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  • Writer's pictureSarah McGill

A woman's guide to nailing the 'business casual' look

Updated: Oct 18, 2022

There was a time, when a woman had to don a suit and dim her femininity in order to be taken seriously at work. But, along with the work wardrobe of our male colleagues, what we wear to the office has changed over the last 30 years.

According to a survey, only 10% of employees wear a suit to work.

43% of workers believe that the business suit no longer has a place in the office, and that wearing one would make them stick out like a sore thumb.

Woman walking to work
Some people prefer to be told what to wear. They find it a relief to have to wear a uniform and look like everyone. One less thing to worry about.

Open plan offices, a less hierarchal structure and a more relaxed work environment mean that we have much more freedom to decide what we want to wear to the office.

So, this is great news for women – right? A liberating freedom to express ourselves through our clothes and release us from the confines of what we ‘need' to wear.

Yes, of course it is good news, for the most part.

But not everyone is taking this relaxed work wardrobe effortlessly in their stride. For some, the term ‘business casual’ leaves them completely perplexed.

Writer and comedian Viv Groskop says she can wear what she wants at any time but she sometimes wishes someone would tell her what to wear, because

'100% freedom is also somewhat of a prison'

We want to be judged on our capabilities rather than our appearance, but it is well known that what we wear affects other's opinions of us.

Polly McMaster of contemporary fashion label The Fold, London said

‘We spoke to more than 1,000 business women for our ‘Workwear Matters Report’ and 80 per cent told us that the right outfit is crucial to creating the knock-out first impression in meetings and boosting credibility, and 74 per cent admit that they assess an individual’s executive presence based on their outfit’

So, on the one hand we are free to choose what we want to wear and on the other hand we are being judged for what we are wearing. Hmm.

So, no pressure then.

How hard can it possibly be to dress appropriately for work anyway?

Surely, it's simple to project the right balance of professionalism and style whilst avoiding criticism?

We just need to follow my handy guidelines...

list of things to consider when a woman chooses her work clothes

There! easy peasy! ;-)

While researching for this blog I have read a lot of people opinions on the work wardrobe.

Some say that you should 'emulate someone's whose style you admire' and others say 'you don't have to do an impression of someone else's version of smart'.

This is a good piece of advice from Rachael Proud of Raey, an in-house fashion label at

“It is important to feel comfortable, so stick to the colours and prints that you like to wear and feel yourself in — for me everything is navy or black and all of my T-shirts are white. Dresses and jumpsuits with pockets are smart, easy and practical. You can bend down and pick up your child, run to the bus and carry your essentials, making them the perfect elements to a working wardrobe.”

More good advice comes from Polly McMaster from contemporary fashion label The Fold

"Dresses are such a wardrobe essential, and once you've found a shape that works for you, its an easy way to invest in tried-and-trusted styles in multiple fabrics and colours that you'll wear for seasons to come. It's so effortless too. A 'statement top is also key. When you are in meetings all day, it's what you wear from the waist up that matters"

So, putting myself at risk of being trolled by the 'business casual' police (whoever they are) I have put together two outfits that I consider to be 'business casual'.

Top by Yunion T, skirt by Next, blazer by Mango

Trousers by Mint Velvet, top by Warehouse, coat by Topshop

Why not help each other out. If you have work some outfits or items of clothes that you swear by, share them using #alderstyle

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