A New You: Your Capsule Formal Working Wardrobe for 2015

As a Style and Image Consultant,I spend a lot of time helping clients increase their self confidence through enhancing their wardrobe choices. In work situations we need the right clothes,grooming and accessories to feel comfortable,be appropriate and send out the right signals.

I always ask clients I style to provide three words that describe how they want to be seen by others especially in the work place. Some want to be seen as:’unique,stylish,confident’;others choose to be known as’authoritative,knowledgeable,sharp’:the choices are as individual as we are. When we look like the person we aspire to be,we set up a cycle of success:we look the part,others see and acknowledge us as such and we act accordingly,reinforcing this positive self image. Years ago,after a long career break to look after a family,I returned to work feeling terrified! I didn’t feel at all professional but I convinced others I was by taking time and trouble to invest in clothing that made me look the part.I was amazed at how quickly I believed what others believed of me and my confidence in myself and my ability to do the job soared!

Of course image is only a start,the rest is down to who we are and our approach to the job but it’s vital in making a positive and successful impression. Our image,as expressed through clothing,hairstyles and grooming should be consistent with our perception of ourselves so as to avoid misunderstandings and worse still, professional suicide! Unfortunate as it is,people make a judgement about us in the first 20 seconds. After that, it takes a number of interactions to undo any misjudgements, if indeed we ever get the chance.

When it comes to achieving the right look professionally,it doesn’t pay to look like a fashion victim,dress like a walking designer wardrobe or don outrageous clothing. Neither does a look that suggests you are dressing for a hot date:it will send out the wrong signals and cause embarrassment. These ways of dressing could also indicate low self esteem and the need to attract attention which will only weaken a professional image.To be successful,we need a ‘signature look’ that flatters us,in styles and colours that make us look and feel confident and comfortable,all the time. Professional help with these is key to creating our very own signature capsule wardrobe that will work for us time and again.

Here are my tips for creating a woman’s Formal Business Capsule Wardrobe:

Suits/jackets, skirts and trousers

  • 4 suits that fit with current trends in complementary neutral colours or a combination of 4 jackets and 4 skirts or pairs of trousers depending on the dress code expected at your place of work. Ensure trousers are not too tight  around your bottom and are the right length (no ‘jack ups’!).Where dark coloured ‘authority’ suit dressing is required,such as in law,banking and many City firms,experiment with texture to add variety. If you are entering or re entering the work place after a break,start with one or two suits and work up to this ideal as and when you can afford it. For lower cost smart business wear try shops such as M and S,Next,British Home Stores,Oasis,Dorothy Perkins, Zara,Matalan and Primark. If you are on,or aspiring to be on the board or other senior position,your dress should carry an edge, so aim to build a wardrobe from shops such as Reiss, Jaegar, Hobbs, Austin Reed, Selfridges and John Lewis.


  • 6 to 8 tops,shirts or knitwear in your colours and styles. Tops will help introduce colour into your wardrobe, especially where dark coloured suited clothing is the expected norm. White or cream tops will make you look the same every day so here is your chance to bring femininity and variety into a standard wardrobe. Ensure tops are not too tight or revealing;remember,the more flesh you show,the more authority you may lose.


  • You can wear dresses instead of skirts and tops and increasingly the shops have many business type dresses in plain colours and heavier textures that can be dressed up or down with jackets for a suit type look,on their own or with a quality cardigan for smart business casual. I suggest you substitute 1 or 2 for 1 or 2 suits. Dresses in A line and empire styles are especially good for pear shaped women who find it difficult to get flattering trousers. Find the style that is appropriate for your body shape. Check the length is not too short for a professional look, on or slightly above the knee is the best length for work,especially for women over the age of 40!


  • 1 coat or raincoat that will fit over your suit with a variety of scarves in your colours. Carry a telescopic umbrella in your bag and have a smart hat,if you are a hat person,and leather gloves in toning colours. There is a lovely selection of these in Top Shop, M&S, Phase Eight and Jaegar.


  • You don’t need loads of these:they will only create confusion! 3 pairs of formal shoes that fit with current trends and are appropriate for the season are all you really need.Closed toe and mid heel are the most professional. Open toe sandals and flip flops are unprofessional. Ankle boots are acceptable for trousers in the winter but knee length boots look less professional.


  • Accessories will add interest,finish off an outfit and a necklace will draw attention to your face. Avoid too much jewellery- less is more. Keep to one earring in each ear. A quality fountain pen will speak volumes!


  • Always a must. Keep them plain and neutral:patterned and wild colours look unprofessional.


  •  1 or 2 quality bags in an appropriate colour to match your capsule wardrobe. If you carry a lap top and a handbag,the answer may be to use a small suitcase on wheels to avoid struggling.

Make up and Grooming

  •  Apply a natural make up to suit your colouring. Choose a manageable hairstyle,away from your face and keep up to your roots. Ensure nails are well manicured. Poor grooming may suggest to others a poor attitude to your work.
  • See Next week’s post for how to create a Business Casual Capsule Wardrobe.

For Personal Shopping bookings taken in January and February 2015, I am offering a free express colour and style session, lasting up to an hour, before each personal shop. I have a studio in Harrogate, as well Hertfordshire, and once a month, I take clients personal shopping in this exquisite town which is a sheer pleasure to shop in. All the big quality brands are there as well as the lesser known individual boutiques. For an extra treat, we pop into the famous Betty’s cafe to take the weight off our shopping feet and over a delicious cake and a hot, velvety drink we soak up the wonderful Edwardian surroundings that epitomise the origins of this wonderful town.  

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