How to dress corporate style: The dress outfit

How to dress corporate style

Nikki ParkinsonFashion, How to 56 Comments

I’m sitting here in a house dress and thongs, typing away at the keyboard until it’s time to get ready to glam it up for a Melbourne Cup luncheon.

I could not be more removed from the corporate work environment if I tried.

I’ve been there, though. There was a time when my wardrobe had two quite separate personalities – office and casual – with not much in between.

Office wear can zap your wardrobe personality. But only if you let it.

I’ve worked with hundreds of women who juggle work and kids or work and a relaxed weekend social life so I get that you need two different looks. Importantly I get that you don’t want to lose your style when upholding a corporate image.

I was reminded of this recently when a reader asked:

Can you pleeeeease help me? I work in a corporate environment 3 days a week and I just can’t get a funky corporate look happening. I just do boring suits. Any chance you could write a blog piece on funky corporate looks? I can do funky at home and I reckon there is a way to bridge the two looks and wardrobes! I just need an expert to help me! Got to thank you for your work! I LOVE it! xxxxx Simonie

Well, Simonie I’m here to tell you that flattery WILL get you everywhere and you CAN put the funky into corporate.

Long gone are the days where you have to wear head-to-toe bank-uniform-style shirts and suits.

Yes, we’ve de-constructed the suit and I’m here to tell you, you can take your corporate style to Funky Town. Yes, you can.

How to dress corporate style

1. Start with one garment that has a bit of structure to it. A pair of well cut pants, a beautiful jacket, a slimline knee-length skirt or a shift dress. Things may have relaxed a little at corporate end of town but you still need to give a little nod to structure. These pieces are the anchors of your work wear outfit and they are the things you should spend most of your budget on. You want them to look just as good on that first outing as their 20th.

2. Add a garment that softens the structure. Think soft flowing tops (which you can either tuck in or leave out) or a dress in a plain or printed jersey. The contrast between the soft and the structure immediately adds a little funk, a little personality to your work-day look. This is also where you can bring in any current fashion trends that you’re a bit taken with. Hello chartreuse? Yep, you can funk up a grey suit any day.

3. Have fun with accessories. Who says you have to wear black pumps? No-one. Why not step out in a red or a leopard print heel? Show us your wardrobe personality. That’s what we want to connect with – even in the work place. Add a statement necklace or ring. Both of these are useful pieces in a networking situation. I call them conversation starters. Try it yourself next time you’re at an event with other women. What’s the first thing that will get noticed – and commented on? Uh-huh. Feels good doesn’t it?

3 ways to style corporate this summer

Corporate style: the cropped pants outfit

1. Portmans jacket $89.95 |  2. Target top $39 | 3. Lovisa necklace $16.99 | 4. Duchess black heels at Style Tread $189.95 | 5. Saba pants $189

How to dress corporate style: the skirt outfit

1. Dream Diva jacket @ The Iconic $89 | 2. Dream Diva top @ The Iconic $49 | 3. Virtu skirt $79.95 | 4. Rockport heels $199.95 | 5. Samantha Wills necklace $175

How to dress corporate style: The dress outfit

1. Feathers dress $259 | 2. Country Road jacket $249 | 3. Mollini heels @ Style Tread $149.95 | 4. Dinosaur Designs ring $170

Bag it up

A good bag. A good reliable bag is a workwear essential. Yes, it is. And I do believe I may have found your “best” workwear friend. Check out this tote from My Best Friend is a Bag. She’s called Elle. And she is handcrafted in leather, has a tassle, is roomy and comes with a padded iPad compartment. Yep. We are besties already, Elle and I*. And get excited, Stylers, next week we’ll be giving away a beautiful bag from My Best Friend is a Bag, as part of my Christmas Comes Early giveaway. Stay tuned …

My Best Friend is a Bag

Do you work in an office? How do you showcase your corporate style?

PS. I’m over at Shop Me Chic today. The gorgeous Sonia and Melinda have quizzed me about my style.

* The bag was gifted to me for editorial consideration in accordance with my disclosure policy.


Comments 56

  1. The jacket is an essential. I have about 10 in different colours and styles and always with a good structure. Suits are a no no. Nothing says boring like a matching jacket and skirt ( probably can get away with matching pants tho). I like to add accessories…a bright necklace, wild socks under the corporate pants, beautiful Italian boots or shoes. Avoid jangly bangles as they will drive your co workers nuts! Being a Melbourne girl, there’s way too much black in my wardrobe, but adding colour In plain fabrics livens everything up. I avoid prints as they date the garment too quickly. I shop on eBay for jackets and there are bargains to be had. Just bought a gorgeous coral coloured linen jacket for $25′ still with the tags on. It certainly zings things up a bit. Melbourne girls tend to be more conservative in their corporate wear. Maybe it’s due to the cool weather or something but what you Queensland or Sydney girls wear is sometimes a bit too bright for many down here. So many shades of black and grey! We need more colour!

      1. Bad girl. Bad! lol….burnt orange, navy blue, watermelon…..there’s a very very difficult choice right there….I am thinking christmas present list (might just send hubby an email with links on it this year bahaha) for the bag to take with me to #smmw13 next year in San Diego. Thinking also that the colour thing might be solved by having one bag and one laptop sleeve. ha ha. Tell me, did you fit a macbook pro or air? Deciding on that too….

  2. love this post, was thinking of doing something along these lines for my blog too, as ALL my clients who work in corporates feel like they are too boring and want to add personality to their work looks…great post 🙂

  3. Love all these tips and outfits! And oh, so very timely as I’m in the job hunting/ interveiw process just now…

    But what I’m really interested in is that bag! **swoon**… I’m curious as to the color of the one on your page, as I’ve been looking at the ‘My best friend is a bag’ website, and the ‘truffle’ one looks a lot darker than the pic on your page (more grey). Is this the one that you have, or a different shade? I really love that taupe/ natural shade on your site – works with everything!

      1. Thanks 🙂 I love the colour of it on your page, can’t get over how dark it looks on the other webpage though. I shall be waiting with bated breath for your comp!

  4. I need to wear “corporate style” clothes but luckily for me owing my own business, I am not as restricted as some people obviously are. My business success is critical to me generating the business – so I used to be so concerned and be very plain and boring with my attire. Then I got over that and decided that I spend so much time at work, that if people are not going to do business with me because of my outfit then they probably are not going to anyway. That being said, I don’t run around in a mini skirt but I do wear lots of colours, different jewellery, shoes and stick to your suggestion of at least one piece of structure. Thanks Nikki for your outfit suggestions!

    1. Awesome Kelly – and you know what? I think you do better in business being yourself. You attract the people who are attracted to the person behind the business. If you wear your personality within the confines of the business dress code then they can see that personality to make that connection with. x

  5. I’m in events management, so my days range from casual to corporate. I love colour and accessories – they make an instant change to any outfit and keep it flexible. Statement rings, scarves and bags are my thing – I love your new friend too!

  6. This should be essential reading for anyone finishing up at uni. When I left and entered the workforce it was a total mindbork trying to figure out how to dress myself! Some days I got it right, other days I looked office appropriate but with no personality, and sometimes I got it really wrong – dressing too old or too young.
    It’s hard to make the shift from being able to wear jeans and singlet tops every day to working in an office!

  7. I love all these looks! I rarely have to dress corporate style, but when I do I really struggle. These pieces are perfect. I ADORE Elle. She can be my new best friend anytime.

  8. Great advice, as usual. I work at home, for myself, but at any minute I could have to zoom out to conduct some training for a client. Following your advice over the last few months has resulted in me just having to grab a jacket from my growing collection and I’m set. Thank you…. and….. I WANT THAT BAG!

  9. I work in a public sector environment and while office/corporate wear is the norm the looks around here certainly run the gamut! I prefer a more classic look in my wardrobe generally so doing corporate with my personal touches is not too hard. There are definitely ways to funk up your look, be true to your personality and still fit the corporate environment – just don’t go overboard if you want to be taken seriously at work.

    For example, today I’m wearing a Woman by Peter Morrisey grey short sleeve dress and black ballet flats as my base but have funked them up with fishnet tights, a jade blazer (sleeves rolled/scrunched to the elbows), a jade and silver spider brooch and natural waves in my hair. Yesterday I rocked a sundress, cardi and flats combo with rockabilly hair and make up for Melbourne Cup day (not something I would usually wear to work, but I had a half day LOL).

    An easy way to inject fun into office basics is with colour – a bright tight or jacket in winter, or a coloured blazer and shoes in summer is simple, cheap and super cute 🙂

  10. Nikki I loved the post.
    Adding a spot of colour to a beautifully cut pencil skirt or pants with a luxurious vivid silk blouse or shirt can look sensational, and I might add, very corporate sexy. Dare I say that? Oh, I just did 🙂
    Also a pair of gorgeous bright heels can work wonders for plain shift dress. Personally, me, I like to show my personality and firmly believe that if you are good at what you do, you will always be taken seriously as long as you stick to classic – with a touch of colour.
    Not sure how many of your followers been watching Suits (I have downloaded and watched both series – seriously can’t wait for January and season 3) but I. Love. It.

    The characters Harvey Spector (dashing lawyer) and Jessica (his boss) both dress beautifully…whoever styled this production has got corporate chic to a T!

    1. I want to watch that show – maybe one for the Christmas holidays! And I actually think that by showing your personality in the work place, it’s an advantage for connecting with those you work with and clients.

  11. Thanks Nikki for these tips ,I don’t really do corporate style BUT when I attend a funeral I like to look like this polished and chic,and lately I have been to a few.Now I have a couple of dresses that can be worn for a corprate funtion I am sorted,just pop on a jacket and nice shoes and a great bag and I’m done.I think by the time you reach your 40s it is important to have these types of clothes in your wardrobe,and a great handbag is a must,I prefer a few classy leather well made bags than lots of cheapies,they look more chic!
    Looking forward to your giveaway 🙂

  12. Love all of the tips. I worked in an incredibly conservative environment UN – Foreign Affairs. I dressed conservatively, hardly any jewelry, but always funked up my shoes. In that environment, you can`t overdress the boss. But tailored suits and a wicked pop of colour in the shoes, always made me smile!

  13. Great post Nikki! I’m a big fan of bringing personality to corporate wear. My favourite “work outfits” are cropped cigarette pants (today I’m wearing a pair in a deep plum colour, in fact!), pointed-toe heels, a silky top/ shirt and a blazer (with a nice statement necklace throw in for good measure). x

  14. I work in insurance providing client training, so I need to be both corporate and comfortable. I have to be careful not to be noisy as I move my hands a LOT, but I find rings and man size/style watches (to keep an eye on timing) are my personality pieces. These are often complimented by the participants.

    Love the look of those Rockport shoes, and the Feathers dress, as both would work perfectly with things I already own. Are those shoes the ones we saw you in post your US trip?

    1. Hi Johanne – I totally get you with the jangly – and man-style watches are a great way to show your style. The Rockport shoes are a different style to the ones I have. I wore those again yesterday for Melbourne Cup (there’s a photo on my Instagram feed of them). Same technology though which makes them wearable for long periods!

  15. Love all these outfits Nikki. Almost wish I was able to wear them again… almost but then the beach calls 😉 Well put together!

  16. Love all of these tips. I work in a very corporate environment (government statutory authority) and I bring a lot of my personality to my outfits. I have to – it’s me, it’s who I am – and everyone at work knows it! I incorporate a lot of statement necklaces and bright colour, which works really well. I absolutely adore that tote! Can’t wait to have a chance at winning it.
    Oh – and thank you so much for guest posting on today, Nikki. We are beyond thrilled to have you! xx

  17. I love all the jewelry you’ve chosen Nikki – for me it’s something that you can use to really show some personality. I noticed in each set you’ve included a jacket, which is a great addition to any outfit, and something I need to find in summer weight.

    Thanks for a great post.

    1. Thanks Catherine – jackets for me have been the thing that have made my work wardrobe more flexible – they instantly lift an outfit and I started “collecting” them about three years ago in every neutral colour – now I have coloured ones as well. It’s meant I’ve always got something to wear.

  18. Hi Nikki. Love your advice. I work PT from home but sometimes have to attend meetings, go on site, and numerous other things so have been struggling a little to dress up what is a basically a smart casual wardrobe (without looking too corporate) when needed, but good reminder to invest in some structured pieces. Love the bag:)

  19. I think thats fine in a semi-corporate world, but a cocktail ring at a law firm, or most professional services, will get you laughed out of a boardroom.
    oh well, better luck next time

    1. Having come from that sort of background I guess I’ve been lucky that my work has always been valued above what I look like or how I dress. I’ve often been creative with the corporate wardrobe and never been laughed at or undermined… but I guess there are some organisations where women are still coat hangers rather than contributors.

      1. As my partner says, your paying for this (pointing to his brain) and NOT this (his clothes)! He hates corporate suits so has a more smart casual approach to his ‘uniform’.

    2. I worked as a chartered accountant in the ‘Big 5’, wore a very corporate outfit being a suit and heels but they were always bright, funky and me. I was often complimented on my outfits from many lawyers, stockbrokers and the like (men and women) at the top end of town.

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