If you’ve been thinking about any of these lately…
- I want to look professional and wear clothes that can transition to comfortable weekend wear as well.
- I want to be dressed in a comfortable but still stylish way all the time with minimal effort.
- I want to dress in a way that expresses my personality and style.
- I want to know what I should wear to work every day without having to think about it.
- I want to feel chic but confident and proud.
…then this ultimate guide is made for you.
Looking professional at work is important when building your career. On the other hand, you are overwhelmed with many daily activities and you never find the time to put together a great wardrobe, even though you know you should.
Style is your everyday task and cannot be delegated to someone else.
But anyone can learn how to dress well! And you can too.
I can help you with that.
In this guide, you will learn:
- What kind of clothes you actually need based on your lifestyle and your job (main and secondary activities)
- Identify your signature style so you can feel confident in your clothes, and express yourself and your professional goals through them
- My step-by-step system to build your unique business casual wardrobe
I will also share with you a worksheet – Your Better Than Perfect Wardrobe.
Once you finish reading the guide, you will know exactly what it takes to create your wardrobe and quickly select an outfit to look and feel great every single day!
Let’s dive in!
If you don’t have time to read this guide right now, you can download the PDF version of the guide and my exclusive worksheet by signing up below.
Hi, I am Iris.
I work as a Senior Manager at one of the Big4. My specialization is tax and accounting advisory.
Now to get to the big question … Why did I write this Ultimate guide about style and wardrobe?
I have always been into fashion.
When I was young, my aunt would always bring me clothes and a bunch of fashion catalogs from Switzerland where she lived. At that time in Slovenia, where I live, you were not able to find a decent clothing store, and we usually shopped in Italy, which is close to where I lived.
I was visiting my aunt a lot, spending some time with her during my high school vacation – I was learning German and exploring Zurich. After she came home from work, we would go shopping in the afternoons. She showed me places where you could find the latest fashion and not expensive items and ones that were more elegant. She taught me about quality fabrics, like silk and wool.
When I had my first interview for an internship at a bank, she helped me to pick the right wardrobe – she was working at a bank as well. I wore a green suit and really felt chic and proud on the day of the interview. Later on, when I got that internship, I got many compliments on that suit.
Since I started building my career I have been aware, that style is a significant part of the professional career too.
Your wardrobe is entirely different whether you have a client meeting with an IT company or you are meeting with a company from a financial sector for an acquisition of a bank where also other advisors are participating, like lawyers and financial advisors. In these cases, my male colleagues would usually only think about whether to wear a tie or not. But for a woman, this means entirely different outfits.
As a businesswoman, I am sure you also have similar issues – questioning yourself every day about what sort of tasks are waiting for you, who you are meeting with, etc. With a full schedule and many obligations, it is tough to look appropriate, confident and chic every day.
When you read fashion articles and magazines, you feel even more overwhelmed since they are always suggesting new items and outfits, and expect you to have a lot of time and energy every day to invest in them.
We all know these are just beautiful dreams. Sometimes I wish I would be able to go to the office in my pyjamas, but unfortunately, that is not feasible.
That is why I wanted to build a system for myself that would work as best as possible regardless of how much time I have in the morning, my energy level, or my mood.
Firstly, I have learned that the same principle applies in both in the activities in your life as in building your style. It is much more efficient if you find the appropriate system and implement it into your daily routine – make it another habit.
And secondly, when we talk about your style and appropriate wardrobe, it is not just about fashion and having the sense for it. Contrary, it is much more about YOU – your personality, knowing yourself, your lifestyle, and your goals.
After this it is actually very easy to find an appropriate wardrobe and create YOUR signature style.
I don’t believe in rules. They kill creativity and your self-expression.
However, to create elegant, sophisticated and chic work outfits, it is good to incorporate a few basic rules to help you create proportional looks with your body and make sure that the colours flatter you well. This should be your “unique rules.”
When you want to create your look for a more casual occasion be creative and express your individuality as much as possible. If you are confident and feel good in your skin and your outfit, I am sure you will look great too.
So take every rule with some reserve – you are aware of the rule, but you still want to try something new and see how it will look on you and how it makes you feel.
Style is a life journey. It will change during your lifetime. You change as a person, so your style should also change.
Don’t be afraid to try a new item. You might be surprised by how you look and feel in it.
You are allowed to wear anything you want to the office tomorrow!
Those of you who have a dress code know exactly what I mean. The business environment is changing, and appropriate business attire is following that change.
It has been more than 40 years since John T. Molloy’s “Dress for Success came out in 1975, releasing the concept of “power-dressing.”
His recommendation of wearing a suit to get ahead is still present in a corporate world, where suiting up reflects a belief in a right and wrong way to make an impression.
The truth today is that you visually represent yourself and your career. Like it or not, not just your LinkedIn profile but what you wear can say a lot about you as well. And you want your message to be consistent!
But the suit is no longer the determining factor.
The new generation of workers doesn’t support the idea of a job-appropriate attire.
Therefore, the goal is to create a culture of authenticity and, consequently, approach the dress code.
That drive for authenticity has also made some companies in professional industries, like audit and finance consulting abolish its dress code in recent years.
One of the big accounting companies introduced “Dressed for the Day” policy, a daily extension of a casual Friday experiment. Their message to the employees being, “Just look in the mirror before you walk out of the door, and make sure you look appropriate.” (Bloomberg, 2016) When meeting with clients, the employees cannot wear jeans.
Some employees said this was a very millennial idea. They described it as liberating.
In one of the Big4 companies, a human capital leader said, “The reality is we are in a war for talent, and we want the same creative, innovative, diverse people…” (Business Insider, 2016)
Their idea is to help unlock creativity and diversity.
“…the new code is simple. People should dress in a way that makes them feel great, is respectful to clients and colleagues, and appropriate for the environment they are in.
It is not a dress up or dress down policy – all we are asking our people to do is think about what they are doing each day, who they are doing with, and dress in a way that reflects that.” (Business Insider, 2016)
It is also about the trust that people will use their judgment and common sense. The company believes that this gesture will also help people be more comfortable and confident.
I think there is no clear and simple definition. You can find many explanations out there about what is allowed and what not with regard to business casual wardrobe, but the truth is you will most likely not be able to copy and implement this suggestion in your daily life.
Why is that?
What kind of a wardrobe you will build, depends at least on the following factors:
- The dress code prescribed if any
- The type of activities that you need clothes for
- Your style
Times are changing, and dress codes are becoming more and more relaxed. This means more freedom when building your wardrobe and more extensive opportunity to express yourself and show your style.
I think this is just a huge opportunity for women. The prescribed dress code tends to limit you, to limit you in showing who you really are and how you feel most confident.
Additionally, they are usually not updated to the changes of business environment and, fashion trends.
Look at Michelle Obama in a sleeveless dress. There were a lot of comments why her outfits are not appropriate for her position and her age. After some time her look became well accepted. I think she looks awesome – feminine and confident!
On the other hand, I understand the need for dress code. When you give freedom to employees, the responsibility to look appropriate at work is on their side. But I do believe that boundaries are broken more often when you have limitations. When the responsibility is on you, you also show what kind of person you are.
Nevertheless, I also believe there is plenty of room to express your style even for those of us who have a dress code, since it still allows for a lot of freedom or employees don’t take them as seriously anymore, like in my case.
For an appropriate wardrobe that will last for years, it is crucial to know your lifestyle, your job and the activities that you are going to need your clothes for.
When you urgently need some new clothes, you tend to think just about that one particular event and usually do not think about whether or not you can wear this item for other occasions as well. Consequently, you have many items in your closet that you wear only once.
Another common habit is that all of us are in love with some pieces and we are buying them regularly since this is just another piece that you should have! But when you look at your closet you realize that you already have many similar pieces.
It is even worse if you don’t need all of these items at all. Having 20 swimsuits, if you are spending only two weeks per year at the seaside is not particularly smart, is it?
To improve your wardrobe, write down a list of your daily activities for the next six months.
Separate your activities into the following groups.
#1 MAIN ACTIVITIES (you spend 80% of your time)
Your main activities include time spent at your job, your free time activities, and usual activities during the weekend.
Be very specific about each of them – specify what you are doing and the percentage of time spent, especially if you find your activities require a different wardrobe.
For example, for your job activities specify, if you are working from home (how many days), having client’s meetings (what kind of clients are they), presentations at conferences, meetings with different authorities, business trips, business dinners, etc.
Do the same for each activity.
#2- SECONDARY ACTIVITIES (you spend 20% of your time)
Your secondary activity during the next six months is a vacation and other special events like anniversaries, birthday parties, and Christmas business dinner.
Preparing the list of activities has many benefits:
- You can easily plan what kind of wardrobe you need
- For the main activities, you are going to need more items
- You can plan a wardrobe that can be easily transitioned to comfortable weekend wear as well
One of the main problems when building your wardrobe is buying clothes that you can wear in the office and also during the weekend. Of course, you should have a few items that are formal business, but this does not mean that your entire wardrobe should be split into office appropriate and weekend appropriate clothes.
When you know exactly what kind of activities you need clothes for, this becomes much easier.
When you are buying your next pair of pants, think about how you can pair them also with more casual pieces and wear them during your free time (e.g. pair them up with a white T-shirt and sneakers).
Who said that at the weekend you should wear mainly jeans and sporty trousers? If you don’t feel comfortable in this, you have plenty of other options.
I personally hate jeans. I wear them, but rarely. I don’t feel comfortable in them at all. I have two pairs of jeans and both my sister has bought for me. Honestly, I don’t know how to buy a good pair of jeans for myself. This is the only item that I do not enjoy buying.
Now, let’s dive into your style.
“Style is a way to say who you are without having to speak.” – Rachel Zoe
Style is not fashion.
Style is personal, whereas fashion is an external thing – trends that we are following.
Style is your self-expression.
Style is how you communicate to the world.
Style means accepting yourself, know your body shape well, and incorporate pieces that suit you well into your wardrobe.
If you are just following fashion trends that does not necessarily mean you have a good style. You know fashion well, but you might not know yourself well.
Style has a lot to do with confidence. Stylish women are also the confident ones.
Style is a source of strength when you feel weak.
Like Stacy London says,
“Do the fun thing. Do the outrageous thing. Wear the big necklace. Wear something that sparkles. Do something that brings you joy no matter how sad you are.”
Stye is a choice.
The choice to invest some time into yourself every single day.
Unfortunately, style is one of the first things you are willing to give up in order to focus on more important elements of your life. You might be overwhelmed with many other activities, like taking care for your family or preparing for a very important meeting.
But think about it. Taking care of yourself, and your appearance is important too and easier than other tasks, like preparation for the meeting. So, why not invest some time into your style and take care of the first step.
According to a study conducted by Dr. Albert Mehrabian at UCLA, 93% of communication is nonverbal.
When you show up, you send your message long before you say the first word.
The actual words are often secondary.
So, ensure that you make a good first impression – professionally that might apply to an important presentation or a meeting.
Like Tracy London is saying in the video (link attached later on) that our brain makes the judgment of someone’s look in less than three seconds.
Remember, three seconds!
“It’s easier to follow fashion than it is to have a personal style.” - Ralph Lauren
I am sure you already have your style; it just needs a little guidance.
If not, you can learn to have it!
When I feel stuck, but have the desire to achieve a new goal, I remember what Brian Tracy said,
»Everything is learnable. And what others have learned, you can learn as well.«
I like to follow Victoria Beckham as her style is elegant and sophisticated. But remembering her years ago, I think she is a clear example that it’s possible to learn what a good style is. Just look at the photos below!
Style is a skill which you can learn too.
Remember, it is never too late to show your personality.
I am a huge fan of women who are over 60 and have amazing style. When women get older, you can not often see that they would have really authentic style. That is why I have been wondering what their secret is. I think their common view is that they just don’t listen to anybody and also don’t follow the trends.
I wish I will have the courage to get dressed with a bit of this authenticity and confidence when I get older.
Just look at the outfits of Iris Apfel – she is such an inspiration at 96!
She is a master of self-expression and continues to be a style icon. Iris is recognized by colourful clothes, which she pairs with noticeable accessories and jewellery.
Women like her (e.g. Linda Rodin, Maye Musk, etc.) demonstrate that it is not about the age (or numbers like weight, price, etc.) – it is more about allowing yourself to show your individuality.
Despite their really unique style they still look natural, beautiful and confident!
Our style is telling our life story – it is the reflection of who we are, how we feel at this particular moment if we are stuck in life.
When you look at women’s wardrobe, you can find different patterns and behaviors.
Below I have summarized a few of the most common patterns.
#1 Covering-up pattern
When one is wearing leggings and long wide T-shirt, it is obvious that the main point is to cover the body that one is not happy with.
This is a way to avoid negative feelings about yourself. For example, if you are unhappy with your weight.
You can see this often. The person is expressing that she is not accepting herself and is having a hard time in life. Additionally, she does not accept and know her body shape and does not know how to dress up.
Sometimes this is only a period of time, sometimes it is the life story.
If you want to dress well, you should know yourself and accept yourself for exactly who you are and the body that you have at that moment – not after a strict diet, changing the job, getting divorced or finding the right partner.
The secret of stylish women is that they know how to get dressed well in any situation and even when they gain or lose weight.
And that is because they know and really accept themselves.
#2 Desperation to be young and trendy
Accepting your age and your profession is good. Age says what you have learned during that time and what kind of person you have become. Your profession says what you accomplished, and you should be proud of it.
I am not one of those who think that you should dress age appropriate, far from that!
But you should have a bit of sense about what still looks good on you and what does not.
Like Anna More (former CEO of Time, Inc.) said,
“It is important to “follow” your compass, not your clock.”
If you had missed the period to look young and trendy, when you were actually young, don’t try to recreate it now.
You will just look silly dressed in very trendy items that are intended to be sold to teenagers. Additionally, these items are usually not tailored to grown up women either and therefore, they are not going to fit you well.
But accessories are a different story. They can add youthfulness to your outfit, and even those from trendy stores can look interesting and nice.
#3 Strong habit of stability
Some people wear the same clothes for many years. It is good to have a consistent style, but wearing just the same items over and over again is a bit boring.
For example, it is enough to have one classic black pants that are of good quality. You do not need a ton of black pants that all look the same – just black pants without any interesting detail or anything interesting at all.
If you find yourself in this category than you know how difficult it is to get out of your comfort zone and buy an item, that you usually would not.
This is a long process to change your thinking and to act accordingly. Don’t react too quickly, when you decide to buy something that is out of your comfort zone. There is a big chance that you will never wear this item and this is not a solution.
HOW TO FIGURE OUT YOUR CURRENT STYLE?
Women might see themselves in totally different light than others do and they are usually not aware of what their outfits look like.
I recommend taking a photo of yourself – your work outfits for the next 2-3 weeks. It depends on how often you change your outfits, but make sure that you have a palette of what you often wear for your workday.
Before you leave your house, make a photo of your complete outfit. This will help you to figure out your current style; it will help you to learn and decide what looks best on you.
“There is a strong connection between finding your style and getting what you want.” - Stacy London
Discovering your style is a journey, not a destination.
Over the years, you have probably tried different styles. You might change it because of weight gain or loss. Sometimes our style changes because of life events, like starting a new job or divorcing. And ultimately, we change our style when we get older – we know our body better as well as our feelings, and we know exactly which outfits we feel most confident in.
Our style can change during our lifetime. That is the way we express our personality.
Find the steps that are going to help you to identify your signature style below.
#1 REALLY UNDERSTAND YOUR BODY SHAPE, EXCEPT AND BALANCE IT
These might be the most important and the hardest steps towards your style.
Stacy London, the famous stylist, has the below advice.
STEP #1: It is very honest and very rude:
»What you have to do to get to that point is to take the emotion out of it. You’ve got to stand or sit in front of a mirror totally naked for as long as it takes.”
Stacy admits that there is nothing easy about this and that taking the emotion out can take people years depending on what sort of baggage, trauma, and internalized patriarchy they’re carrying around.
STEP #2: Stacy said, that if you accept your body’s shape and dress it to suit a pleasing geometry in which your top, middle, and lower half are as in proportion as possible, the rest is simple.
Unfortunately, very, very few people are naturally symmetrical. But we can create this illusion with what we choose to wear.
The goal is to balance your body so that your top, middle, and lower half are as in proportion as possible.
Find the link to the interview with Stacy London here.
So, let’s do it. It is worth it!
It really helps to accept parts of your body that you don’t like and finally decide that you have to create something nice from what you’ve got. You only have one body!
When you are sitting in front of the mirror, start with the biggest part of your body. That is also the first part that you get dressed, and then you follow with the rest of your body.
Did you really expect that part of your body? How would you dress it? Imagine what would look good on that part and what not – if the biggest part of your body is your lower body, imagine what kind of pants, skirts, dresses would look good on you to achieve the proportion to the rest of your body.
Do the same with other parts, write down your thoughts about your proportions and what you think would look best on each part.
I recommend reading the Stacy’s London book The Truth About Style. She wrote that the title actually says it is the truth about you. Especially if you like the psychological part of your style, you will find it interesting.
#2 LEARN FROM YOUR STYLE ICON OR FASHION MUSE
Do you have your fashion icon?
If not, find one. I am sure you know women who look great and are basically timeless style icons, like Jackie Kennedy, Grace Kelly or Audrey Hepburn.
Look also for new celebrities whose style reinforces their personalities and contribute the overall strength of their brands. I like to follow Victoria Beckham, Olivia Palermo, and Rachel Zoe – I always find some inspiration for my outfits in their look.
Look at any photos of celebrities, Pinterest profiles, magazine ads, and more and notice if there are looks that you can recreate.
Please mind: don’t copy their style but learn from them.
When you compare your style icon with yourself, try to figure out what is similar to you both and then learn what would look good on you too. Maybe you both have long legs, similar hair, and skin colour.
Try to develop your wardrobe with pieces which you like on your style icon. Additionally, when you are thinking of buying a new piece, and you are not sure about it, ask yourself if your style icon would wear it and how it would look on you.
Be yourself and find guidance for your outfits.
#3 LEARN FROM WOMEN YOU MEET IN YOUR EVERYDAY LIFE
I like to observe how women who I meet in my business and private life are dressed. It is just in my nature that I usually notice the style of the woman, especially if it is a good one, before I notice the woman herself.
You can learn a lot when observing other people. Mind that it is better to watch what women look like in real life than only on photos. When they move, you can better notice what the outfit looks like.
#4 SET YOUR OWN STYLE GOALS
What is the story your style wants to express to the world?
To set your signature style, ask yourself the following question: What do I want to say?
If you don’t know what you are conveying through your style, you might deliver a wrong message.
You have to consider your life goals – short- and long-term.
Your short-term goals change daily. Today you may have a meeting with a bank, where your goal is to win new business. Tomorrow you have an internal meeting where you present a new case study to your colleagues. Your outfit choices for each of these days will likely be different.
Long-term goals are achieved slowly through your daily, short-term goals. Your long-term goal could be a work promotion or changing the job.
Set your own goals and follow through!
Who said that buying clothes is a rational activity? Most of the time it is not that at all.
And yet it is a smart decision to rationalize it to some degree.
Are you also one of the women who stare at a closet full of clothes yet still feel like you don’t have anything to wear?
I had that problem for many years. Whenever I opened the closet, I either had many casual clothes but nothing to wear for the office or vice versa. And in many of these pieces, I did not feel good when wearing them anyway.
I started to question myself why that was happening.
The main reason was emotional shopping.
When I saw something nice in the store, I bought it. I usually have a good sense what is fashionable, and that was my primary motivation.
At one point I decided to stop doing that.
I did not want to have so many clothes anymore, most of which I ended up wearing just a few times. I almost stopped shopping and tried to find some other way to rebuild my wardrobe but I was not sure how to continue. When I cleaned my closet at the end of the season, throwing away clothes that I did not like anymore, there were not many pieces left.
The closet was quite empty, but my feelings were the same as when the closet was full of clothes – the feeling I have nothing to wear.
However, there was one positive thing – I saw what I actually had in my wardrobe since it was finally well organized.
When I analyzed my pieces, I realized that I still loved those that were of a good quality and (usually) I paid more for.
After all, I need fewer pieces, but those should be of a good quality and if possible the ones that I can wear at the office and also after work or during the weekend.
And the most important factor – they should fit me well, and I should feel good and confident wearing them.
My shopping strategy changed a lot. Most items I keep in my wardrobe lately I shop for online – I am a huge online shopper. And even when I do shop in a store, I know exactly what I am looking for and I spend much less time.
My friend Mojca was shocked the last time we went shopping together. We were visiting Belgrade for my B-day, and we did some shopping as well. I tried a leather jacket and decided to buy it – it took me just a few minutes to decide.
Mojca said, “OMG, this is your personal record, you always spend more time for shopping.”
The main reason for this is that I have had a leather jacket on my shopping list for a long time and I knew exactly what I was looking for – it should be in black leather, biker model with interesting details and I had defined budget for it.
And this one is a perfect unique piece.
Of course, emotional shopping could be fun, especially when you spend time with friends. But make sure, it does not include bigger items, but rather accessories or small value clothes.
Here is the advice how to avoid emotional shopping and build the wardrobe that you are going to be happy to wear for many occasions and for a long time.
#1 MAKE A WARDROBE LIST
Similar to preparing a grocery list, you need to also prepare your wardrobe list.
When you think you need a new piece do the following:
- Be specific regarding the colour, fabric, and tailoring that you need (e.g. wide leg trousers in camel, high waisted, made from wool)
- Check in your closet how you would pair this new piece with at least two items that you own
- Be persistent and look for the item you want until you find it. It is worth it.
Don’t go shopping without the list of things you need to buy. The list should include everything you will need for your primary and secondary activities stated above. Add new items and check off items after you buy them.
#2 SHOP SMARTER
Stacy London says,
“Shopping, like exercise, is successful when it is consistent.”
I can relate to this one. But not when it comes to exercise, of course!
Shopping should become one of your habits.
If you do it twice per week, to check off some (any) items on your list, it is much better than trying to buy everything in one day. If you do the shopping only on a big trip once per year, I think you don’t buy things that you really need, since your needs can change a lot from month to month.
If you really think about it, you can organize yourself in such a way that you spend two hours per week shopping.
With a list go to the store (I always have mine on my phone). Stick with only the things you can check off the list. You may see many other items which look beautiful, but if they are not on your list, don’t get distracted.
If you are an online shopper, this becomes much easier – you can do the shopping at night or early in the morning, whenever you have some time for yourself.
I have preferred online stores, and I check their new items a few times per week. I save those I like in the wish list and don’t buy them until I find the item that fulfills all of my requirements including the price.
If you have a system that works, you will prevent a situation where you wait until the absolutely last moment to think about a dress for your business event. Then you buy one in a panic, end up not loving it, and you regret it.
You will never buy the perfect thing when rushing, and there is no time for tailoring.
The last time I got an invitation for an interesting presentation. I had only a few days to prepare my slides, and two days before the presentation I realized that I would need a classic pants for it. I had an urgent shopping and spent three hours before I found appropriate pants and after that hardly managed to arrange for tailoring (shortening them).
To be honest, these pants are not the ones that I would have bought if I had had more time. Probably I would buy them online, send back if they would not fit well and before finding the perfect ones I would spend less time.
#3 MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR BUDGET
Your mantra should be quality over quantity.
If you buy one quality item that lasts, it is more valuable than five crappy pieces that won’t, especially considering your basic wardrobe. For trendy pieces, you can have a different strategy.
A pair of quality pants that are well tailored might cost three times as much, but they will last longer, look richer and feel a hundred times better.
Wherever you shop, you should focus on fabric and tailoring.
“The best colour in the whole world is the one that looks good on you.”- Coco Chanel
Colours have a very powerful impact on our image – inside and outside:
- Impact to our mood, emotions, self-esteem
- Impact to our self-expression
It is well known that there is a connection between the colours that we wear and our feelings. Some colours are powerful for us, help us improve our energy and our feelings. While others have the opposite impact – they can wash us out, make us sad and lower our energy.
Similar as inside the colours have an impact also on our outside image– what we want to communicate to the world and how to express ourselves.
If you select a bright red dress for your friend’s birthday party, you will probably get positive attention and stand out. However, wearing a similar dress to a formal business meeting or presentations that you are having might be distracting and is going to shift the attention of your audience.
Having your signature colour palette is an important step when you are creating your signature wardrobe.
Colours are basically broken down into cool and warm colours. However, any colour can be made to appear warmer or cooler.
Not just your skin tone but rather your skin undertone plays the larger role in determining whether you look better in warm or cool colours.
The warm and cool categories are classified as follows:
- WARM: a golden, yellowish, or peach skin tone with green undertones
- COOL: a beige, pink, or rosy skin tones with blue, purple undertones.
This quick self-assessments can help you determine whether you are warm or cool:
- Look at the inside of your wrist. If your veins appear more blue or purple, you are likely cool. If they seem green, you are probably warm.
- Hold up a piece of crisp white paper next to your face. Do you notice more of a yellow-redness to your face (warm) or a blue-pink (cool)? You should look at the tone of your skin colour reflecting against the page.
- Do you tend to wear more silver or gold jewelry? Gold generally compliments warmer individuals while silver looks best on those who are cool.
I have summarized the above from the book The Power of Style by Bobbie Thomas. If you are interested in clearer guidance on colour palettes, I recommend reading it.
There is also plenty of other research available to help you break out your unique colouring and decide which colour best fits you.
Simply knowing whether you are warm or cool is very helpful, since it is easier to mix and match your pieces in selected colours.
To create your own colour compass also consider your personality, your feelings, as well as likes and dislikes.
I identify myself as a cool coloured person, and most of the colours that I choose are usually a cooler versions of different colours. But this is not always the case. I love wearing camel which is a warm colour, especially when buying classic investment pieces (e.g. trench coat, winter coat, hat). And I prefer gold jewelry to silver.
It is best to try the item, see how you feel and look in it and then decide whether this colour fits you or not.
The four main types of colours are the following.
#1 EARTH TONE COLOURS – NEUTRALS: white, ivory, beige, camel.
They play well with other colours. They are sophisticated, and everyone can wear them, regardless of age. They are both modern and mature. These colours can make great investment pieces that are timeless.
They are associated with trustworthy, warm, friendly, and approachable personality traits.
White can help you look organized, responsible, and under control. It can also help you stand out, so make sure it is part of your goal.
#2 DARK COLOURS: gray, black, navy.
These tones are often viewed as expressing power, control and intimidation. Think back to black. Black can be seen as a boundary – a reason that many business and authority figures dress in black.
“Black is, in the word of a very poetic Wikipedia editor, “the colour most commonly associated with mourning, the end, secrets, magic, power, violence, evil, and elegance. “” (from the book Women in Clothes; Sheila Heiti, Heidi Julavitas, Leanne Shapton & 639 others; 2014)
Black can be a colour for people uncomfortable with their body image, to keep attention away.
#3 BRIGHT COLOURS: bold and powerful colours.
These should be worn when you want to be seen. Make sure you choose your most flattering colours.
The impression is your are creative, expressive, extroverted and positive.
Contrast with your colouring can overpower you or cause you to get lost. That is how I feel in bright red – as if the colour eats my personality.
#4 PASTEL COLOURS
These light colours can be seen as youthful, but when worn with darks or neutrals they can offer a refreshing twist – when paired with black they can offer a modern edge, gray can age them up and worn with white the effect can be eye-catching.
Colour is one more tool in your style that help you say what you want, and to get what you want!
Create your basic colour palette from the above-stated colour groups.
Start with your favorite colour (a colour that you feel most relaxed in) and power colour (when you want to stand out or be memorable). After that, you add more colours so that you come up with 6-8 colours that create your personal colour palette.
But this is not always the rule. I know women that have a great style with fewer colours in their colour palette, like my friend Martina (photos above). The majority of her outfits are in black or in black and white. From time to time she wears red; she looks amazing in red. She stays true to herself with a very consistent style.
My personal colour palette is as follows:
- Favorite colour: navy (it is a great alternative to black and brown and to mix with bright colour)
- Power colour: white
- Neutrals: beige, camel
- Darks: black (I have been wearing more black lately)
- Brights: blue, green
- Pastels: nude
Break the rules and make exceptions!
“Trying to describe my closet stresses me out.“- Ava V.
I want more simplicity lately, to buy less but better, and to be able to wear these items for different occasions at work and transform them to the weekend outfits too.
I have changed a lot of things, and I can feel the difference – I only buy clothes I actually wear, and this definitely wasn’t always the case before.
I hope you are more prepared than ever to review your current wardrobe.
How do these two closets make you feel?
Would you rather start your day feeling stressed and overwhelmed or calm and organized?
Let’s see the benefits of your closet purge in order to rebuild it.
#1 Fewer Items means more creativity
I got rid of a lot of clothes from my closet, like:
- clothes that I actually never wear or did not wear for the last few years
- anything that does not fit my body shape anymore
- damaged clothes
- clothes to please or cover up
- anything that is tainting the new vision of my style
I only kept the best items and put only one piece on a hanger which means I can finally see what I actually have and mix the things I love. If you can’t see it, you won’t wear it.
As a result, I have fewer clothes yet wear more clothes.
“It stands to reason that if you keep only the best, you will always look your best. “
The exception to this is if it is a special investment item or one with sentimental value.
Studies have found that we tend to value things that we own more highly than they are really worth and thus we find them more difficult to get rid of.
Pretend you don’t own it yet. Tom Stafford describes a simple antidote to the endowment effect. Ask the killer question: “If I did not own this item, how much would I pay to obtain it?”
This is a very strict strategy. But it helps to see your items from a rational perspective and it gets rid of emotions when you are deciding what to keep in the closet.
#2 Perfect piece is eternal joy for me
Right now I am looking for the perfect sunglasses.
I have a very specific idea of what I am looking for, and I know it is going to take me forever to find it. But that is ok, I like the research, and there is such pleasure in finding the piece that fits you perfectly.
By the time I finished writing this guide I just bought new sunglasses. I love them!
#3 Quality means longevity
To have an item actually age well, it should be of top quality. That does not mean it should be super expensive, but it does mean taking a few seconds to touch the piece and look at the label.
Sometimes “luxury“ does not guarantee quality. We all have to learn that.
“It takes the same amount of time to put on good clothes as bad clothes.”- Stacy London
Never, ever give up on yourself. It is always possible to find something to wear that makes you feel chic and confident.
What are your most important key pieces?
Prepare a list of your key pieces that includes items that you own (after your closet detox) and items that you may need.
Key pieces are those that are easy to mix and match with other items, and you will wear them a lot. The goal is their versatility. Therefore, list five concrete outfits using those key pieces.
Choose your key pieces based on what you have learned so far:
- Your main activities (80% of your time) and secondary activities (20% of your time)
- Your current style (photos of your daily outfit for 2-3 weeks)
- Your body shape (balance your body)
- Your goal signature style (consider your short- and long-term life goals)
- Your colour palette (warm or cool colours)
Below you will find some suggestions of key pieces, but your list might look different.
“Clothes seem like literature to me. The text of a dream.“- Eileen Myles
You should have at least one suit – either a pants or skirt suit. Black is safe, but navy, gray or camel also look polished. This is not only a “should have” piece for work, but you will need it for other occasions as well.
“Every woman – when she goes to a job interview or a business meeting, or when she stands for election in public office, dresses in business attire – wears modest clothing according to cultural standards. She wants to come across as confident and wants people to have confidence in her abilities.” (From the book Women in Clothes; Sheila Heiti, Heidi Julavitas, Leanne Shapton & 639 others; 2014)
You can wear the pieces separately, mix and match them with other items in your closet to create more outfits.
Try to create a casual outfit with T-shirt and sneakers too. Why not? Look how stylish Victoria Beckham looks.
Look for a couple of blazers in neutral colours or neutral print that will mix and match with work and weekend wear and can be dressed up or dressed down. Blazers of good quality and with some interesting details (gold buttons, special collar, flared sleeves) are creating statement outfits.
Fabrics like cotton and linen are great in summer. Linen is a very breathable fabric. When blended with cotton or silk the piece is softer. In winter opt for blazers in wool, cashmere, and velvet.
Times are changing. Women are buying fewer blazers than in the past. Therefore, make sure you are buying the right ones which you will wear to different occasions (e.g. the white suit that Amal Clooney is wearing below can be broken up for a more casual look, like J.Crew blazer).
A leather jacket looks polished and is versatile. If you are allowed to wear it for work, you are a lucky one. Pair it with a soft dress, skirt or some lace details to add contrast.
This is a timeless piece – elegant for the office and adds polish to casual looks.
Tailored ones, with details and in darker colours, can be worn as an evening coat. Time and money-saver.
You can also decide for an overcoat in wool – some are reversible which means maximum versatility.
When you go out in winter, this is the main piece that others notice. That is why it is so important that you chose the right one, especially if you wear it for a few months a year. Make sure to buy it in a neutral colour, for versatility and longevity. Longer is chic, but a bit less practical.
Quality is very important- chose it in wool and cashmere. Believe me, every percentage of these two fabrics counts! The difference between 90% and 100% wool coat when you touch it is huge. Therefore, check the labels, touch it and try it. If it is of good quality, you will wear it for many years.
Day dress: Dresses are so feminine. Get a dress that defines a waist and is tailored. That is especially important with petite.
Fabrics like silk, cotton, jersey, and wool are great choices. Linen is good for summer but tends to wrinkle easily. Also tropical wool does well in summer since it can absorb moisture while staying dry to the touch and it is a natural UV blocker.
Cocktail and evening dress: Doesn’t have to be black but should be in any solid colour, especially one that is flattering to your eye, skin and hair colour. You can change the feel of the dress by changing accessories.
Instead of a dress, you can choose a jumpsuit – it is stylish, elegant and different.
Pencil skirt: Will work with all blazers and is especially flattering with blouses when worn to work. Skirts are easier to fit than pants on everyone; great are in stretch fabric. Black and white are a must because of their versatility (also for evening looks) but also check for other colours and patterns.
Mixing prints when wearing skirt and blouse is very interesting but can be tricky especially if you want to achieve a chic and elegant look. There is one rule – stay in the same colour palette. See below – blouse and skirt are in the same colours.
A-line skirt: universally flattering to all body types; the waist looks small.
A flattering pair of basic pants will pair well with all types of tops. For wide-leg or flares make sure they are long enough if your wear them with heels.
A soft blouse: A fluid blouse; try it with interesting details like the tie front which is very feminine or sleeve details. Select it in silk.
A white shirt: Whether it is worn business or casual, this versatile classic adds polish.
I think Jenna Lyons is a queen of a white shirt. If you don’t know Jenna, she is an ex Creative director of J.Crew that left her job earlier this year and was referred to as the woman who dresses America. She was at J.Crew for 26 years!
She has a unique style. I like how she wears shirts – her outfit always looks effortless and sophisticated whether for business or casual occasions.
See Jenna’s style lesson including on rolling the sleeves here.
Basic tops: In different colours and prints are the most time-effective way to show your personality. Look for tops with interesting cuts and details. (lace details, interesting sleeves, glitter details).
Denim is a great piece -opt for both a light and a dark hue for maximum versatility. Dark-wash denim is work appropriate if not forbidden by your dress code. Find a fit that you love and gives great ass. In warmer months you may opt for lightweight denim in white.
When you prepared a plan for your basic wardrobe, you can start to add some trendy items. This part depends on your lifestyle and business style.
Fashion is where innovations are born, but you need to incorporate fashion intelligently.
To balance your wardrobe use the 80/20 rule (Pareto principle). For every 4 “classic” items you can add 1 trendy fashion item to your wardrobe.
Make sure, that you don’t select items which are fashionable for only one season. To prevent this check the next season’s trends, if your item is still in. If you are shopping during a sale, check new arrivals before you decide to buy this trendy piece.
My favorite trendy items at the moment are jumpsuit and culottes. I wear them to the office, during weekends and also for special occasions, like dinners.
Jumpsuit: The most versatile and elegant is a sleeveless jumpsuit. You have many options to dress it down or dress it up and wear it during the whole year. Add belt and heels for a chic outfit. In colder months wear it with a shirt or bodysuit.
Tips: Ankle length and high waisted will not make you look short. If they come just below the knee, wear them only with high heels.
Nude shoes – heels, sandals or flats in your skin tone. You can pair them with any outfit. Nude heels can make you look taller.
Pretty pumps: whether you invest in black, a fun colour, shiny pumps, or snakeskin, just be sure to have a pair of heels that make you happy.
Fun Flats: Whether they are in an interesting colour or are made of a trendy print or material, flats are an easy way to make a stylish statement. Pointed toe lengthens your leg regardless of the heel.
I am also a fan of the block heel since it is comfortable, stylish and adds height. Also kitten heels could be comfortable, but I am still a bit reserved when it comes to them.
Boots: choose ones that are not too casual and not too dressy; just right for many outfits. Higher are nice to pair with a skirt, yet ankle boots are more versatile.
Classic Handbags: When time is the most important factor, one bag that can go with everything is helpful. Look for one that is sleek and structured enough to carry to work and big enough to throw in all the kids’ stuff. Neutral colours such as nude or stone instead of black and brown are light enough for four-season wear.
Smaller Purses: I just love them – from cross-body bags to clutches. The only problem is that you should be well organized to put all the stuff you need in. Consider black with interesting details, anything metallic, vibrant colours or animal print which can be very versatile.
A statement Scarf: Whether it is a solid pop of colour, your favorite animal print, or in neutral colours, a scarf can be worn and styled in countless ways. One beautiful printed scarf can turn a T-shirt and jeans into a real “outfit.” To build chic and sophisticated outfit opt for silk fabric.
For a very formal look, the scarf looks good also on your tote.
Choose them in black, metal (gold or silver) or go to more noticeable colours like a tortoise. Don’t be too overwhelmed with just the certain shape of glasses that fit your face shape. This is the most common advice when it comes to sunglasses but in practice it doesn’t seem to work.
I think the details make a big difference with the same shape. So break the rules and try the shape of glasses that you like from different designers to find the perfect fit for yourself.
“I don’t just want to dress the person. I want to address the person.”- Donna Karan
Did you know that 70% of clothes that an average woman owns, in fact, she almost never wears?
To create your perfect outfits, your goal should be versatility of your pieces and to really wear your whole wardrobe.
See below some tips that will help you achieve this goal.
TIP #1: THE 80/20 RULE
The rule is simple – for your main activities, you are going to wear 80% of your wardrobe.
To make sure that you really have the right pieces select the outfits that you are going to wear for your three most important activities. Select a few formulas for each activity (e.g. your job, daytime activities, usual activities during the weekend).
The rest of your wardrobe (20%) you are going to wear for your secondary activities.
Select other outfits that you want to wear during the next six months for your secondary activities (e.g. special occasions, vacation).
TIP #2: “DRESS FOR THE JOB YOU WANT.”
What is your “power look” that makes you feel confident and sophisticated?
Stacy London says that creating a powerful work look is about respect for both yourself and your environment. You want to project confidence and self-awareness, and you want your clients and superiors to know that you take them, and your work, seriously. How do you convey respect through clothes? “No rips, no tears, no stains, no missing buttons,” Stacy says. “You have to put in enough effort to say, there’s a reason I’m here, there’s a reason that I belong here, there’s a reason that I want to evolve here.’’ (WOMAN@FORBES; April 18, 2017)
Power dressing communicates confidence –monochromatic outfits, bold-patterned coats, statement jewelry, and killer tailoring. That is the reason why many business and authority figures dress in (dark) suits.
But with a change of the business environment power dressing does not involve only a power suit. If you are more into floral details, balance this with pieces that have clean lines.
TIP #2: QUALITY MATTERS
Allow yourself to splurge on basic wardrobe. Classic pieces of good quality are basically timeless, you can easily wear them for many years, and they still look good after all that time.
Buying a classic piece of a low quality is a waste of time and money to me since I know I will need a new one shortly. And believe me, it is easy to notice if a woman is wearing quality clothes or not.
Therefore, chose the quality – the great fabrics that look rich and the killer tailoring.
TIP #3: BLEND YOUR ITEMS
Many women are separating their professional and personal styles.
Stop it! These two should just build YOUR significant style.
Do not divide your closet into work and non-work pieces. With casual business style, it is possible to find balance and blend your pieces. For example, the blazer that you wear for work can easily become a weekend favorite by pairing it with items that are more casual – scrunch up the sleeves and wear it with a T-shirt and sneakers, similar to how Victoria Beckham is wearing it.
When you are buying new items, just consider that mentality and find ways to wear professional and casual pieces together. Do not separate your work wear but incorporate it into your weekend wardrobe.
TIP #4: PAIRING SEASONAL ITEMS
I have noticed in stores and online that every year there are fewer differences between seasonal items and more mixing and matching of warm-and cool- weather pieces.
This is a great tip to incorporate into your personal style, and the possibilities are endless. You can wear a summer dress into fall and winter by pairing it with a cardigan. A summer dress with lace details or a long summer dress could be paired with a leather jacket to add contrast.
TIP #5: FEW WAYS YOU COULD UPGRADE YOUR EVERYDAY LOOK
- Do not wear what does not fit. If you have lost or gained weight, do not wear clothes that fit you before. You will look like a mess.
- Define your waist, even if you have a tummy. The belt you choose must be proportional to your frame – if you are plus size that means a thicker belt.
- Add colours, pattern, and shine to your wardrobe. If you are not sure how to do it, start with accessories – scarves, belts, bags, and jewelry.
- Try a fun jewelry
Wear a statement necklace or earrings, but never both if you do not want to look like a Christmas tree. Try big earrings or a necklace (with small earrings) and one other piece of jewelry – bracelets or a cocktail rings.
- Expand your comfort zone step by step:
- Wear an outfit that is out of your comfort zone
- Wear an item you have been saving for a special occasion
- Buy a piece that is bold for you and pair it with basics
- Shoes can be a game changer. Many people overlook footwear in favor of what is up. If you wear ugly shoes with elegant clothes, the whole outfit is ugly (I see this often!). Choose shoes that elevate your outfit and feel like art. Remember, art never goes out of fashion!
See Jenna Lyons love story with shoes here.
“Buy less, choose well.“- Vivienne Westwood
The additional tips below will help you to enjoy the shopping and love the items you buy.
#1 Less is more:
Buy fewer but better by making decision upfront.
#2 Don’t be sucked by Sales: Don’t buy things just because they are on sale.
Before buying, ask yourself:
Is it an item that works with your existing wardrobe? Is it something that you have been actively looking for? Does it fit well?
If you are an online shopper, this is much easier. When the sale starts, check in your wish list items that you saved before. If something is not on your wish list, you probably were not actively looking for it before.
#3 Buy outfits instead of items:
If you need to buy one piece make sure, it works with at least two other items you own, or it will hang in your closet unused. If you do not enjoy creating outfits by yourself, buy an outfit – you will save time and don’t feel frustrated when realize it goes with nothing you own.
#4 Prepare a shopping list and prioritize it: Divide your list to high priority, medium priority and low priority.
I have my shopping list in Google Drive and can always check and update it from my phone.
#5 Stick to your budget: Create a style budget for the next few months. Have a plan and stick to it by following your priorities.
Buy the best quality you can while not breaking the budget.
You are going to spend time getting dressed in any case. So doesn’t it make more sense instead of spending up to ten minutes every morning to dedicate an hour on the weekend to pre-plan your outfits and ensure that you are in control of your style every day?
The goal is to spend the same amount of time but do it in advance, even for special occasions.
The main benefits to pre-plan the outfits are the following:
- You will later feel good about what you are wearing.
- You will try all clothes in one-time frame faster.
- You can be more creative since you do not have time pressure.
- You can realize that you are missing a slip, some tights, or a bra to complete the outfit.
- You can notice that you are missing a button or any other detail.
- Make it fun: put on some music, pour a glass of wine and enjoy the experience!
Do not try on clothes and pre-plan the outfits when you just wake up, or if you feel tired or sick. Make sure you are feeling good and positive, as it will show in your outfits.
I usually do it after I iron my clothes during the weekend. This is a good time to check what you want to wear during the week, try it if necessary and plan accessories.
It is not a bad idea to have a second opinion from a friend. So if you are meeting a friend, take this opportunity to show her your planned outfits and ask for the opinion. There is always more than one way to wear clothes, and it is fun to learn how someone else would style and accessorize your outfits.
To ensure that your wardrobe always looks organized and you find what you are looking for, see below some tips and tricks.
TIP 1#: ARRANGE BY OUTFITS
Do you have a full closet of beautiful items and you don’t know how to put them together?
Organize items in whole outfits. Especially if you are buying outfits instead of items, arrange the same at home – head to toe, and hang them in the closet that way.
In the morning, it will only take a few minutes to get dressed.
TIP 2#: ARRANGE BY GARMENTS
If it is easy for you to put together different items, mix and match them and be creative as much as possible keep similar items together – dresses, skirts, pants, and shirts should be separated by type. When you put something back in your closet, make sure it is in the proper place.
As a next step, you can organize each garments group by colour. This will help you immediately find what you are looking for.
TIP 3#: ARRANGE SPECIAL OUTFITS
Arrange separate area for your special outfits like your power look and your safe look.
I have a safe look (usually it is in navy) for the days when I feel like shit or overwhelmed with many tasks in the morning. It feels like a win just to grab my safe look and not think about my clothes at all.
Make sure that your special looks are easy to find in the morning, just grab, and go.
TIP 4#: SWAP SEASONAL AND SPECIAL OCCASION
Strictly seasonal pieces or situational items that will not be worn for months, as ski jackets and bathing suits store separately and keep them in separate storage when they are not in use.
“It’s good to be different. No one ever stood out in a flock.” - Lynn Harles
In the end, I just want to emphasize few final recommendations and guidance on how to achieve your unique business casual style.
#1 Be creative and express your personality, have fun
The way you dress is the best representation of who you are.
There are technical rules on how clothes fit your body shape and which colours to wear.
At the end, style is about personal expression. So wear what feels authentic to your personality and curate your unique look.
When it comes to decision making I like Greg’s McKeown The 90 Per Cent Rule which he describes in his book Essentialism and it’s one you can apply to just about every decision or dilemma.
90% of your style decision should be about making you happy and express real you; 10 % can be about making a good impression and get what you want.
It is always possible to create an outfit that makes you happy, always! Even if you have a dress code. You should just find the right way. Let instinct guide you.
Have fun and try new things.
Stay true to yourself and do not allow yourself to become a walking advertisement of someone else’s idea. This could be the latest fashion trend or nevertheless the dress code of your company.
So don’t be obsessed with wearing only the hottest designer pieces. The same goes for the dress code if you don’t upgrade it with your own signature style.
Invest in your core confidence and your unique appearance, so that it is a true reflection of who you are.
“Clothes are language….It was, at best an experiment in using clothes to figure out how I appeared in the world, concretely, to others, and what I sounded like visually. That’s how I thought of it, how I sounded through what I wore.“ – From the book Worn Stories, Emily Spivack, 2014
#2 Be consistent when it comes to achieving your goals
The nonverbal communication is strong.
The unspoken messages we are sending out through our style are an accurate expression of who we are and what we want.
“Your clothing choices can make you appear confident, powerful, or desirable, or they can cause you to appear unorganized, careless, or insecure.”- Bobbie Thomas
You should use your style to your advantage to strengthen your messages and help you achieve your goals.
#3 Style is your lifestyle choice
Style should become your habit.
Only if you commit, you will see lasting results.
Similar like exercising a few days a month will not lead to six-pack abs, a few days a month also will not lead to a stronger signature style.
If you do it every day, however, you are far more likely to succeed.
#4 Stop waiting for the right moment – dress your best right now
I am sure you know this one:
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” – Chinese Proverb
Do not wait for the right moment to dress your best and look your best.
Now is the right moment!
Accept yourself and love yourself as you are.
Work with what you got to create the ideal YOU!
You made it through! Now, how are you doing on the implementation front?
If you are thinking:
“There is so much information here. How do I apply it all and seeing amazing results?”
I have prepared a Do-it-Yourself worksheet so you can work through the steps on your own. This bonus will help save you a lot of time when creating your uniques wardrobe and make the journey much easier.
You can download your Bonus and the PDF version of this guide by signing up below.
If you loved this guide, leave a comment below to let me know what you loved the most. And if you have any questions, leave comments as well!
Thank you so much for reading and sharing.