What to wear to work | winter smart casual | capsule wardrobe

Wardrobe boot camp: how to dress smart casual for work in winter

Nikki Parkinson Fashion, How to 56 Comments

Editor’s note: This is regular series in which we help Styling You readers solve a particular wardrobe or clothing crisis with a little advice and some shopping suggestions. If you think you’d like to be considered as part of a Wardrobe Boot Camp post, then please email me (nikki@stylingyou.com.au) with a couple of photos and a brief run down of what specific help you would like.

Kerri is 45 and returning to work soon and like most people has found that knowing what to wear to work is vastly different from what it was years ago – particularly if years ago you wore a uniform. We’ve touched on how to dress for work on the blog before but not for winter. Head on over here for some summer tips.

Wardrobe boot camp Kerri

The plea

I am returning to full time work soon but for the first time in my working life I won’t have the ‘luxury’ of just throwing on a uniform before I walk out the door. Yes they were all ugly (especially the early ones – great additions to my daughter’s dressing up box) but they really took a lot of hassle out of my life. Now I am about to complete a degree and will have to dress like a professional (not board room, but in a clinical setting – what I would think would be smart casual). Like all of us I don’t want to look ridiculous, but I don’t want to look too mumsy as well because at 45 I am much O-L-D-E-R than all the young, thin, gorgeous things in the course.

I have extremely broad shoulders, but unfortunatley at 166cms don’t really have the height to balance it all out, which is why I avoid flat shoes if I can help it. I remember reading Trinny and Sussanah’s body shape bible and thinking I was a ‘celllo’ even back then!

The tips

1. Let’s not even talk about those other students in your course. Let’s talk about YOU and how gorgeous YOU are! Age and size do not come into it. Confidence does and I hope we can get some confidence going with these tips and suggestions.

2. As you’ve been used to a uniform, then my biggest tip is actually to create a uniform – a capsule of clothes that you wear Monday to Friday and don’t really have to think about it. Just like you would with a supplied uniform. It may be that you just do this at the start as you get in the habit of getting out the door for work but it also may be something that works for you on an ongoing basis.

3. We’re talking winter, so it’s about layers. Days can start and end super chilly and some days can just be chilly all day. Either way, mastering layering is the key. This post will help.

4. Dressing smart casual for work can be tricky too. The key to keeping your smart casual outfit on the smarter side of the casual equation is to include layers and at least one key accessory.

5. Mix up your looks with pants and frocks but remember if you’re struggling for inspiration, frocks are your friend as with one garment they can anchor a whole outfit. Granted, in winter you’ll need to add tights, boots and possibly a coat as well.

6. Don’t be afraid of splashing a bit of colour around to brighten up a winter colour palette. I know Melbourne people are poo-pooing this as they read it but even adding just a red or jewel-toned scarf can lift your outfit and your mood.

7. Make friends with lifestyle labels such as Metalicus, Mela Purdie, Motto, Leona Edmiston, wYse bodywear, Verily, Sacha Drake’s stretch range (just to name a few). Garments from these ranges don’t need ironing and can be easily washed and back in your wardrobe – essential qualities for a busy working week.

8. A low heel very much works to give you that “smart” balance you’re looking for – without feeling like your feet are being sacrificed for the sake of looking good on the job.

The shopping

What to wear to work | winter smart casual | capsule wardrobe 1. Verily dress $129 |  2. Metalicus cardi $189.95 | 3. Tightology tights $39.95 @ Birdsnest | 4. Sussan scarf $39.95 | 5. Fossil watch $179 @ Myer | 6. Django and Juliette booties $149.95 @ Style Tread | 7. My Best Friend is a Bag tote $160 (on sale) | 8. Nine West kitten heels $139.95 @ Style Tread | 9. Red Phoenix Emporium necklace $155 (coming soon in new Covet collection) | 10. Motto leatherette pant $100 | 11. Metalicus cardigan $169 | 12. Ollie & Max shirt $85 @ Birdsnest

Shopping notes

These pieces are designed to be worked together in a number of different ways. The watch and tote bag are for everyday. Even the necklace can be adjusted and worn four ways. The rest can be mix and matched.

For example:






Maybe you have pieces in your wardrobe that once broken down into outfits like this can be worked to create a number of capsule wardrobes – and a uniform of sorts – for the working week.

Do you have any tips for Kerri? Is your workwear on the smart casual side of professional? How do you balance that to look polished?


  • 26 Years & Counting

    I’ve been thinking recently that smart casual is what I feel most comfortable in, so this is great timing for a post of tips! Thanks.

  • Sonia

    Fabulous advice and picks, Nikki – I couldn’t agree more. Even though I work in quite a corporate environment, I’m not a suit wearing corporate kinda gal. Instead I wear leggings, dresses, pants, blouses, statement necklaces and coloured blazers. A slightly more polished version of my weekend look, I guess you could say.

    • And I would think that’s something you have to judge in each workplace … what style fits in and is still appropriate? Blazers and statement necklaces would be the key to that polish!

  • Jo’s comment

    As a ‘Melbourne girl’ I hate the insinuation that we are drab and don’t wear colour, a disappointing generalisation. I look forward to your styling tips and advice though. I love colour in all seasons and find that in winter the trains, offices and buildings are so heated that the layers are on and off all day.

    • I’m sorry Jo – every time I talk about colour here I get people from Melbourne championing their black. Which I’m very ok with because I do not think it’s drab at all! Whatever makes people feel comfortable and confident, I say.

  • Mindy Roestenburg

    I just received my first Metalicus cardi and I love it. I think I might have to consider another purchase while everything is on sale.

  • Simone

    Love these posts Nikki they give me heaps of inspiration. It would be great to see a bootcamp series on choosing the right hair cut & colour as so many women struggle with that – I know that I do. As a result my hair is tortured and I am never happy with it. And I am hinting to hubby that I NEED the necklace [no 9] for my birthday!

    • Mindy Roestenburg

      Hair styles can be so tricky. I have my next hair appointment in 4 weeks. I know I want to change the colour and modify the style to hopefully make it better but I am so lost as to what colour and style to actually choose.

    • It’s such a personal thing, Simone. For me, it’s alway a case of having a good, long-standing relationship with a hairdresser that enables me to embrace any change because it’s change based on trust and their intimate knowledge of my hair and lifestyle.

  • Excellent post! I love colour and try to wear as much as possible but I am a Queenslander and we can’t help it.

  • Alex

    Love this post and I love the Metalicus cardi, in fact I am already in possession of it in black. Also “coveting” the Red Phoenix necklace!

  • Excellent tips Nikki….although my eye was immediately drawn to tip number six and I did have a chuckle 🙂

  • What_Sarah_Did_Next

    OMG thank you! A VERY timely post for me, Nikki. I am returning to the ‘real world’ workforce after 15 years away and my working wardrobe is what you’d described as ‘limited’! However, I already have that Ollie and Max shirt (you were right, it is FABULOUS!) but it was great to get a few more ideas for what I can wear! xx

    • Oh Sarah, that’s going to be huge! Glad this post might help and stoked you love the Ollie & Max shirt!

  • sydneyshopgirl

    I love the idea of creating a ‘uniform’ of outfits for the working week

    SSG xxx

    • It’s something I used to do when the kids were tiny and I worked in an office – made those mornings a whole lot easier.

  • Mrs Woog

    You are a genius! No doubt about it. ANd i love that necklace! My sisters bday pressie right there x

    • You are an excellent sister. x

    • Leah_loves

      I hope your sister does not read Styling You Mrs Woog!

  • Leigh

    Wow – love this post – am the same age and need a similar style wardrobe for my work. Liking the idea of creating my own uniform. This Melbourne girl loves a pop of colour (must in the minority). What a tease with the new Red Phoenix line – cant wait to see the rest of the range 😉

    • I’m so glad you’re a Melbourne girl who likes a pop of colour! And I can tell you the new RPE range is beautiful. I’ve already bought a piece!

  • Kathryn

    My No#1 recommendation is a a black trench jacket from Metalicus (on sale now for $169) this season is a bit shorter than previous so will suit Kerri…. do not be put off by the one size fits all, their stuff is brilliant and well worth the money.
    With this item you can throw it over anything and look “done”. I have 2 from past seasons and wear them all the time. Warm (merino wool mix), light and comfortable just throw in a lingerie bag and wash on the wool cycle! Fabulous!

  • Kerri

    Nikki, these are just all beautiful and much more lovely than what I would of thought of. Thank you

  • Johanne Taylor

    Dresses! I travel a bit for work and my Leona dresses mean I can just pull them out of a suitcase and wear them, without ironing. I also love Metalicus, Mesop and Vigorella stretchy pieces- these can go under or over my dresses (long sleeve and elbow length tees, leggings and cardis) to adapt for the weather. The cardigans can really be screwed up in a ball in your handbag or laptop bag, then pulled out as needed.
    BTW the Metallicus leggings are not cheap, but have a lovely feel and weight to them, and wash over and over without any fade, so they are very nice for a more dressy outfit. Highly recommended.

    • I agree with spending more on your leggings so the shape, colour and comfort is there – and thanks for sharing your lifestyle label recommendations.

    • Mesop ponte legging pants are excellent this season! Thaey have a very nice suck me in compression feel to them

      • Johanne Taylor

        I have some Mela Purdie ponte pants from a couple of years ago that have that same effect. Again worth the extra cost because they keep their shape, and colour, and don’t get those little balls!

        • Kerri

          Thanks – I’ ve always loved Mela Purdie

      • Kerri

        Thanks – the sucking in sounds great!

    • Kerri

      Thank you Johanne. Great tip about the Metallicus leggings.

  • Marilyn Schroeder

    Some great tips. Skirts can work too. Also consider The Ark clothing. Fabulous layering.

  • Heidi

    I also returned to work this year after 4 years of uni, and my workplace does not have uniforms either- unusual for nurses!! So I did exactly what Niki said and bought my own uniform!!! I bought colours that can all be inter-changed so I don’t have set full outfits- I can still change them around! Accessories are pretty much limited to stud earrings & hair ribbons- so I have both them in every colour under the sun! Good luck in your new job Kerri! 🙂

    • Brilliant Heidi – love how you’ve planned your work wardrobe strategy here!

    • Kerri

      Thanks Heidi for your advice and support. Glad to hear it can be done!

  • Lisa Mckenzie

    I love that you have chosen for Kerri Nikki especially the no iron bit,I loathe ironing and will pick something else if it has to be ironed! If you have the right basic building blocks in your wardrobe you will be fine after years of buying too many clothes after Nikki’s boot camp I realised I needed the basics and then just things to mix and match,even a few scarves that go with an outfit can change a look,and Kerri make sure you feel comfortable in your new work clothes and know that they look nice on you and you will love your new job and feel confident.It doesn’t take any extra effort to look chic and polished than it does to look daggy and if you look good you feel good that’s my motto.Enjoy going back to work and looking lovely Kerri!

    • Thanks for the support for Kerri – those building blocks are the key!

    • Kerri

      Thanks Lisa, you are so right about daggy clothes = daggy feeling. Thanks for your words of support

      • Lisa Mckenzie

        Your welcome Kerri,I feel much better when I look good!

  • liz

    Just love the Verily Dress in this bootcamp wardrobe. The absolute best thing about SY is that I am being introduced to a whole new world of websites for online shopping!!! love.love.love.

    • Thanks Liz … it’s a tough job, surfing around the interwebs looking for clothes but I’ll do it 🙂

    • Kerri

      Me too!

  • Dianne

    Taking your advice I created a ‘uniform’ that sits in a certain place in the wardrobe & I get out what I’m going to wear the night before too… Ps Verily have a similar necklace in their range too, love it!

    • So glad you do have that uniform in its place Dianne!

    • Kerri

      Thanks for the tip Dianne, definitely take a look

  • Even though I have the best iron in the world( a Laurastar) That point number 7 is my biggie for the working mum NO IRONING!!!!! Who has time for that with your everyday clothes in the professional world?? Plus all those knitted type clothes are ever so comfy!

    • Love the comfort factor and also not “waiting” to wear it again – wash and wear, I say!

    • Kerri

      I didn’t mention my hatred of ironing, but all of you must have picked up the vibe!