We know that the ultimate formal suit for women is going to be black or navy, with a white shirt or top underneath. It’s the traditional office look we see up and down the country, although with office culture as relaxed as it is nowadays, we really only see it in the more traditional financial institutions, for legal professionals in court, and in other similarly formal industry areas. The other key area where we are required to look formal is for a job interview, which is something that almost all of us have to face at some stage, whether it’s for a new job or a promotion in a current one.
Whatever the scenario, it’s always useful to be able to put together a formal suit, just in case that perfect job appears on the horizon, or you need to go and intimidate your bank manager. So I’ve put together a few key tips for looking your most formal, and some specific ideas for each season.
Serious suit dressing 101:
- Your most formal look is always going to be dark neutral suit plus light neutral top or shirt. For ultimate serious formality, this equates to a black suit with a white shirt, but actually black and white is almost never required, so choosing a colour combination that makes you look more stylish, healthy and put together will always be preferable. For specific tips for your season, see below.
- Trousers or skirt? For women, wearing a skirt was always the more formal option, but I cannot personally think of a single environment where it would be actively frowned upon to wear suit trousers over a skirt, so go with whichever feels most appropriate for you and your style.
- Whether you are wearing a skirt or trousers, having nude tights (or pop socks on, if trousers) is an essential. It adds an extra layer of polish and finish to your look. A lot of professional women will wear opaques in winter, but remember we are discussing your most formal look here, not an everyday style, and for that look, nude wins.
- And over those nude tights you need court shoes that tone in with the colour of your suit. Again, the most formal look is going to be plain navy leather court shoes with a navy suit, black ones with a black suit, etc, but I think it is rare nowadays that anyone will even register textured or patent courts, or ones with a little bit of detail on them. Point toe or round depends on your personal style – a pair of round toed courts is much less of a statement than a patent pointed pair but both are acceptable – choose what works for you and the style of your formal workwear.
- Minimal adornment is required for your most formal look, but adding accessories in the form of neat silver or gold earrings/a watch/a single bracelet all adds impact to your look without detracting from the formality, and can give you a bit of a chance to impress some personality on the whole thing. If you are someone whose personal style demands either statement pieces or tiny delicate pretty things, try to find pieces that are closer to medium scale and neat, while still incorporating an element of your personal style.
Spring can be surprisingly difficult to dress formally, given that its palette contains both navy and grey. However, unless you are in the position to have a suit made, it is nigh on impossible to track down a formal suit in Spring’s bright navy. So from the get go you are probably looking at a compromise of either true navy (get something as bright as you can find though) or grey (try to steer away from the darkest charcoals that are indistinguishable from black). Pairing your suit with a warm cream top or shirt, rather than white, will improve things significantly, and in a slightly less formal environment you can (a) change your suit for a lighter one such as dove grey or beige, which is far easier to find, especially during spring/summer and (b) change the colour of your top to a brighter one that is a better colour on you and will pull the whole look more into your palette. In all but the most formal of situations, wearing a brighter coloured top or dress with a suit jacket would be considered perfectly acceptable, so don’t panic if you are a Spring in a corporate environment! And if you ever come across a bright navy suit, buy it on the spot.
PS, I haven’t particularly dealt with chocolate brown here, as it is no longer particularly considered a formal suit colour (unlike in the 90s. Do you remember when you could buy either a black or a brown suit instead of a black, grey or navy suit?) and as such is fairly hard to buy. I would personally recommend sticking to grey and navy over brown unless fashions change significantly.
You are always going to be able to find suits in your slightly greyed french navy. Making sure that they aren’t too dark is important, but, as with the Springs, pairing it with a top in one of your best colours (either a soft white or a pastel blue, pink or grey) will improve things no end if it is a shade on the dark side. As well as the navy, don’t forget that you have dark blue grey which can be a really unusual but formal looking suit choice. And if you happen to ever have a suit made (or strike seriously lucky in the suit shop), you might find one in your dark burgundy/grape shades. As a cooler season, look out for nude tights that are more of a smokey colour than bright tan, which can look artificially orange on you.
If you’ve ever looked at an autumn palette, you’ll know that the dark neutrals consist of dark brown (which, as we have discussed with the Springs, isn’t really considered a potential suit colour at the moment) or a dark teal/petrol navy, which is also fairly impossible to get hold of in suit form. So what’s an Autumn today? Well first up, step away from the black. On no Autumn ever is it going to be the best possible formal suit you can lay your hands on. Second, have a look at all the charcoal suits out there. On the whole it will take you all of about half an hour’s effort to find a charcoal suit that has a slight hint of brown or green worked into it, warming up the whole look without losing the authority. If you can’t find such a thing, then sticking with either charcoal or navy (hold both up to your face in front of a mirror to see which is ‘least worst’, or ask your consultant to help you out on a shopping trip) will work perfectly well with a warm cream top to flatter your skin tone even more. I would always advise staying away from the darkest inky navy blues and charcoals that are a black/white marl, as these tend to look too stark against an Autumn’s skin.
Well, you’ve got it fairly easy, haven’t you? The traditional black suit and white shirt lies within your palette, but feel free to mix things up a little bit with either a navy or grey suit with tops in silver grey or your ice colours. Don’t be tempted to add in too much texture to your suit, even though there are thousands of variations on the theme of grey, black and navy suits. You will look better in stark contrasting colours than in suits with patterns or fabric textures that soften off the boldness of your colours and reduce the impact. You have the easiest season to dress formally, make the most of it!