Dressing for work today. The new rules; how to play by them and win!

We are all our own personal brand and what we wear to business occasions will inevitably be judged by others, whether that seems fair or not.

New Business Casual’ is a term we are hearing more and more as the line between our work outfits and casual clothing becomes blurred, reflecting the changing ways in which we work.

Modern dress codes in the business world have evolved hugely since the Maggie Thatcher era of power-suited women, dressing (and behaving) like men to get ahead in the world of business. Women can now dress in a more feminine way (yay!) and still be taken seriously, which sounds like progress.  But how do you get it right?

New Business Casual

Possibly stemming from a relaxation of the rules when new Silicon Valley millionaires from the 90’s started abandoning the shirt and tie in favour of chinos or jeans, ‘New Business Casual’ refers to the fact that people don’t necessarily need to wear the standard suit and shirt combo to work anymore.

Steve Jobs was a good example of this new breed, regularly doing his high-profile Apple presentations in supermarket denim and a black polo neck (not what I would recommend but he seemed to like it!).  More recently, Mark Zuckerman turned up to his billion-dollar stock market launch wearing a hoodie.  It was a cashmere hoodie, but a hoodie nonetheless.  Some commentators suggested he was juvenile and arrogant, showing a lack of respect for the occasion.  That may or may not be true, but it was certainly an example of how what you wear can provoke certain reactions in others, in this case, judgementalism, and perhaps, jealously?

Other examples of ‘new business casual’ dressing are Michelle Obama and Samantha Cameron.  Both shun dull suits or dressing-down in favour of deliberately mismatched separates or dresses that are relevant to the occasion rather than fitting a specific dress code.  This new type of dressing requires a certain level of knowledge and demands a more creative approach than just chucking on a suit.  For many, this can prove difficult, but by understanding just a few key rules you can make a hugely positive difference to the way you look.

Here are some photos of Samantaha Cameron pulling off the smart/casual look.  Nothing  appears to match but she still looks put-together and I admire her colour-clashing in the photo on the right.


So what should we wear to work today?

The key is to understand that dressing today really is more occasion than vocation specific.  Because the way we work nowadays has changed, with more focus on a flexible life/work balance, dress codes have changed. We live in a far more entrepreneurial world than before with more SME business owners, freelancers or consultants working from home and doing the school run in-between. 

We want a wardrobe that is multi-occasional, comfortable & easy to wear but crucially, is also neat and well put together. 

So I’m going to break it down with some golden rules for creating the perfect work wardrobe, some practical advice and some real outfit suggestions for Summer 2012.

Create your functional work wardrobe

1. Day to night

In general, daytime events require a more relaxed look with evening events allowing a slightly more dramatic look. So, swap ballet flats for heels and add a slash of bright lipstick and you’re evening-ready.

Look at Michelle Obama’s outfit here for a lunch, she manages to look occasion appropriate and stylish but comfortable at the same time (see the comfy silver flats).

2. Presentation power

If you are doing a presentation or pitching for some business then you really do need to up your game by pulling together a look that is more authoritative.  For this I would suggest a ‘power dress’ in the right cut for your shape or smart trousers and a blouse with heels.

3. Creative colour

Use colour to create different authoritative business looks – have a colour consultation, find out what your strongest colours are and what best suits your skin-tone.  This will help you look both authoritative or by using softer colours, more approachable.  This is also incredibly helpful for make-up colours and hair colouring.  For example, if you are cool-skinned you need to avoid all orange/yellow based make-up and hair dyes and if you are warm skinned you should avoid any cool shades or risk looking drained.

4. Chic shapes

Find out what body shape you are and always wear the right cuts for you. It narrows down your choices (in a good way!) and gives you confidence when shopping.  Every day, when you get dressed, you know you’ve got it right which increases your self esteem and as a result, your performance.


Summer 2012 work wardrobe

My role as a personal stylist is to simplify choices for my clients, make them look authentically stylish and save them time and money by getting it right every time.  Here I’ve pulled together some ideas to inspire you for Summer 2012 that are multi-occasional, relaxed yet neat and will give you a pulled-together look whether you are at a Women’s Unlimited Workshop, a business lunch or a daytime or evening networking event.

Pattered Trousers (trend piece) – tapered at the leg so only for straighter body shapes. (Oasis)

Ankle Grazer Trouser for taller ladies. (Whistles)

Shirt Dress – Chic and stylish option for most body shapes. (ASOS)

Wrap Dress – Suits curvy shapes. (DVF  Matches Fashion)

The Power Dress – Suits straight and curvy shapes, extremely versatile wardrobe staple. (LK Bennett)

Long Line Jacket – flatters all shapes and goes over anything, trousers, dresses or jeans. (French Connection)

Feminine Blouse – wear with smart trousers or with jeans for weekend/casual. (Mango)

Light knit – wear with cropped or smart trousers most of the year round. (Reiss)

Try these brilliant bright pencil skirts – update your work look with one of these adding interest and flair. Pair with a simple top, the Reiss jumper or the Mango blouse.  Hourglass shapes look fab in this cut. (Whistles)

Finally, no British working girl’s wardrobe is complete with a versatile Mac.  It’s June and the rain is lashing down as I write.  This one is Chloe but there are tons on the high street and I guarantee this will be money very well spent indeed. (Chloe at The Outnet.com)


Lisa’s here to help with any questions you have on how to dress for business in 2012 . We’re also dying to hear any of your tips on dressing for work so please do pop a comment in the comments section below.

Be the change that you want to see. Step into your leadership.


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