Q&A: Should my wardrobe be black and white?

Question: I’m starting a new role as a junior medical professional in a relatively conservative setting and was wondering if I should just buy mostly black and white staples?

I was planning on buying shirts, a white blazer as I have lots of black ones and already own a black pencil skirt – what else do I need? I am a fan of budget friendly places like Portmans, Forcast, Sussan , Jacquie E and sometimes Target as well.

And can tops without a collar be put together with black skirts and still look professional and conservative (without a blazer)?

I love hearing from BusiChics and helping troubleshoot the conundrum of what to wear to work. I recently received this question and thought I’d share my response with you.

Having basics that make you feel great combined with accessories and pieces that add some interest and showcase your personality (surely I’m not the only one who enjoys seeing flashes of personality in the workplace!?) makes the process of putting great confidence-boosting outfits together an easier and more enjoyable process.

Advanced Basics Office Outfits ASOS

Advanced Basics: think beyond the black & white and feel free to incorporate shapes that are flattering for you! A-line skirts are a great alternative to pencil skirts as they remove need to worry about VPL and they often come with pockets; work dresses don’t have to be shift and this sleeved option is chic enough for social events after work; a sleeveless blazer or trench coat add work-approp structure to outfits (simply layer a shirt, l/s tee or knit underneath if bare shoulders are no-go in your workplace) and suits don’t have to be black – did you know that navy is a colour that conveys trustworthiness? Although I suggest a full top rather a crop 😉 Images collaged from ASOS

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What are the basics?

For a conservative office-y workplace the general workwear basics can be listed as follows:

  • outerwear: a transeasonal trench coat or blazer. In Autumn/Winter, a coat that keeps you warm.
  • sub-outerwear: cardigan or of-the-moment sleeveless blazer…
  • top: shirt/blouse/knitwear
  • bottom: skirt or trousers
  • dress: can be worn on its own or layered with the above.
  • shoes: I like to have one pair for walking and keep my work shoes at my desk or carry them with me.
  • bag: structured enough for work, large enough to fit you life, light enough to not dislocate your shoulder.
  • accessories: sprinkle on to add interest, complete your look or show your personality.

The case against an all-black-and-white wardrobe

A black and white wardrobe sure makes it easy to put outfits together but note that the sole supply of those two alone is not necessarily perfect. Have you ever notice when an all-black outfit of say a top, jacket and skirt are all black but in different fabrics so there are actually three different tones of black? In the bright light of day it can look a little all-over-the-shop and heap of black can create quite a sombre wardrobe and make you look older. And then there’s white which aren’t always bright, can be unflattering for skin tones when under office lighting but most annoyingly attract spag bol, soy sauce, laksa and not to mention make up, meaning they spend more time getting washed than in your wardrobe!

The solution is to incorporate grey, navy and sand-tones into your basic wardrobe. Navy is universally flattering on all skin tones (as I mentioned in my own obsessed post) and all of these will work back with the existing black and white items in our wardrobe. From here, think about a signature colour or print to add some personality into your work wardrobe. Panetone’s colour of the year is marsala, a light-burgandy hue, but darker shades are also wonderful when worked back with those basics in navy, grey, sand and yes black and white. Opt for a colourful coat in a colour that is flattering to your skintone, shirt (which can be layered under knitwear), scarf, belt or shoes. Great (but comfy!) shoes and a simple belt also goes a long way to add polish to a basic pair of pants or pencil skirt.

To collar or not to collar?

As to your question around collars: first off observe what’s the done thing in your workplace and follow the lead of those whose opinion you admire or are trying to prove yourself to. That said most professionals I’ve worked with haven’t needed to necessarily wear a collar or traditional blazer – although they will have some handy in their repertoire. The only must is to have sleeves and in summer this could mean layering  cardigan over a sleeveless dress or top. Knitwear is another category that you should look into as it is more comfortable to wear than stiff jackets and pants/skirts – see this post on milano knitwear for ideas.

And don’t stop with your clothes – grooming is so SO important! Take care to keep hair, make up and accessories, minimal while stylish and professional. Dry shampoo is a god-send to make drab/oily hair look fresh and as a medial professional, take special care to make sure that hands are manicured. This does not mean that you need to wear nail polish but neat nails and hydrated skin won’t go astray as patients will notice them when say you’re taking notes or attending to them.

So to recap:

  • Think beyond black & white. Try navy, grey and sand-stone.
  • Dress to allow movement, create your professional image and fit in with your lifestyle. Knitwear is great for those who need some give.
  • Observe what your colleagues and senior staff do. While blazers and collars are often not mandatory, some sort of structure is.

For the latest/on-sale “BusinessChic staple” items I come across, make sure you are following me on Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/busichic

What did you think about this post? What would you add? 

If you have questions that you’d like me to answer – ask away! If however you need urgent assistance – whether that’s in-person or online – consult my Personal Shopping service.

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