How To Not Look Corporate
You don’t need me to tell you that in 2016, a woman wearing a pair of closed toe flats to go to work and being told to change out of them and buy a shoe with a minimum 2 inch heel so she can man reception is just plain wrong. It’s why 140,000 and counting have already signed Nicola Thorp’s petition to make it illegal for companies to request that women wear high heels to work.
I get that women (and men for that matter) need to look smart in the work place. And even assuming that the whole flat shoe style revolution -even sexpot label, Dolce & Gabbana do a roaring trade in flats- has by passed the people who make up corporate dress codes, human nature will always dictate that we want to work and be surrounded by people who are confident and dynamic looking, whether they’re wearing heels or not. I’m scratching my head and wondering when ill-fitting, drab grey suiting was ever a good thing?
Of course, jewellery that sounds like a percussion band or inappropriately bold or brightly coloured suiting can send out the wrong message in a serious environment, but I also shouldn’t have to point out that in 2016 women can have a brain and like fashion. Actually, scratch that. Women can have a brain and LOVE fashion.
In any case, no one wants to look corporate these days – not even the corporations. Looking corporate has come to mean someone void of any personality. Except we still need to get dressed to go to work. So how do you look work smart while retaining your individuality?
What many of us forget is that fitting in doesn’t mean blending in until everyone looks identical. In the many years of looking at what stylish, high-flying women wear to an office, I’ve observed that their staples are mostly classic pieces but with subtle tweaks -interesting necklines, contrast cuffs on fine knitwear or a blouse. They also understand nuance and work it to their advantage. Even in a creative work place where the dress code permits denim, there’s an enormous difference between wearing tailored, dark denim trouser style jeans and bleached ripped, denim with holes so large they leave little to the imagination.
How to do corporate with flair? Read on.
1) Mimic the effect of tailoring
The easiest way to look smart, stylish and yet work appropriate is by finding slim-fitting – yet hoiked in – separates (with interesting textures/fabrics/ prints and colours) which create the traditional outline of a suit. Anna Wintour does this very well, opting for stylish pencil skirts and knitwear yet always looks boardroom ready.
2) When to bare
It’s worth noting that you can offset revealing a bit more bare skin by wearing a longer length skirt. By lowering your hem line a few inches (a good few inches below your knee is possibly the most au courant length) you’ll be surprised by how much more ‘office appropriate’ bare arms look and how much chicer your Michelle Obama ‘power dress’ is.
3) Don’t forget about knitwear
Knitwear doesn’t need to be bulky or only worn on weekends. It can be a less fusty alternative to blouses or shirts. It’s also softer (quite literally), especially cotton, modal and cashmere weaves which are surprisingly lightweight ensuring you are covered up without sweltering in stiff fabrics. Iris and Ink along with Gap do great superfine ones as does Joseph.
4) A word about hot weather
Let’s be honest: we’re not a nation that’s very good at hot weather. Charred, not to mention copious quantities of flesh are suddenly deemed acceptable while the grassy verge on the slip road (you know, right by the motorway junction) suddenly becomes an ideal picnic spot in our desperate attempt to eat al fresco. Linen is all good and well on the set of the Talented Mr Ripley but seek out cotton tweeds and silk jerseys which don’t crush so easily.
5) The low block heel
If you want feel elevated but also want to make it further than mincing to the photocopier than embrace the square block sandal with open arms. It’s what many fashion editors are wearing right now. High on their wish list are those by Jimmy Choo, Tabitha Simmons and Gucci but a more affordable take is the Harris square toe loafer at Whistles. On the subject of flats, yes they can look equally smart if you choose the right ones. I’ve found flats which are pointed rather than round toe somehow manage to make you look taller and your legs slimmer.
6) Experiment with colour
Aside from the obvious navy, camel and grey, experiment with burgundy, olive, bottle green, chocolate and teal. Not so out there that you’ll scare the horses but a way of adding interest to your outfit and lightening up your complexion. Go on, give it a go.
7) Silk blouses aren’t just for Miss Money penny
Silk blouses are classically elegant and always look smart. If Emanuelle Alt, editrix of Paris Vogue wears them well…..hers are by Equipment which do them in every colour or non-colour imaginable. Make the time to find the right bra because lace can sometimes look lumpy while anything too padded can make you look pneumatic. On the subject of pneumatic, Uterque’s collarless, button down blouse with discreet buttoning is perfect for an ample bust.
8) Midi skirts are still where it’s at
Finally, we’ve become au fait at working out the proportions. Remember to choose a length that cuts off just below the widest part of your leg. LK Bennett comes up trumps here.
9) Power to the shirt dress
A thoroughly modern alternative to the suit. It’s a little more rakish and not as obvious as the clingy power dress but still snappy enough to show you mean business.
Look for a stiffer fabric if a more formal dress code is required. Atlantique Ascoli (at the boutique Mouki Mou in Chiltern street) is utterly sublime. Her pinstripe dresses manage to look worky but totally on the style pulse. Otherwise, head to Baujken.
10) And finally the rest
Invest in a flattering, up to date, low-maintenance hair cut. That’s a lot to ask from half an hour with your hairdresser but the effort will be worth it when you’re scrabbling around in the morning with five minutes to get dressed. Also make the time to keep an eye on trends, especially where accessories and jewellery are concerned, as they are by far the easiest way to update an outfit.