back to work what to wear autumn 2012

Does your work wardrobe need a shake-up?

Nikki Parkinson Fashion 44 Comments

I was Skyping with one of my online members a couple of weeks ago. We’ve been working together for about six months, planning for her return to work after maternity leave.

This Melbourne mum was looking for a change-up in her work wardrobe; something to give her a lift and help her revamp her existing workwear choices.

Ignoring the fairground backdrop, this Review dress ($259.95) is perfect for a petite figure. Add a white jacket and nude shoes.

Ignoring the fairground attraction backdrop, this Review dress ($259.95) is perfect for a petite figure. Add a white jacket and nude shoes. Stockists: 03 9902 5400

And I got to thinking, this was exactly what it was like for me the three times I returned to paid work from maternity leave.

I’d left work each time after months of wearing the same old maternity clothes. Returning to work at various times later (three months, six months and seven months), it was struggle to remember WHAT I used to wear. And when I remembered what I used to wear, I seriously struggled to understand WHY.

It wasn’t that fashion trends had changed hugely. Although that was part of it.

It wasn’t that my body had changed hugely. Although that was part of it.

It was that I had CHANGED. I was different. I was in a different headspace and place and my old wardrobe didn’t match the DIFFERENT me.

This still happens to me (although not caused by pregnancy … the kitchen is well and truly closed there!). It happens with every twist and turn of my business since leaving my old journalism career.

Adapting from office wear to a multi-personality wardrobe of a work-from-home mum is a tricky one and it’s one that I’ve spent the last three and a half years evolving. I need stuff that’s comfortable at home; I need stuff for casual meetings; I need stuff for business meetings; I need stuff for events. It’s a mixed wardrobe bag but I think that by helping others, I’ve been able to nail what works for me and what doesn’t fit into any of these categories.

I wrote about building this type of wardrobe on CareerMums last year. As I said there, a paid working mum’s wardrobe is all about having clothes that can keep up with you and not slow you down in your day. It’s all about the easy-care; easy-wear to take the stress out of getting ready each morning.

That’s why I’m a big fan of the dress. One garment then layer as required (depending on the weather) with a jacket and tights.

And about the jacket – I have them in black, white, nude and blush. For the work-at-home-mum they are the instant work wardrobe fix. You can add them to everything from structured dresses to flowing maxis and a pant and top outfit and you’re immediately dressed for business. They are my investment work-horse pieces. Look around and these can also be your best “sales” purchases.

If you’re looking for some inspiration to shake up your work wardrobe to reflect who you are today, maybe one of these pieces or outfits will work for you?

back to work what to wear autumn 2012

1. Virtu Clementine dress $79.95 | 2. Mix Apparel at Coles dress $25 | 3. Saba Angus jacket $299 | 4. French Connection dress $149.95 |  5. Leona Edmiston Ruby Fox dress (was $169; now $100) | 6. LA Made Samantha wrap dress @ Queen Bee Maternity $69.95 | 7. Jacqui E Francis blouse $69.95; Oliver tabbed pant $99.95 | 8. Sacha Drake Gia dress $229

PS. Next month I’m joining the uber-fabulous Penny Webb for a free evening webinar on working wardrobes. Click on the link to register and come prepared with questions!



  • Your
    post is quite relevant to what I am looking up these days.
    Cotton Bags

  • Nicole

    Late comer to this post.  I returned to work in the past year with almost nothing to wear.  Thankfully I can wear what I want, but I do want to dress more office like.  

    Great to know I have been on track buying dresses, I am finding them so much easier with my post children figure, along with not really having to coordinate too much with them.  

    Just getting to that point now with the changing weather that I need something to go over the top. I tend to have dresses like 1 & 5 and am at a loss with what to buy.

    • The blazer is your friend as it cools down, Nicole. Something like this style but in a plain colour if your dress is patterned:

  • Amy

    Ahhh my corporate wear is the biggest pain in the…ahem… behind…

    Working in a corporate office, then going onto construction sites AND then trasitioning back into meeting mode has me flabberghasted most of the time. I also lost a whack of weight recently and now everything makes me look like I went to barbies factory of MELTED clothes… Everything is slouchy! Hmph… This has helped no end! 🙂

  • Thanks Nikki for this post, the timing is perfect for me.
    Am about to head back to work after a 10mth maternity leave & needing to rock the “business-casual” look. This had given me several ideas. Am starting to warm to wearing dresses… a lifelong tomboy, convenience is making me step out of the comfort zone. Plus, all that pram pushing has given me some nicely toned calves, might as well show them off! Question: as a top-heavy girl are there any fabrics you recommend I stick to/avoid? :O)

    • Go the dress! It is up your go-to work wardrobe item. And for top-half fabrics, choose v-neck in a fabric that is sheer but you can wear a cami underneath.

  • Love that Saba outfit!

    My 5 back to work essentials include a pretty padded bra (for those over-air conditioned offices…!) and a pair of specs to make you look smarter for those sexist colleagues who believe staying home with the kids may have dulled your edge ;)The rest are here:

    x Andrea

    • I know – the Saba one is a good one for work from home girls as well.

  • thanks Nikki!

    I am heading back to work in a month’s time and I am freaking out about what I will be wearing! This is not like me at all but I really would like to shake it up a bit and look good at work. I have a few things on my list that i will buy when I return to work and hopefully add to that slowly until I get it right!

    Thanks for the suggestions. I love the Leona dress! x Miss G

    • Good plan – it’s amazing how one or two pieces make all the difference when going back. Good luck!

  • Katie

    Hi Nikki,

    Really enjoyed your post. I’m at the other end of the mummy process, almost 5 months pregnant with my first baby.

    I’m looking for some new blazers to throw on over my outfits and wondering if you have any suggestions for good brands and styles to purchase. I’m keen to avoid maternity blazers if there’s such a thing. I’ll work around my growing belly. I’m keen to have something to dress up an outfit now and after bub arrives.


    • Oh, congrats! Check out Sussan – I looked when doing a post for tomorrow and they got some great jackets in at the moment. This brand has really got more directional and continues to surprise me!

      • Katie

        Thanks Nikki! I’ll check it out.

  • Rhu

    Great for office types, but not for me. What about me (channel sveral remakes of this song, here). Dress at 6, present for a before class meeting at 7.30. Look professional but casual. No dresses, skirts, heels, elaborate hair styles, dangly jewellery or heavy make up allowed.

    People like me, who work with small children, spend much of the day with shoes off in sandpit, or dabbling with paint. We can go from comforting a snotty child to dealing with vomit, bounce over to dealing with pant and glue for a while then have to present respectfully at 3.00 for parents to pick up their cherubs. Then we become counsellors, advisors and parenting guidance officers. Quick trip to loo, then a meeting with other professionals or the head master. HOW do you get a smart wardrobe for my job? (one that does not involve polo shirts, which are unflattering on curvy, booby babes and help me resemble a turtle)

    There’s a challenge for you, Nikki – I am sure other early childhood teachers are calling out in in sympathy with me!

    • Ahh Rhu – yes, I’m talking about office work above … most of which doesn’t apply most days to me either as a I sit at a computer in my lounge room.

      I hate polo shirts on women full stop. I understand why they are there for sun safety etc but I’d much rather see a top or tee shirt that was more feminine but still practical and sunsafe. I’ve worked with uniform companies that supply this kind of thing.

      If it were me in your situation, I’d go for knee length shorts, tops in easy-care, no iron fabric that still breathed and looked a bit feminine. I’d have spare ones at work for doing a change mid shift and I’d be wearing sneakers (as I suspect you have to wear closed in shoes?).

      Yes, this may not seem stylish but you have a dress policy – just as a corporate office does. The expectations are there to be met and conformed to.

      Which leaves you to create your own work uniform and leave the fun and your own personal style until the weekend.

  • There are some lovely and very reasonably priced clothes and it’s wonderful you have taken all Shapes into Account.

    • Thanks Jacki! Where possible I try to feature a mix of designs to suit as many people as possible. Fashion is for everyone.

  • My work wardrobe just needs more! Thankfully dress is pretty casual so anything I buy for work I can generally wear comfortably any other day… but still, I need more! Dresses especially. They make everything easier.

    • I do love it if your work wear can cross over to other days … and big, big fan of dresses x

  • Penny

    Thx for the shout out for the March Webinar. And I love love love 5.

  • Mrs Woog

    Are you shitting me? It that hot orange dress $25 or did you leave a zero off! Ahhhh to be skinny! Xxxx

  • Love this post.
    I have never had the need to dress for buisness. Working in childcare (and a uniform) straight after school, and then being a SAHM I don’t know how to do the “professional” look. I will openly admit that.

    • And that’s OK … it’s when it’s thrust upon us and is foreign or forgotten that we struggle!

  • That is so me as well! I pretty much never wear anything but dresses. Not even skirts.

    Note to self. Stock up on blazers.

    • I’m always on the hunt for a good jacket/blazer on sale to add to my blazer-robe!

  • Hey Nikki – this Mix range at Coles is new to me. I live in Spring Hill – so the closest one to me is actually out at Albany Creek, where ironically I grew up! It’s interesting, very much the Tesco style of having a clothes outlet within the grocery store.

    I do like the look of that $25 dollar dress. I hope it wouldn’t be too short on me, I’m 5’9 and sometimes I skirt the line of what’s best for work (pun intended).

    I’ve always been a budget shopper, but recently have been investing in pricier pieces from better brands. Review, Basque and now Cue are my favourites. I only buy them on sale – I can’t afford full price. But they have good discounts, and the fact they’re all made in Australia make them very worthy of investing in. I just bought a cropped Review jacket in a nude/blush colour, reduced from $299 to $89. It will be great once it starts getting cooler, and I don’t think it will go “out of fashion”.

    Except I’ve just ruined a brand new Cue top by mixing it in a soak with a brighter colour! Argh. With a cheap $10 top if that happens I just chuck it. But it makes me so angry when I;ve done it with something nice!

    I’m newish to your blog so you may have already done this – but maybe a post on taking care of your garments, particularly those more expensive ones, could be useful?

    • Yes, it’s very Tesco-style and they seem to initially have gone into the stores that have the bigger spaces, hence the Aspley Hypermarket. The model is probably a similar height to you (maybe slightly taller) so that’s where it will come to. I hear you on the short lengths!

      The review jacket is a fantastic buy. I try and hunt down bargains like that or wait for 20/30% off spot sales at my favourite stores.

      I haven’t done a post on garment care – mainly because I seem to focus in my own wardrobe on wash and wear (except for jackets and special occasion, in which case I have “shares” in my drycleaner!).

  • My wardrobe definitely needs a shake up! I’ve been wearing much of the same gear for years, which I guess is nice that it still fits! I’ve been thinking the only way to force myself to purchase new clothes is to clear out the wardrobe so I have nothing to wear. Not sure my bank balance would like that too much though!

    • The key is to not get rid of it all at once. Start slowly! And look for things to add from Big W’s Emerson or Peter Morrisey range as well as at Coles’ Mix Apparel range – there are budget pieces there that will work. Also spice up existing clothes with new accessories.

  • DanielleJ

    I love dresses, but as I get *cough* older, I find that I need ones that are a bit longer – on, or just below, my knee is perfect. I find these really hard to find. Some dresses I can wear a tube skirt underneath (or a modern version of a slip works too). Any tips?

    • I do the tube skirt, Danielle! And there are brands out there that offer longer lengths. No. 5 and 8 are longer – especially remembering that they are being photographed on a 6ft model!

  • Hi Nikki

    I must say love the number 3, 5, 7 in your photos

    but I loved your navy and white stripe dress with your nice white jacket over the top.
    Nautical gets me every time (I think that is why I need to move to the French Riviera 🙂

    Have a wonderful day,

    loulou, from hereiamloulou blog


    • Me too! Love navy and white; red and white … summer or winter!

  • I struggle with jackets as I have broad shoulders and narrow hips – most cuts are designed for a more typically feminine shape! Frequently, if a jacket fits in the shoulders, it doesn’t really fit anywhere else. Sigh. But I have a great collection of pretty cardies.

    I want that Leona dress!!


    • A jacket doesn’t need to do up. A style that would work for you is a cropped jacket that ended at the top of the hips, this would help to balance out your proportions. A tricky find … this length would work for cardis too.

  • oooh I LOVE number 5! hello Leona Edmiston…and on sale too 🙂

    I have never been back to work properly since having my three kiddos, I think this brings its own issues though especially once you start to move back into the real world again but you don’ have the push having a job or interacting with other professionals gives you to take care of how you look…very easy to just settle for daggies that are always too daggy…I’ve always tried to have a SAHM ‘uniform’ that works for crawling around on the floor when they were little to now where they are older


    • I know exactly what you mean. I’m sitting here in a cotton summer beachy dress but when I’m in Sydney doing meetings and stuff later this week, I need to pull together a professional look. Tricky, tricky!

  • Holly

    Thanks so much for this post Nikki! I have been looking for a wrap dress for work for ages without any success. I find it hard to find one for curvy figures that isn’t too long as I am quite short. But a couple of your suggestions look quite good so I will follow them up and see if I have any luck! The work outfits can be so hard when all I want to wear is jeans, the same thing I wear every day at home with my kids! Which is why I have been searching for the perfect wrap dress so that I have less outfit decisions to make! Thanks again 🙂

    • And if it’s in a wash-and-go fabric, these are just what you need for those busy mornings when you are getting everyone out the door for you to go to work.

  • GREAT post, Nikki – but then I’d think so, wouldn’t I!?
    Love your picks and you’ve inspired me to come up with my own BusinessChic list – I’ll have to blog and link back to this post!

    Hope you have a great start to the week!

    • Thanks Cheryl! And yes, I thought of you when writing this. I love the way you inspire us to be different in our work wear, to not follow the crowd even if you need to conform to corporate. Can’t wait for your post.