Hi lovelies, here on Journeytolovely.com, the months of April and May will be dedicated to all things career-related to promote empowerment through our work and professional journeys.
One of my favorite quotes is : “Dress how you want to be addressed”.
Indeed, we can all agree that how you adorn yourself is a visual message and in the workplace, that message should be: I am respectable, serious, responsable and dependable.
During my internship at the Marcus and Shapira law firm, in Pittsburgh, PA, I was introduced to the concept of a following conservative dress code in a work environment.
My mentor, a brilliant attorney, shared her wise advice with me on how these codes should be followed meticulously, especially for us women, since we have so many styling options. Her tips were quite practical and made up the foundation of the business fashion rules I followed during my entire internship career.
Years later, I still work in a law firm and can confidently say that knowing how to dress is a form of good manners; an intrinsic part of your overall performance and represents the image of your company.
I’ve read a few great books on the subject, and recommend the “New Women’s Dress for Success” by J. MOLLOY and “How to Dress for Success” by Edith Head (pictured above).
So today, I’ll share a practical guide to business attire by exploring the Top 7 pieces every corporate lady should own.
For this segment, we will begin with formal business attire, as opposed to a casual business attire, which is more appropriate for a conservative workspace.
To put things into context, it should be noted that Business Formal, is the strictest form of dress in professional settings and is founded on the following principles: elegant sobriety, good tailoring and quality fabrics.
So read on to start building or enhancing your professional wardrobe with the TOP 7 pieces that should be owned by every professional woman and put your best foot forward in the workplace!
(Bonus point: they are a classic investments that transcend time and can be worn interchangeably! )
My Top 7 Pieces to build a Business Formal Wardrobe
1. The Blazer
In my opinion, blazers are the bee’s knees of professional attire. It is the one article that adds an effortless air of elegance and an instant professional polish to any outfit. Blazers are iconic and a traditional staple in any workspace the world over. They pair perfectly with just about anything and will upgrade your pants, pencil skirts and dresses to a more conservative chic look. Consequently, a well-tailored blazer is the perfect item to complete your professional ensemble.
If you go with gold buttons, make sure to match your jewelry. On the other hand, you can go with monochromatic buttons for a more understated, yet sophisticated look.
The quintessential formal business blazer is sober yet dignified, like the navy one pictured above from Ralph Lauren.
2. The Classic Sheath Dress
This is one of my favorite garments for the office. It’s not fussy or complicated (once it’s on you’re pretty much out the door); and the simplicity of the lines and cut add a feminine touch that exudes confidence and class.
The sheath dress is a closet essential and my mentor often insisted that in the courtroom, judges preferred women wear over-the-knee dresses or skirts instead of pants. So having a few basic ones, in muted colors like black, grey or even beige, are wonderful allies for your boardroom look. Additionally, for a formal work environment, I would avoid patterns and flashy colors. But if you want to add a bit of pep, you can always accessorize with a colorful scarf or vibrant brooch.
You can’t go wrong with a lovely sheath dress, like this elegant grey one found on Pinterest.
3. The Pencil Skirt
This fashionable and sophisticated piece is one of my personal favorites.
Not only did it dominate SS18 runways, the pencil skirt is a classic staple that overrides trends and definitely shines with the way it flatters our womanly curves.
I remember, during my time at the United Nations, the pencil skirt with a lovely top was my favorite go-to look. Amidst the ambassador-packed halls and diplomatic executive, it was the perfect way to dress up my office look with timeless elegance. I advise a darker colored pencil skirt since it will match anything you wear it with and keep the overall outfit conservative looking. Also note that a pencil skirt that hits at your knees or just past is often the best fit for business women in formal settings because it respects the professional length which shouldn’t hit higher than right above the knee.
The above pictured skirt from Top Shop ressembles the Zara one I often wore in our UN Headquarters office.
4. The Trouser
There is nothing like a quality pair of trousers to perfect your power dressing and add a touch of sartorial elegance to your look.
Every woman should have a gracefully tailored pair of trousers, keyword being tailored. By being attentive to detail and making sure that your pants are properly fitting, you’re guaranteed to look more polished and professional. What I love about pants, is that the options are limitless, from wide to straight leg styles, it’s all up to your taste and comfort zone. So don’t hesitate to explore different styles and fabrics, just make sure your curves are not vulgarly exposed but subtly highlighted.
5. The White Blouse
It is “a quintessential icon of style”, according to television host and fashion expert Lloyd Boston and constitutes a fundamental business wardrobe staple.
Indeed, from the refined button down classic model to more loose yet feminine wrap styles, the only rule is that they retain their crisp white glow. Make sure you visit the dry cleaners regularly or use appropriate bleaching products at home.
In business contexts, avoid plunging necklines and transparent fabrics, which are totally inappropriate. Instead, experiment with cuff links, the more original the better; choosing tops with stylish or vintage buttons and even trying out different fabrics like silk, satin and organza.
It’s one of my favorite items since it’s pretty comfortable to wear yet provides an effortless refinement- from working to going to interviews, to looking polished for a chic business lunch, it’s truly a great wardrobe staple!
Below is a perfect example of a classic white button-up blouse:
6. Classic Heels
We can all agree that having a chic and tailored wardrobe is essential to putting your best foot forward in the office and there is no better way to do that than with stylish heels.
Executive positions that require formal professional apparel call for sophisticated yet comfortable shoe options. Classic pumps are the traditional go-to, especially especially those with moderate heels and in muted colors. Depending on your work schedule, you’ll probably prefer a pair that can withstand the length of the day.
To assure that your look remains polished, make it a habit to keep your shoes shined and clean. Although, most work environments prefer heels, a classic pair of flats can also be appropriate, like these iconic Ferrangamo ballerinas.
But, in my opinion, there’s no better way to say that you mean business than with a killer pair of pumps!
7. The Classic Work Bag
So let’s talk bags, ladies. And not being a bag lady! You don’t have to look frumpy trying to fit all the items you need for your day, you can actually carry it all and still look classy. The trick is to choose a bag that is refined yet big enough to hold your work and personnal items.
Not only should your bag be wide enough for you to transport anything from your wallet, keys to your portable computer, it’s paramout that it doesn’t clash with your beautifully curated business outfit. So this a pretty major element of your wardrobe and should be one you can feel at ease to splurge on. In my opinion, if you should invest in one key piece, it should be your work bag.
Furthermore, for very strict work environments or executive positions, a sober black design like this Prada one would work best.
My personal favorite is the Louis Vuitton ‘NeverFull’, which has a tasteful design, yet remains spacious and practical.
For more inspo, head over to my “Formal business wardrobe” folder on Pinterest!
Hope you enjoyed this special “Lovely Looks” Career Segment to help you on your Journey from worker bee to #BossBabe!
Any essentials you would add to the list? Let me know below 🙂
Thanks so much for stopping by!
XO- Claudrine Arnell