A (non-corporate) girl’s guide to corporate wear

Did someone say pencil skirt?

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Corporate wear. It’s a job requirement capable of sending creative folk running from the interview room. Those itchy, semi-opaque stockings. Those orthopaedic looking heels. Those pencil skirts that no normal human being can sit, breathe, walk or, god forbid, run for the train in. I don’t know how Hillary Clinton does it.

During my years working retail, I’ve witnessed many a businesswoman try to mix the worlds of corporate and cool. But after numerous attempts at hiding butterfly-printed shirts beneath plain black blazers, I’ve realised these dress codes are like chalk and cheese. There’s something about corporate attire that just doesn’t align with comfort or ease.

But for some, pulling on a two-piece suit is part of the regular morning regime. Last week, I became one of these people. And for a girl who wears sneakers 24/7, this new dress code came as a shock to the system. My wardrobe is an amalgamation of feathers, fringe, sparkle and print. How on earth was I going to manage a week in business attire?

If you’re about to embark on an interview/internship/job with a contract that denotes corporate dress (and possess a wardrobe that’s anything but), don’t stress. I may not be the next Oprah Winfrey or IBM CEO but, after spending the week in pumps and pantyhose, I’ve learnt a thing or two about this corporate wear game.

Play it safe on your first day

Like most family holidays, school camps and childhood sporting trips, I selected my best outfit for the first day. Okay – tbh, I could only throw together one corporate-ish ensemble I felt okay to exit the house in. But I would arrive at work and assess the vibe, and decipher what sort of clothes I needed to blend with this corporate tribe. Loafers, a button-up shirt and tailored trousers worked just fine for me. But err on the edge of overdressed. You don’t want to be the intern who crosses the ‘too casual’ line.

Accept the fact you’re not going to be snapped by the street style pap

It doesn’t matter if you source your corporate garb from Gucci. When you strut past in a sweater vest/knee-length skirt combo, the street snappers won’t bat an eye. It’s not fashion week or a launch party. You don’t need to look cool, indie or arty. The purpose of business attire is to make the wearer blend in. Leave the snapparazzi-attracting stuff for the weekend.

Colour can make corporate cool 

While sequin embellishment might be frowned upon in the office, colour is celebrated in the corporate world (sweet relief!). But this isn’t permission to dress like a rainbow – I recommend keeping it blocked (usually against black) and wearing it in small bursts. Like a bright shirt under a black jacket, or the addition of a swanky, statement purse.

It’s okay to outfit repeat

After hitting day three, I began to run out of options. I’d worn my only button-up shirts and was already guilty of outfit-repeating a skirt. But if you’ve been rocking the same pair of COS pants seven days in a row, I promise the lady at the desk next door doesn’t even know. The best thing about wearing unadventurous clothes is no one remembers or cares. Think of it like getting your money’s worth: wear, wash, (iron!), wear, repeat.

You can dial-a-mum 

If you’ve accused your mum of dressing dorky in the past, be prepared to eat your words. I had to. On day four, she caught me sifting through her wardrobe, in desperate hope of finding a half-decent collared shirt. ‘I thought you didn’t like my work clothes?’ she said, a smirk creeping across her face. Don’t sell your mum short, ladies. Her itchy pants with the permanent pleats could be your saving grace.

All corporate women carry Mary Poppins bags 

After observing the daily regimes of my newfound colleagues, I’m convinced ladies in the corporate world carry bottomless bags. They fit EVERYTHING in those things. From cosmetics to lunch, gym gear, a laptop and even a spare pair of shoes. Apparently it’s okay to carry your life on your shoulder when you’re part of the nine-to-five rush. That way, if an unexpected meeting (or hot date) pops up, you’ll never be caught empty handed or ill-prepared.

Business attire is surprisingly empowering 

As a gal who wears pom-poms on her socks and sports prints like they’re going out of fashion, I was rather dubious about this whole corporate dress thing. I cringed at the thought of having to squeeze myself into fabric without stretch, and couldn’t get excited about taming my normally voluminous locks.

But after spending a week in business attire I must confess. I kind of liked the way I felt in corporate dress. There’s something about pulling on a blazer and pair of mid-height heels that says, ‘babe, I mean business.’  It’s like playing Michelle Obama for the day.

So if, like me, you’re staring down the barrel of a job that requires corporate dress, don’t stress. Seek ideas and inspiration from Kate Middleton, Emma Watson and Hillary Clinton… if you must (her pearl earrings are rather illuminating). Borrow a few pieces – don’t buy a whole new wardrobe, until you’re positive you like the gig (and garb).

And above all, wear that below-the-knee length skirt with pride. You might even find yourself crossing over to the corporate wear side.

You can check out more of Twylamae’s illustrations including her Happy Festivus Christmas Card here.

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