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Time for a business-wardrobe workout

Some key looks will take you from here right through the new year

Grey-check dress from Dorothy Perkins.

When it comes to buying professional workwear, there is still a severe case of sartorial gender inequality. To be honest, men have it easy when it comes to the office wardrobe. The old reliable suit, shirt and tie package solves the issue for most male executives. Give or take a few small adjustments on fabric, shape and buttoning, the dominant elements don’t change much from year to year. For women, because there is so much choice, it’s hard to strike a balance between too glamorous or too utilitarian. However, for both sexes there are some key looks that will take you from here right through the new year.

Whatever your choice of career, you want the focus to be on your performance and expertise so your clothes should not be the centre of attention. Top retail stores like Brown Thomas, Dunnes Stores, M&S, Next and Debenhams have devoted key sections of their shops to "workwear", with personal advisers at hand.

Dorothy Perkins and Wallis have a number of wardrobe staples available to order on-line. For stressed-out workers on a daily commute, the internet takes the backache out of trawling through the shops. All you need is your virtual shopping basket, a credit card and a certain amount of restraint! Park the bottle of wine before embarking on your seasonal spree.

Red dress from Wallis.

Fashion trends are budget-friendly for 2018. Reliable skirt suits worn with a fitted white shirt or a slim-fit sweater tick the top female office trends. The flexible black polo neck is also handy for ringing the changes and you can add extra sparkle with embellishments at the neckline and sleeves.


Next Direct shirts has bright two-tone collared shirts with contrasting patterns. Sleeves come with double cuffs and novelty cufflinks for a polished finish. The polo-shirt, skinny-cut pants and zip-up jacket is perfect for the less formal workplace.

Donna Karan revolutionised the female work wardrobe with her capsule “Seven Easy Pieces” collection a decade ago. Karan’s simple bodysuit was the centrepiece for applying flared midi-skirts teamed with wrap cardigans; fluid trousers with easy-fit jackets; pencil skirts and ballet blouses; fitted shirts; pashmina scarves and statement jewellery. Stuffy suits and flouncy dresses could be consigned to the past.

Getting the image right

The rise in video conferencing and Skype interviews has put increased emphasis on getting the image right and not putting off potential clients or employers by wearing sloppy shirts, leisurewear tee-shirts or baggy fleeces. Menswear at Arnotts and Topman are reporting a surge in the sales of single-breasted suits and ties.

Don’t rule out the ole “Peckham rye” for corporate presentations, power lunches and AGMs. The tie conveys that you made the extra effort and went that extra mile to present a professional image. The slim-fit shirt adds a sleeker silhouette for those sporting a six pack (not Heineken) and toned Gregory Pecs. Keep a couple of low-rise turtlenecks in the absence of a freshly ironed shirt.

The Paul Smith slimline suit is still popular, but there is a swing to a more relaxed fit, looser in the leg and the jacket. Think Gordon Gekko's '80s power suit in Wall Street. Those big pockets are good for holding wads of high-earning cash if your boss can afford to pay you more than just a compliment on your fabulous clothes.

Finally, a few grooming tips.

No matter how much you want to grow a full, bushy beard and channel your inner Charles Stuart Parnell, it may not appeal to the HR department. Book a regular barber visit to avoid uninvited sidelocks and frizzy eyebrows.

The current craze for mid-calf, wide-leg pants will hopefully pass quickly. For women short of leg and wide of beam, they are an unflattering sight on the corporate catwalk. Forget killer heels, body con dresses and bandage skirts in the office if you’re female and men, leave the muscle-fit tee-shirts, the drop crotch trousers and those appalling shumpers – jumpers with sewn-in shirt collars – at the back of the wardrobe.