I’m a fifty-something woman working in high tech in Seattle, where the dress code is casual and the culture youthful (and where there are, as in is most tech companies, fewer than 20% women in product development). As a result, the wardrobe piece is tricky! I need to look younger than I am, be casual to fit in, but also project authority – all as a minority in a leadership position. …I’d love to … make the crisp, tidy outer layers that take a casual pair of jeans and a t shirt and make it snap to attention.
This is Ellen. Let’s see if you, and I, can help.
Whereas I am developing a casual wardrobe for weekends in the country, she is looking for workwear that is casual. This look is known sometimes as Business Casual or Smart Casual. I have some suggestions on how this might work for Ellen, based on my own working wardrobe, fashion trends and style advice. I have a post on looking younger, by the way.
Let me use some images from a feature I enjoyed in Stylist magazine last week. The styling is by Lucy Reber and all the clothes featured are reasonably priced high street items. (I have photographed the printed images).
This classic look of a white shirt and wide legged, pin striped trousers is a real winner, updated with a floppy tie belt (and long tail to the shirt, but that’s probably a bit extreme).. This would be quite an easy outfit to make and looks youthful but also powerful. I often use a white shirt to give the authority message. It used to be a jacket, but as men have dropped ties and don’t feel the need to keep their jackets on any more I think the white shirt does what a jacket used to do. I love the looseness of this look – the pinstripe fabric of banking and the city looks so fresh as baggy pants or a midi skirt. You cannot see the model’s curves; with her TWA she looks androgynous. And the flat shoes without socks or tights is a great look too. 10/10 as far as I am concerned.
The next look also takes an authority item – a two-piece trouser suit and subverts it slightly. The suit is in light grey – so not as powerful as black, charcoal or dark navy. It would work equally well in a mid blue, or camel if you have warm colouring. Not girly, but not boss wear either. It is worn with a polo neck, but any simple top would do in a shirt colour – white, pink, light blue for example. And then the suit is set off with trainers. So we have a very smart, grown up look – basically a well fitting trouser suit, with a shirt substitute but with relaxed, fashionable Adidas trainers. Win.
The next outfit brings us back to the important white shirt, here under a plain jump suit. A plain, well fitted pinafore dress would work well too. Choose a deep colour like brown, navy, black or dark grey. Emphasise the waist to give elegance and a touch of femininity, and a serious brown leather handbag works well too. Again the footwear is not feminine but it is stylish. I would definitely want to do business with this woman.
The final picture is another great look. We have a plain shirt dress (I think in a light chambray) – the same colour and look as a man’s shirt, combined with a blazer. But show your legs with clear tights and a masculine mule type shoe. This look would be equally good with tailored shorts which can match either your shirt or jacket.
- Masculine elements for authority
- Feminine elements for style and approachability
- Overall try for a fairly androgynous look
- Keep the lines clean and structural – the “crisp tidy” look that Ellen is seeking
- Avoid cardigan type styles and jersey
- Fashionable, yet classic looks
- Look for classy details – elegant cuffs on your shirts, modern wide leg trousers in quality fabrics
- Always have one element that is just a little bit edgy and on trend – in these outfits it is mainly the shoes, but an interesting watch or handbag would work
- Classic workwear colour palette – navy, grey, black, blue, dark brown and white
- Perfect grooming is essential – a good haircut, neat nails, restrained jewellry
(Jump suit and shoes; Topshop, Jacket: Uniqlo, Scarf; Fatface, Belt: Jigsaw)