your brain gets into a particular mode when you wear specific clothes for a specific purpose. Just like a uniform, you become focused on the thing you’re supposed to be doing in those particular clothes.
People often spend all of their hard earned wages on gorgeous things to wear for the weekend when we get the least amount of time to enjoy in them. There’s a real difference in what I wear on the weekend and the work wear pieces I wear during the week. Not least of all because I’m running around after a small person on the weekend and need to be comfortable, but also because I really can forget about the rules of dressing for the office and wear whatever I want!
REMEMBER: This tip is not an excuse to go out buying extravagant Prada suits to wear to work. Be sensible and stay within your budget, my suggestion is to try to buy one new piece per month if you can.
Buy investment pieces – by this I mean that when you do buy ‘the best you can afford’, buy quality work wear that will stand the test of time in natural fabrics and in cuts that are flattering.
Make sure your clothes fit properly – Your clothes shouldn’t be too tight and I would suggest buying a size bigger and having them altered down if necessary. Finding a good tailor is a must for situations like this and some stores have altering services for pieces you buy from them which are usually very good.
Less is more when it comes to jewelry – Jewelry should be classic and discreet. I do think that statement necklaces can be worn if you’re wearing a simple dress and if you’re in a less conservative environment. I think that dress watches are the epitome of elegance, dress watches go perfectly with smart suiting, so if you do wear a watch have a look for a dress watch. But generally speaking, you should err on the side of caution with jewelry.
Your Working Wardrobe Essentials
I get asked this question all the time via email, so here is a list of the staple items that every woman needs in her wardrobe:
- Three or even four piece suit – jacket, trousers, skirt and dress and you can make up combos with each.
- Good quality shirt or blouse – cufflinks aren’t usually required for women nowadays but I still like them occasionally. If in doubt, seek out what senior colleagues are wearing, but a good shirt or blouse is a must for under your jacket, cream or off-white.
- Fine knit sweater or cardigan – These are good to wear if you get cold and you can wear the fine-knit sweater in place of your blouse with your skirt or trousers – win:win.
- Classic cut blazer – suggest navy or tan and you can go for double breasted or single breasted in wool or cotton (dependent on the weather).
- A black leather (or PU leather) – smart shoulder bag or tote bag. Not a cross body or sucksack, unless you’re carrying gym gear.
- Pointed flat shoes or brogues – I love flat shoes and prefer them over heels for days in the office. I certainly don’t think that women need to wear heels to work. I do suggest keeping flat shoes on the smarter side though and pointed flats are a good choice as are a smart pair of brogues. I wouldn’t recommend wearing ballet flats with your smart suit or skirt, they’re a little on the casual side.
- Mid heel or kitten heeled court shoes – if you like to wear heels, I would suggest a heel height of about 3 inches so that these are manageable all day or go for kitten heeled court shoes. No platform soles unless very discreet, but I’d suggest leaving them for the weekend.
Here are the staple items that every man starting out in the corporate world needs in his work wardrobe:
- At least two, two piece suits – in navy or charcoal grey, lots of websites suggest light grey but I think it’s best to stay away from light grey unless its Summer. Waistcoat aren’t required unless you’ve been specifically told otherwise by your employer. Colleagues and friends of mine consider that Marks and Spencer offers a good quality collection of suits at good prices. Alternativly, TM Lewin, Hawes and Curtis and Reiss offer good options. Remember, buy the best you can afford.
- Good quality shirts – for smart shirts you can’t go wrong with Hawes and Curtis, Thomas Pink or T.M. Lewin. If you can afford it, get them pressed by a professional, if not, learn how to iron and starch them properly yourself:
- Good pair of shoes – heed phrases like “avoid brown in town” and “never do business with a man in loafers”, and stick to Oxfords in black.
- Classic wool coat in navy, black or grey – should be single breasted and should fit easily over your suit.
- A few silk ties – go for block colours until you’ve built up a collection. Steer away from novelty ties or anything too “out there” pattern-wise.
- Cufflinks – keep these silver, knots are a good choice.
- Good quality socks – I think you can express some personality here, go for good quality socks though. Worn out socks will make your whole ensemble look terrible!
- Silk pocket squares – these may be too formal for some environments, so watch out for what your senior colleagues are wearing. If you do wear them, they should always match your tie – go for block colours if in doubt.
I hope you found this useful, I’ll be writing another post about Dress Down Friday next week, so please subscribe so that you don’t miss it. If you have any suggestions of questions you can let them in the comments below. Check out my Black Friday and Cyber Monday post for the latest discount links so you can get the best prices on some of these work wear pieces.
Thanks for reading!