Work dress codes have relaxed over the years, but that doesn’t mean anything goes. Meadhbh McGrath outlines the key pieces for striking the right balance
We've reached a point where 'workwear' has no clear definition.
While the word still conjures images of shift dresses, pencil skirts and pointed courts, few of us really wear that kind of garb every day anymore. What is considered office-appropriate has evolved to such an extent that what we deemed 'casualwear' is now acceptable in many workplaces - walk into a modern office and you're likely to see trainers, skinny jeans and a few sweatshirts.
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Workwear has come a long way since Melanie Griffith's shoulder-padded, skirt-suited Working Girl. Thanks to developments in technology and the rise of remote and freelance working, the whole concept of 'work' looks very different from how it did in the 80s and 90s. Those fitted shift dresses and court shoes may be fine for TV newsreaders or when sitting at a desk all day - a trip to the kitchen for a cup of tea the furthest you're bound to go - but significantly less suitable for squeezing on to a sofa for a conference breakout session or taking a walking meeting.
Thankfully, women are no longer required nor even expected to wear high heels every day (or ever, if they prefer), and the knock-offs of Roland Mouret's Galaxy dress have become a rare sight. Yet although these changes may come as a relief, they also open up a dilemma about what to wear instead.
In today's more casual offices, just about anything goes, but that doesn't mean 'wear whatever you feel most comfortable in'. Saunter in donning leggings and sliders and you run the risk of your co-workers taking you less seriously, or believing you don't take your job seriously.
So where do we go from here? Start with your silhouette. The figure-hugging Fox News-anchor style is dated and feels a bit toxic right now, but there is value in a clean, defined shape. See Laura Dern in a structured leather dress last week: the fitted bodice looks crisp, while the flared skirt brings a level of ease. Colourful leather was all over the catwalks for spring-summer, but the cut of the dress and the shade of red aren't overtly trendy, plus the ruffled blouse and suede boots help to soften the look.
When shopping, skip the pencil skirts for an A-line shape, like M&S's burgundy number. The midi length is very versatile and will look great with flats, boots or a bit of a heel.
Likewise, a pair of wide-leg trousers will create a very strong, yet wearable, silhouette. Victoria Beckham is a fan and tends to style hers with a blouse, shirt or thin jumper tucked in. She recently stepped out in a vibrant green corduroy pair with a lemon-yellow roll-neck knit, showcasing how an unexpected colour combination can pack a real punch. We'd advise taking things one step at a time - either go bold or corduroy - but a surprising colour choice can really enliven an outfit, and during this changeable spring weather is the perfect moment to bring some fun to your outfits.
Beckham also knows the power of a great coat, which is what most people you meet on your way to and from meetings will see you in.
Meghan Markle favours an immaculate camel version, with this winter's favourite outfit formula: the slip skirt and jumper. The satin fabric adds polish, the roll-neck is cosy yet neat, and the rich neutrals are warmer and more exciting than black.
Dress it up with heels like Markle or a pair of knee-high boots, or go for box-fresh trainers for a more laid-back feel. This is one area where comfort rules supreme, even in more corporate settings - so long as they're spotless, you can wear them to the office and all day long inside too.
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