WHAT DOES the fashion-conscious woman wear to the office in this air-conditioned, post-power-dressing age? No matter how much Alexander McQueen enthuses about them, Dallasty shoulders are a no-no in the workplace. Ditto mini-skirts and stilettos. Things have got altogether more low-powered. But there is still a level of formality required if you are going to be taken seriously. Wardrobe consultants still advise against wearing sloppy cardigans, despite the fact that fashion designers have declared them the new jacket. It's a fine line between business and pleasure.
The politics of office dressing depends a lot on the individual office and the job. For some women there are still hard and fast rules for office dressing. But those rules are rapidly relaxing and there is more room for a little fashion and a lot of style in the working wardrobe. And, as we increasingly spend more time at work, it is important to be comfortable - so if you don't have to wear a rigidly structured suit, don't. The most modern office suit is a pencil skirt (or trousers if you prefer) with a matching zip-front blouson jacket by Calvin Klein. It is both formal and a little sporty, making the wearer look serious but at ease.
An easy pair of trousers is an obvious investment and it is worth spending as much as you can afford. A well-cut, well-made pair that fit you round the waist, hips and bum without making you feel like a traffic warden will prevent a multitude of other problems. How many times have you stood in front of the mirror, desperately looking for a top that hides an unsightly waistband, an ugly crotch or - horror of horrors - pockets that bulge over the hips? If the trousers fit in the first place, you will feel confident whatever you wear with them. As for shoes: a wise woman will have the choice between a pair of elegant heels - for days when you need a bit of power under your feet - and a pair of flats for when you need simply to be comfortable.
Look at collections by Nicole Farhi, Betty Jackson, Calvin Klein and Paul Smith for key pieces or a bit of inspiration. Add a bit of clever shopping at Marks & Spencer and Gap (which, along with Jigsaw, has some of the season's best-value linen shirts) and dressing for work needn't be a chore. !
This page: cream linen trousers, pounds 195, and cropped-sleeve striped shirt, pounds 120, both by Paul Smith, 44 Floral Street, WC1 (enq: 0171 379 7133)
Facing page, main picture: cream leather fitted jacket, pounds 690, by John Rocha, from Liberty, 210-220 Regent Street, W1 (enq: 0171 734 1234) and Ecru, 52 Rectory Road, West Bridgford, Notts (enq: 0171 734 0123); beige twinkle skirt, pounds 119, by Joseph, 26 Sloane Street, SW1 (enq: 0171 590 6200); cream V-neck stretch top, pounds 25, from Warehouse, 19-21 Argyll Street, W1, and branches nationwide (enq: 0171 278 3491)
Facing page, inset (from top): white short-sleeved linen shirt, pounds 44, from Jigsaw, as before. Paul Smith linen trousers and striped shirt, as before. Grey zip-front jacket, pounds 170, by YMC, from Browns Focus, 38- 39 South Molton Street, W1 (enq: 0171 491 7833), and Liberty, as before; light blue linen shirt, pounds 35, from Warehouse, as before; grey skirt, pounds 80, by Agnes B, 111 Fulham Road, SW3 (enq: 0171 225 2477)
So there's that utterly desirable Clavin Klein suit (left). Or there's these four key items - somewhat less expensive, but still chic, practical and absolutely vital for looking good without any fuss. Wear them separately or together, but for goodness sake wear them
Semi-fitted, blue stretch shirt with three-quarter- length sleeves, pounds 35, available from Warehouse, as before
Cream linen wide-leg trousers, pounds 38, from Gap, 149 High St Kensington, W8, and branches nationwide (enq: 0800 427789)
Black leather wedge shoes, pounds 95, from Pied a Terre, 19 South Molton St, W1 and branches nationwide (enq: 0171 629 1362)
PHOTOGRAPHS BY NICOLA KURTZ / STYLING BY HOLLY DAVIES
Left: navy zip-up short- sleeved jacket and slim skirt, pounds 625, by Calvin Klein, from Harvey Nichols, 109-125 Knightsbridge, SW1 (enq: 0171 235 5000) and 107-111 Briggate, Victoria Quarter, Leeds (enq: 0113 204 8888); black slingback shoes, pounds 135, by Russell and Bromley, as beforeReuse content