What to wear to the office – summer

Nikki ParkinsonFashion 39 Comments

This is probably the most difficult time of year to get dressed for work – if you work in an office environment.

The high heat and humidity factor is just not conducive to feeling anywhere near fresh and let’s face it, January feels like one giant resort holiday even if you’ve rocked up to work every day while seemingly everyone else has been on one giant resort holiday.

If you’ve been at the coalface, you’re probably tired of your current summer work wardrobe. If you’ve been at the beach, dressing in anything other than a swimsuit and kaftan seems incredibly foreign.

It’s also a time of year when more childcare places become available (older kids move on to school and other age groups move up within the centre) so it’s no surprise it’s a time when many women return to the workforce after a short or extended maternity leave.

If you fall into that camp, it’s totally ok if you forget what you used to wear to the office before you were pregnant and even you do remember, those clothes are probably long gone or just aren’t “you” any more.

Whatever your reason for needing a little help in the workwear department this post will help you work out what to wear to the office for now and into autumn.

11 tips getting your work wardrobe sorted

1. Current office workers: pick up one or two key new pieces to work back with your existing work wardrobe. It can make all the difference to how you feel about fronting up to work after a holiday. A new handbag, a new laptop bag, a new pair of shoes, a new necklace. All these things can work with so much in your current wardrobe but with a fresh spin.

2. Get all your current office clothes (remembering that you might have some cross-over pieces with weekend wear) out of the cupboard and spread them all out on your bed. Examine each piece – do they need repairing? Drycleaning? Throwing? Consider this a micro-edit of your whole wardrobe. You want to know exactly what clothes options you’re dealing with before you think about buying new pieces.

3. Create “flatlay” outfits from the pieces you’ve placed on your bed and photograph them on your phone. Organise those photos into a specific “workwear” album and have it as your reference each evening or morning when you work out what you’re going to wear. This so cuts down on the time stress that comes from forgetting what you have available to wear.

4. Are there any obvious gaps in your work wardrobe? Do you have tops that need replacing because they’re worn out or stained? Do the work pants or skirts that were once reliable wardrobe workhorses now not fit as well as they should? These are the things you should spend your budget on first.

5. Starting from scratch and need a whole new work wardrobe? You’ll get more bang for your buck concentrating on buying good quality basics in neutral colours (pants, skirts, dresses, tops) – this doesn’t necessarily mean you have to spend a lot of money; it means taking the time to look and feel the fabric, check washing instructions and try on the basics to make sure they fit well for you. These pieces are the anchors of your whole outfit so they have to fit and flatter. Buy well and they will serve you not just in summer but layered for the cooler months as well.

6. Spend less on fashion-y colours and items. These show-pony pieces are fun to have around but they date more easily and don’t work so well in creating a capsule wardrobe situation. Instead of show-pony clothing pieces, make your accessories the show ponies. That way you can wear similar basic, neutral combinations each day and just add a fun accessory to change the look.

7. Always carry a light, extra layer with you. Most offices in summer are air-conditioned to seemingly arctic temperatures. Most commutes are from from arctic. There is a time window for every commuter where you will feel every degree of the weather happening outside and being layered up will only add to the potentially hot, sweaty mess that arrives at your desk. But … you will most probably need a layer when you’re actually at your desk. A lightweight jacket (full-length or three-quarters) always looks smart and pulls together any outfit – and can even double up on the weekend as a way to dress up pants or jeans.

8. Commuting on public transport or doing the school drop off on the way to or from work? Wear flats and carry your heels in your bag. Having a combination of a tote bag and small cross-body handbag works in this situation. The tote can carry your lunch, laptop and shoes and in your handbag, keys, phone, sunglasses and lipgloss. The small bag will fit in your tote but be a lighter option if leaving the office at lunch time and not wanting to cart everything with you.

9. Don’t forget that you have a personality. Just because you work in an office where people generally dress the same, doesn’t mean you have to become a cookie cutter of the next person. Find ways to show your personality through your style – within the confines of the office dress code/policy. Accessories are ideal for this.

10. You can also create interest in your work outfit by contrasting structure and flow within the same outfit. Generally one piece in an office outfit will always have some kind of structure to it but you can soften this with a piece that is softer in texture or more fluid in its design. For example a structured jacket will pull together a more fluid dress into a work outfit. A more fluid top would contrast with the structure of a pencil skirt.

11. Help another woman get back into the workforce by donating your work clothes. Organisations like Dress for Success (the SY charity of choice) and Fitted for Work take donations of preloved workwear in good condition – right down to shoes and accessories – so if your efforts at #3 above yielded some pieces that no longer work for you but could help others, then look to see if there is a Dress for Success or Fitted for Work in your area. Conversely, if you’re heading back to work and need work clothes, Dress for Success regularly holds bargain sale days where you could pick up several outfits for very little.

Summer workwear capsule wardrobe

I’ve put together this 12-piece capsule summer work wardrobe for you as a starting point for creating your own.

Sticking with black and white and one accent colour is a great way to create the building blocks of a work wardrobe that has so many possibilities.

The jackets here are key to adding polish to these workwear combinations. They pull the different outfits together – and help add summer-weight warmth in air-conditioning. The are well worth the extra spend. As are good shoes.

Here are 31 possible combinations you could create using 10 of the 12 pieces below (each would be worn with the same black heels and handbag):

1 + 4 + 7 + 9

1 + 4 + 9

1 + 4 + 8 + 12

1 + 5 + 7 + 9

1 + 5 + 9

1 + 5 + 7 + 12

1 + 5 + 8 + 12

1 + 5 + 12

1 + 6 + 7 + 9

1 + 6 + 9

1 + 6 + 8 + 12

1 + 6 + 12

2 + 7 + 9

2 + 9

2 + 7 + 12

2 + 12

2 + 8 + 9

2 + 8 + 12

3 + 4 + 7 + 9

3 + 4 + 9

3 + 4 + 8

3 + 4

3 + 5 + 7 + 9

3 + 5 + 9

3 + 5 + 7 + 12

3 + 5 + 12

3 + 5 + 8 + 12

3 + 6 + 7 + 9

3 + 6 + 9

3 + 6 + 8 + 12

3 + 6 + 12

What to wear to work - summer  12-piece capsule wardrobe

1. Katies regular classic pant $39.95 

2. Target dress $30

3. Big W skirt $39

4. Target top $35

5. Katies top $29.95 (on sale)

6. Seed top $59.95

7. Wish jacket $149.95 @ Birdsnest

8. Jacqui E jacket $169.95

9. Adorne necklace $10

10. Seed bag $89.95

11. Nine West heels $139.95

12. Ruby Olive necklace $45

You’ll also find many more ideas on how to dress for the office in my book, Unlock Your Style.

My blogging friend, Mrs Woog had a reader ask a fashion question about returning to work and what to wear on a budget. There are lots of great suggestions from other readers on this Facebook comment thread.



Over to you! Do you work in an office? Heading back to office work after a short or long break? What tips do you have to share with SY readers?

Comments 39

  1. Hi Nicky
    Would love to see an update on this one soon – any chance you will be doing an edit for the summer season upon us.
    A plus size edit would also be fabulous.
    Thanks. Love you work.

  2. Nikki! Great advice! The tip of the cross body bag and the larger tote bag is awesome. Don’t know why i didn’t think of that. I end up running out with just my Purse, my car key and 2 phones, and then i don’t have enough hands to carry my lunch. I am a great believer in black and white and the endless combinations it can make, so I really enjoyed this. Thanks so much xo

  3. This is so fantastic – really helped me look with fresh eyes at my corporate wardrobe for the ‘consultant’ meetings I do each week. And just to add to it – I popped out and bought one of the 2 last remaining Target dresses (#2) in my local Westfield this morning which I can wear with the black jacket and cream jacket I already own and popped a nice black and white top into the basket too to go with the black skirt and black trousers I also already have! Perfect timing thanks Nikki

  4. Yet another knock-it-out-of-the-fashion-park, Ms Nikki!
    My fave tip is most definitely number 9 – “don’t forget you have a personality”. I swear by this. My job isn’t my passion, it’s quite corporate and (dare I say it) dry, so I inject colour and fun into my day with my outfits. I wear bright, bold colours and prints, statement necklaces and even sequins. Yep! Sequins.
    Love that stripe Target dress and that Wish jacket. There’s something so stylish and strong about a well tailored jacket. It makes you feel like you can take on the world.
    And you and I seem to have a bit of thing for Nine West heels, don’t we…?! x

  5. It’s amazing how many outfits different combinations of a 12 item wardrobe capsule can make. I like the idea of creating a work wear album to reduce the stress in the mornings. When rushed I tend to pick the same easy combination each time. I suspect if I created an album like you suggested I’d discover I actually had a lot more combinations than I realised.

    1. Please pass this on to your reader as well, I am the same size and also recently returned from maternity leave after 2 years. After living in soft pants for the past 2 years I was struggling to find something comfy but stylish enough for work and I’ve come up with this! This top from Sussans is not cheap and if I had looked at the pricetag before I bought it I may not have purchased it but I am so glad I did, its definitely a must have staple and will go with anything. I wear it with some 3/4 soft pants (black or patterned) and cute black wedges, add a nice cheap colourful necklace to brighten it up and you have the perfect outfit, stylish enough for work but still comfortable! http://www.sussan.com.au/clothing/check-sleeve-woven-tee-black http://www.jeanswest.com.au/womens/pants-shorts/lilla-3-4-pant.html http://www.airflex.com.au/women/wedges/0624-1941101.html

  6. You’re so PRACTICAL! You’re so generous with your knowledge but this article is just so damn practical too. So many bloggers are vague and say things like “edit your wardrobe” but Im always left wondering HOW. I came across this article while looking for inspiration to sort out my wardrobe because a) Im returning to part-time work after working from a home office for 6 years, yikes, there goes my daily leisure wear options! and b) im a size bigger than I was when I last worked in an office so need to know how to dress appropriate for my new size. I started my research with such dread, embarrassed about my new weight and feeling completely out of touch with what was currently fashionable. But after reading through your blog Im excited! Im about to log off and get everything out of my wardrobe and follow your advice above. Thanks for taking the time to be so damn helpful. Some days blogging must feel a little like talking to a giant empty lecture theatre but if you ever have those moments, just know that we ARE HERE – listening and learning and taking copious cyber notes. Just flick that imaginary light switch and you’ll see us all waving at you in our stylish, matching, easy to wear outfits. Thanks for setting me on a better path today, I’m extremely grateful.

  7. Hello Nikki! I somehow found you on Instagram which of course, led me to your site – and I’ve been meaning to say a ‘proper’ hello ever since. I’m a personal stylist too but wow, have I been learning lots from you about real, wearable style and blogging! Thank you for being so generous and sharing so much, I don’t think we ever stop learning and I’m always so happy to find other people like yourself who are so much further along in their journey. It’s inspiring and motivates me to keep going with mine when I see how much you are helping other women to feel good about how they dress, amazing work! Esther xx

  8. Great ideas Nikki! I especially like the idea of taking photos of outfits for reference. Now if I could only keep my make up from dripping off my face, in this hot, humid Brissie weather, before I make it into the office – all would be perfect!

  9. Great tips Nikki and doing the flat lay and knowing what you have in your wardrobe works not just for the office but for all occasions! no tips from me as I don’t work but I’m sure there will be a lot of great tips from your readers Nikki and your book is fantastic Xx

  10. I wear flats for my commute to the office and if I need to run out at lunchtime, but to save on the ferrying back and forwards I keep 3 pairs of heels at work (black, navy and nude). At the moment the black and navy shoes are slingbacks, but I’ll switch them up for pumps over autumn and winter.
    I do sometimes wear a heeled sandal or boots, but keeping a supply in the drawer at work really means I never need worry about not being client meeting appropriate.
    My other tip would be to keep a jacket at work. I find adding a jacket (and work heels) makes a slightly more casual outfit, completely appropriate for meetings in the office.

  11. not that i go to an office, but these are good tips for anywhere nikki!
    I love the cross body bag and the larger tote for traveling or shopping;0
    some good combinations there too! one could dress up or down!
    did salute to the sun! will do more again today! … Namaste m:)X

  12. I work in early childhood, wear a uniform which is not at all a help but, one of ‘my mums’ came in yesterday in a really lovely black and white Peter Morrissey for BIG W black and white dress, she picked it up for $15 recently. Looked classy and well made.

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