Evaluating the Business Casual Capsule Wardrobe

posted in: Organisation, Style advice | 26

I mentioned I was attending a conference in France last week and I put together a capsule wardrobe. I asked for suggestions and was grateful for your contributions. Many of you have travelled much more for business than I, so I had alot to learn. Some of my ideas worked well. Some less so.

So how did I get on?

Well I dropped the green evening skirt as many of you suggested it might be chilly in the evening. You were right! I included a pair of yellow trousers and a frilly pink over blouse instead. I made the cashmere jumper to match my skirt and took that.

Travelling to France. This involved an early train to the airport, a two hour flight from Heathrow to Marseilles, a two hour drive in France to Cannes, and a lunch on the beach at 1pm. The sun was shining brightly and it was pretty hot. About 20 degrees. Once we parked the car I took off the sweater and tights and put on the red shoes. On the beach I took off my jacket and had a brilliant meal with our Architects.

Day One – afternoon and evening

We had booked to stay at a nice Airbnb, a 20 minute walk from the centre. After lunch we drove to meet our host, parked the car and I was relieved to change out of the woolen skirt. I put on the linen culottes. Many of you had said that linen was too easily creased, but actually this garment was a real success. Cool in every way. I now wore the dark brown shoes with the culottes and no tights. Walking back to town in the afternoon I felt amazing. The sun on my back. The cute blouse with “ovoid” sleeves. The lovely loose skirt/pants and the fashionable shoes with kilt pin. We met several people we needed to see and made useful new contacts, and at about 7.30 I went to an important dinner organised by London First. The topic was about developing homes around transport links and the main speaker was from Transport for London. As my association had just been chosen for the first opportunity

I was cold and miserable, as I think this photograph, taken in the lobby of our apartment building, shows.  Walking home that night I regretted my choices. My shoes rubbed against my bare feet and I was chilly throughout the meal and on my long walk home.

Day Two – daytime

Capsule wardrobe
Yellow trousers. And trainers

OK the shoes were not really appropriate for business wear. But I could not wear the other two pairs of shoes. So for most of the rest of the week I wore the trainers. Having learnt the lesson about freezing to death, that evening I came back to the apartment and changed into something warm.

Day Two – Evening

Day Three Daytime

More or less the same as Day one – but with a shirt, and the trainers.

Day Three evening

More or less the same as day two, but with a quirky pink over blouse.  This is made from pink tulle and I have it on over the red short sleeved top. That evening I had a formal reception (where I kept my blue jacket on), then a relaxed dinner with friends. I was kindly driven to the reception by my hosts (a taxi with blackened windows…) so I was able to wear my heels – trainers were out of the question. But they came along in a leopard-print fabric bag so I could walk home. I felt a bit like Cinderella at midnight in my trainers, wooly coat and shoes in a carrier bag. I bumped into an important contact who found me, and my outfit, somewhat out of place. He insisted on taking my picture (See Day Two, but with pink tights!) Eeek.

Quirky pink top, woolen skirt, pink tights and red shoes

So to sum up

Business Casual in warm weather

  • Footwear, footwear, footwear. Men wear flat shoes suitable for walking distances in everyday. Even my most comfortable work shoes were uncomfortable with no tights in warm weather. I just didn’t have any appropriate footwear. I usually held eye contact and got my feet under the table as soon as possible. I need something like smart leather trainers.
  • The south of France, in mid March, can be very hot. Take sunglasses and sunscreen. I had neither. I got a bit burnt.
  • Even when you are in a sunny place it can be cold at night. Don’t hesitate to return to your hotel or flat to change into something more suitable. Next time we will book earlier for a closer location (see footwear above).
  • Consider you warm wear as well as your cool wear. I would have liked a lightweight dress but the styles I prefer are not business like. Many ladies wore tight, sheath dresses which I feel are more “women on the stand” rather than female CEO, but that is my prejudice.
  • I took a smallish, cross body, zip up bag. This was an ideal size but a little down market. Maybe the same thing but in leather. To go with the shoes, see footwear above.
  • My colour schemes made an impact in a sea of men in navy suits/white shirts. I was complimented often on my red/pink tops, glasses, watch strap and lipstick. This goes to show that a conservative outfit (a navy suit and white blouse) can be set off with a few small colourful accessories. You don’t actually need to do much at all to stand out.
  • Lots of people suggested scarves for warmth and as a good accessory. It may be just me but I feel scarves are a bit dated these days, especially as many men have given up the tie.
  • Selfies are not very flattering or accurate, foreshortening the leg.

What about everyone else? I had to look quite hard to find anyone not in navy. Or female.

26 Responses

  1. Ellen

    Very useful post! Agree that good footwear is the key to work travel happiness. Also, always pack blister remedies. Great suggestions! And happy to report I have two new blazers arriving later this week in anticipation of some upcoming work travel, inspired by your recommendations!

  2. Kerry

    You look remarkably cheerful in the photos for someone with blisters on her heels! Your outfits look great, both professional and interesting/edgy. For next time perhaps chuck in some flip flops? And those fantastic blister-healing bandaids?

    Living in Melbourne, we are used to having the possibility of four seasons in one day. Spring and Autumn mornings and evenings can be really chilly with pleasant-to-humid afternoons (like yesterday). Layers is what works here, especially for me with my faulty thermoregulation (I get really cold or really hot very quickly = brain freeze) and I am rendered useless for the rest of the day. So packing for me requires a good deal of thinking and planning, especially if packing for a Northern Hemisphere winter when it is summer here. (London, March 2015: I was as cold as I have ever been in my life!) I find Uniqlo especially their Heattech tops my saviour now that we have a store here, plus their light weight down jackets (we just never had such things as essentially they are only needed for a few short months). I find scarves both practical and lots of fun as you can brighten up a drab top with a pop of colour, plus my neck will stay warm. I have a variety of scarves, from knitted to silk. When layering I am thinking of what I can take off during the day if and when the weather changes, and what I will need for the evening if I am going to be out all day. So I will strip off tights, under-tops, cardigans, scarves, during the day and pop everything back on, for the evening.

  3. Jay

    I agree that shoes are key. I have just one pair (Hush Puppies mocassin style) which are foot friendly and ok-ish with skirts or trousers and don’t look sloppy. For travelling where I’m unsure of the temperatures, I pack silk thermals. These are very lightweight and screw up into a small space. They’re surprisingly warm even under quite summery top layers. I love the chiffon top.

  4. Jenny (the lilac cat)

    Well Kate, foreshortened legs or not, I think you look great in your selfies – a great mix of professional CEO but with flair and enough style and flash of colour to get you noticed without the outfit taking over. And I agree the linen trousers look very smart and fit that image perfectly. But I did feel for you being cold and miserable – nothing worse. The problem is that in this country we just really don’t get the diurnal temperature range that makes us think about two different outfits (in terms of warmth )completely in one 24-hour period. We have holidayed in South Africa in their winter on number of occasions where the temperatures have varied hugely during the day/evening. The eveningwear has been smart casual and often outside. Whilst I agree scarves in terms of oblong/ square tightly knotted round the neck are probably not up to the minute fashion wise I always took with me a silk or woollen shawl/over sized scarf that I could drape, hopefully effectively, but most importantly keep warm. Even if I didn’t need it it was like a comfort blanket literally. The other line of defence, but not for everyone, are silk skins. I have quite a range of these, they are very thin, very discreet but again sooo effective against the cold. Re the shoes. Looks as if you and Nick need to take up an evening class in cobbling…..(if that’s a word)

  5. Makeitanywear

    Kate, look for a passable “dress” shoe by a comfort shoe brand. I have an ever so useful black patent leather ballet flats by Clarks and a navy patent leather flats by Reebok that work really well for wearing with nice clothes when doing a lot of walking. I am also a big fan of the Uniglo Heattech layering pieces. Very light to pack and wear . Now that your are knitter I bet you can find a wrap/shawl to make that would work. My first thought would be something like Dendros (http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/dendros-2) in a lighter weight yarn with a bit of silk. Great plane blanket and evening wrap.

  6. ceci

    Rather depressing to see that these events are STILL so male dominated – the first half of my “work life” (70s thru 90s) I was frequently one of the few, or the only, participating woman at meetings and events but in my line of work that has decreased markedly. And shoes, always a challenge!


  7. Martina Flynn

    I love Clarks for business travel. They’re comfortable (especially when you have to stand by your poster for a couple of hours) and they have some cute but still comfortable styles, including some you can wear without socks. My biggest conference is in the spring in Florida, so it’s chilly inside, and boiling hot outside. I wear light spring jackets in pretty colors (I have a black and white print that works really well), with a decent sleeveless sweater underneath for when I step outside.

  8. Kim

    Like Martina I rely on Clarks for comfortable shoes – although even one of their shoes recently destroyed my feet on a walking heavy city visit recently. Shoes are critical to a good day – better your slightly ‘wrong’ trainers than pain all day. You seem to have mainly chosen well for this trip and will be much more knowledgeable for next time.
    (I like the sound of the silk thermals recommended by Jay)

    • fabrickated

      Yes, although my trainers were not very stylish I was prepared to sacrifice style for comfort. Ideally, though, I would like both. It is hard to find shoes as comfortable as trainers and elegant and business like too.

      • felicia

        You might have a look at ecco shoes. I just bought two pairs of their laceups. I believe ecco is international … and p.s. I like your outfits. The culottes and yellow trousers are very cool, imo. And you can’t beat a blazer.

        • fabrickated

          Yes! I like Ecco and have a few pairs. The most comfortable ones of course look like trainers. The sandals are nice too, but not for long distance walking. This Danish brand is quite expensive in the UK (and in Denmark!) but I found very good reductions in Romania.

          • felicia

            All leather footwear is ridiculously expensive in Canada. I’ve sometimes found lightly used shoes at thrift stores, but that’s pretty rare. I like that the ecco’s look like upscale trainers 🙂

  9. Elle

    I think you managed pretty darn well, being well- and comfortably-dressed for the varied activities. It’s especially impressive to me that you manage to look like yourself in a sea of unremarkable blue suits. Your clothing realIy projects an interesting person, serious and creative, who knows how to behave but isn’t going to be shushed.

    People here seem to swear by a product called Body Glide, mostly used by runners to avoid chafing, but also great to put on bare feet in shoes (heels, toes, and tops, not bottom of feet!) to avoid blisters. Re scarves: those small squares tied around the neck would look good on you I think and seem more current than the larger ones. A notched collar, v-neck dress shirt with a small scarf would be a bright alternative to a button-up and a pin.

  10. Esme

    I really enjoyed reading this. You’re right, footwear is one of the trickiest things to get right. You don’t know until you’ve walked all day in a pair whether they’re up to the job – by which point it’s too late to take them back!

  11. Polly

    Over the years I have had a few pairs of flat Geox shoes bought on sale which have been very comfortable but I am not so keen on their current styles.

  12. Stephanie

    It seems almost inappropriate to be writing after the events of today. I was sorry to hear about them, of course. I hope all is well in your domain.

    Although I generally like masculine-inspired clothing, my favourite of the outfits is the one with the pink tulle blouse. That’s very interesting. Is it comfortable to wear? Too bad about the blisters, but it sounds like things went well in any event. I don’t usually walk much when travelling for business and wearing leather shoes, but I usually keep a pair of soft leather ballerinas handy and always carry extra nude liners/sockettes as well as Compeed in my purse at all times.

    • fabrickated

      Yes I loved the pink tulle top. It needs something underneath, obviously, for decency’s sake, but it is fairly soft and doesn’t rub. The problem with the ballet type pumps is that they don’t have much cushioning which I seem to need if I am walking several miles a day. And great that you carry Compeed – my type of friend!!

  13. suzanne

    Your choices are quite lovely – and I think quite appropriate for the location (at least the day time, a large wool shawl/pashmina would help in the evenings). I think you look professional, though business casual. It’s similar to what you see here in Florida, down to the men (though you see more men in well cut linen, and not the BORING navy suit). If you ask me, the men looked out of place and uncomfortable, and not business casual (though the conference could have dictated a more formal approach).

    Shoes. I used to love my heels. My back won’t take it anymore, and my feet never have. Look for a heel that is blocky, with some feminine styling – mary janes, rounded toe (kind of like your super-cute red shoe). If you buy a 1/2 size larger, you can put some inserts in them, line the heels with something soft.

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