For business professional women, it’s important to project a confident, competent, and thoughtful image. Why? Because what people see and think about you is what they’ll see and think about your business.
That means embracing women’s business professional attire.
At Next Level Wardrobe, our team members have over a decade of experience styling CEOs, executives, and entrepreneurs. Now, we’re passing that knowledge on to you.
Keep scrolling to learn the definition of business professional attire for women, key pieces to own, and easy outfit formulas.
Defining Business Professional Attire for Women
Ok, we know what people think when they hear “business professional attire for women”.
The dreaded Hillary Clinton pantsuits of the ‘90s. Stuffy meetings and uncomfortable clothing…
Boring, stuffy, outdated.
That’s not what we’re bringing you today. Those old rules of showing up to the office in a starched button-down and bland, unflattering suits are long gone. No more patent leather suitcases and obligatory pantyhose either.
Say it with us: you are not in an episode of West Wing.
The fact is, fashion has relaxed across the board. Even in the professional world. Some offices don’t even have dress codes anymore. While we’re not going that far, we do suggest adding more approachable, practical pieces to your work closet.
Picture suit separates that complement your figure instead of trying to hide it. Or mixing updated-yet-conservative pieces like a crew neck sweater top with sophisticated trousers.
Or try a boldly colored power suit with an updated silhouette.
The goal is to feel polished, not uptight.
Now that you know what business professional attire for women is, let’s break it down step by step.
Tops for Business Professional Women
There was a time when the only acceptable top for business professional women was the white collared button-down. You could occasionally sneak other colors into the rotation but that was about it.
So why don’t we still recommend button-downs as the end-all-be-all for women’s business wear?
For one thing, they’re not that bust-friendly. This is especially true for plus-size women trying to dress for business, but in general, these shirts gap like crazy. No one wants to spend their day worrying about a button popping open.
For another, the old crisp button-down is limiting. Having a rotation of button-downs in white, black, navy, grey, and brown may be professional, but it also lacks variety.
Don’t get us wrong. We still love those core colors as the basis of any successful wardrobe (see our style system). But we want updated ways to style them. Here’s how:
Product by AQUA Cashmere, shop here.
A sweater is a simple, effective way to look professional in the winter, fall, or spring. The key to making this work is to select a lightweight sweater. Chunky options tend to look too casual. Plus, if you add a blazer, it looks awkward.
Instead, go with something like this black and white option from AQUA Cashmere pictured above. Just tuck it into a skirt or trousers and you’re good to go.
Product by Lafayette 148, shop here.
Did you know there are short-sleeve sweaters too?
Something like this cream-colored mock neck from Lafayette 148 is a perfectly sophisticated top for spring and summer.
Product by Ted Baker, shop here.
Of course, blouses are a workwear staple and the ideal alternative to the traditional button-down. Looking to add a pop of personality? Opt for a piece with a figure-defining tie like this baby blue blouse from Ted Baker.
Product by Kobi Halperin, shop here.
Perhaps you prefer a more evergreen approach. Then you can’t go wrong with a long sleeve v-neck such as this black one from Kobi Halperin.
When shopping for v-necks, just make sure the neckline doesn’t go past a hand’s width from your collarbone. Reserve anything lower for out-of-office use only.
Bottoms for Business Professional Women
Now that you know what tops work best for business professional women, let’s talk about what to partner with them.
Product by BOSS, shop here.
For bottoms, our number one recommendation is a trouser. Sure, some people love the classic pencil skirt. But with our clients, we’ve noticed trousers are a more practical and contemporary choice for women’s business professional attire.
There’s another great thing about only wearing trousers. You get to focus on all the different silhouettes you can play with.
If you work in a more by-the-book environment, a straight-leg pair is the way to go. Like this black pair pictured above from BOSS.
Product by Theory, shop here.
Searching for something more modern? Go with a high-waisted wide-leg like this heathered trouser by Theory. The belt loops and front pleating keep this piece feeling classic while the relaxed silhouette gives you comfort.
Shoes for Business Professional Women
You’ve got your tops and bottoms ready to go. All that’s missing is the right footwear for business professional women.
We don’t throw a lot of hard “rules” at our clients about what they can’t wear to the office. Except when it comes to shoes.
Why? Because wearing open-toed shoes to a business professional setting is a definite no. Avoid sandals, strappy heels, or peep-toe pumps.
These are the close-toed shoes to add to your business professional attire for women:
1. Low Heels
Product by Jimmy Choo, shop here.
Be honest. No one wants to wear uncomfortable, sky-scraper heels to the office. You want to get work done without blistering up your feet. Plus, if your office is in a walking city like NYC, you don’t want too-tall high heels slowing you down.
But if you love the classic feminine aesthetic of heels, go with a low-profile pair instead. Like these velvet options from Jimmy Choo. The deep color and pointed-toe say business professional while the manageable heel keeps it practical.
2. Ballet Flats
Product by Chloe, shop here.
If heels aren’t for you, ballet flats are the way to go. Truth be told, these shoes work for every work dress code out there. Be it formal or power casual, these subtle shoes always do the trick.
We love these nude flats from Chloe. They’ll never go out of style and the scalloped detailing adds a dash of personality.
Another great thing about ballet flats is how packable they are. Going to the gym after work? Slip these into your handbag and change into sneakers. Need shoes to wear on a work trip but don’t have a lot of room? Pop these in your suitcase. The possibilities are endless.
Product by Marc Fisher, shop here.
If you’re stumped by what shoes to wear to work in the winter, we’ve got the answer. Boots.
For some reason, boots get left out of the workwear conversation. But the truth is, they’re the ultimate shoe for business professional women. Why? Because they’re close-toed, warm, and comfortable.
They’re also a smart alternative to regular high heels. If you still want height without the pain, try a pair of boots with a block heel. Like the above pair from Marc Fisher.
Office-Approved Accessories and Layers
We’ve got you dressed head to toe. All that’s missing is the finishing touches. Here are the three add-ons we recommend for business professional women:
Product by Valextra, shop here.
Remember how we said you don’t need a briefcase anymore? That’s where a handbag comes in handy.
A medium-to-large tote-style bag like this one from Valextra is ideal for day-to-day travel and commutes. It’s roomy enough to fit files, a laptop, or anything else you might need to conquer your to-do list.
Product by A.L.C., shop here.
You didn’t think we were going to talk about business professional attire for women and not mention blazers, did you?
Blazers are the workhorses of your professional wardrobe. Find the right one and it instantly elevates your outfit. There are millions of blazers for you to choose from and each works for a different situation.
If you’re feeling the modern businesswear approach, try one like this tan option from A.L.C. It has an on-trend, “boyfriend” style fit for a longer silhouette. This is perfect for partnering with fitted pants or lightening up an all-black ensemble.
Product by Veronica Beard, shop here.
Or try something out of the box like this tie-waist mandarin collar jacket from Veronica Beard. The navy plaid pattern adds just the right amount of color without feeling aggressive. Plus, a cinched waist is a great option for dressing a mid-size body type or plus-sized frame.
Product by Proenza Schouler, shop here.
On the hunt for a more casual layering option? Opt for a cardigan like this ribbed one from Proenza Schouler. This is a less structured alternative to a blazer.
When shopping for an office-approved cardigan, follow the same guidelines we outlined for sweater tops. Bulky knits or long, draping styles look sloppy. Choose something lightweight, simple, and high quality. A pilling cardigan never looks put-together.
Women’s Business Professional Attire Outfit Inspiration
Now that you have your shopping list for women’s business professional attire, it’s time to put it all together. We’ve picked out three easy outfit formulas to get you started.
1. Color Blocking
If you struggle to build outfits, color blocking is about to become your new holy grail. The concept is to create an ensemble using solid-colored pieces in a limited color palette.
Take a look at what Shan Ma is wearing above. She’s on our list of the five best female CEOs because of simple but effective outfits like this one.
She’s wearing a black sweater top that ties back into her black heels. Then she adds a little visual interest and light with a pair of cream-colored trousers.
As long as you have to right pieces, you’re sure to look professional with this combo in no time.
2. Sophisticated Layering
When we talked about putting the finishing touches on your business professional women’s outfits, layers came out strong. This photo from one of our favorite brands, Theory, is a textbook example of mastering layers.
First of all, ground your outfit in core colors like black, grey, navy, brown, or white. These colors all mix and match well with each other and easily go with every other hue imaginable.
Next, pick your “hero” layering piece. This is the piece that takes your look to the next level with ease. In this case, it’s a winter coat. You could also use a blazer or cardigan, as we mentioned previously.
The bold lapels partnered with the clean lines of the coat make this piece just as effective as a blazer.
Since you have a longer, loose layer on top, keep your top and bottom choices simple and fitted. Straight or skinny trousers and a tucked-in shirt always do the trick.
Just add your close-toed shoes and you’re all set.
3. The Right Way to Wear Patterns
At Next Level Wardrobe, we love solids and neutrals. But that doesn’t mean that we’ve completely shunned patterns. In fact, prints and patterns are essential to this third and final outfit remedy.
In this photo from Vince’s size-inclusive collection, you see a floral blouse paired with solid trousers. The number one reason why this works is because the pattern here is acting as an accent piece. The monochromatic pants keep this look from seeming all over the place or “busy”.
The second reason why this works is because of the color story. Even though there’s a pattern, it’s still in the same warm, autumnal-tone family as the beige pants. It may seem like a small detail, but that instantly upgrades this look.
When you incorporate patterns into your wardrobe, choose them wisely. Don’t just go for what’s trendy. Pick out a piece that’s well made, fits your body, and goes with business attire pieces already in your arsenal.
Making these thoughtful choices saves you so much time when getting dressed for work.
Feeling motivated to dress like the business professional woman you’ve always wanted to be? Apply for our women’s styling and executive image consulting services. Our team of experts is ready to clean out your closet and transform the way you shop.