Whether you’re gunning for a promotion, or returning to the corporate world after a break, the way you present yourself in the workplace can have a profound effect on your confidence. We sat down with image consultant Lizzie Edwards, who works with executives, business owners and London professionals, to find out how to nail a workwear wardrobe…
What’s the first thing you ask a new client?
I ask what the trigger was that made them turn to me for help. That’s the pain point; the straw that broke the camel’s back to make them get in touch. It’s rarely an issue that’s come out of the blue, but usually one that’s been causing stress for a while, like not feeling that their image reflects their new promotion, or that they have an appropriate wardrobe for dating, networking or pitching at meetings.
What’s the biggest style mistake you see people making?
Wearing clothes that don’t fit – too small, too big, sleeves too long. When clothes don’t fit, it sends the message that you don’t pay attention to detail, which isn’t good in a professional environment.
What key pieces do you think every professional wardrobe needs?
- Dresses with sleeves: A couple of neutral ones and then at least one with more interest, say in a bright colour.
- A good trench coat: Probably the most useful item and goes with everything.
- Basic, round-neck tops: Ideally ones that sit easily under jackets. Off-white silk is a great option.
- Heeled court shoes: Even if only an inch. One neutral pair and one in a colour.
- Pointed flat shoes: For when you don’t want or need to wear heels, but still want to look professional.
- Slim legged cropped trousers: A couple of pairs, one in black and one in navy.
- A couple of separate jackets: In a softer textured fabric such as boucle, ideally with a fleck of an additional colour. These can be worn over work dresses; with other plain trousers and skirts; and even look good with jeans.
- Fine knits: Jumpers rather than cardigans, which can look ageing or twee and don’t have much gravitas.
What advice do you give new mums about to re-enter the work place?
Put aside time to get your wardrobe ready before you go back. Do a big, highly targeted and planned shop of new items, ensuring they work together. Reorganise your wardrobe so you know where everything is, and ensure everything fits and is ready to wear. Be strategic, create a uniform for yourself. Make it easy, and plan some go-to outfits. Make sure you have more than one item of any basics, as there will always be one in the wash.
Go-to formula for a great interview outfit?
Wear an outfit that has comfort and ease, and preferably that you've worn before. Nothing too short, or tight, so there's no fidgeting or fiddling with your clothing. You don’t want to wear anything distracting, as it’s so important the interviewer is focused on what you’re saying. However, a touch of something interesting, such as a coloured shoe or jacket is useful so you’re memorable at the end of the day when they may have seen navy after black and every person in their memory is indistinguishable from the other.
How do you interpret ‘business casual’?
Business casual is smart separates – trousers and a top, maybe a jacket. Flat shoes are more acceptable. Jeans are acceptable, but they should fit well and be darker denim, without rips. Even if the style is relaxed, the quality of the clothes, and the care of them, is what makes them appropriate for work. They should be well maintained, clean and ironed, with shoes not scuffed.
Is there a quick fix to make your working wardrobe cooler?
Buy a couple of new items each season in a current colour (like pink or red right now) to bring in some interest. Shoes are a great way to add something a bit different; a red or leopard print heel will liven up a potentially plain outfit.
What one piece should everyone invest in?
A good black leather bag, preferably in a simple style and not too ‘now’ and trendy. It will last years.
What one thing should we all buy to feel better in our everyday wardrobe?
An oversized cashmere jumper. Such a great investment can’t go wrong, you’ll never regret spending a bit extra as it feels so good. It’s worth having one nice cashmere over two or three regular wool jumpers.
Any new brands you think are nailing workwear?
The Fold is one of my favourite go-to brands, for city women in particular – they have great fabrics and dresses with sleeves. Topshop has modern suits in cool cuts and colours that are worth a look. Jigsaw and Reiss are also stand outs for wearable, everyday options.
Is having your colours done still relevant?
I think so, if used as a tool for guidance and direction. It can help narrow down options when faced with so many and help to create a wardrobe that has a harmonious palette. Having a set of guidelines of colours that suit you is very valuable, especially for those who really don’t know. But having a palette and sticking to it religiously isn't necessary. If you love something, wear it anyway. And if it really doesn’t suit you, wear it in a skirt or trouser, away from your face.