10 Ways to Wear: Work Outfits (Office Chic on a Budget)

10 Ways To Wear: Office Chic
I was recently asked by blogger A Girl I Know if I would consider doing a post on what to wear to the office, and although my work dress code is very slack (i.e. I can wear jeans), I decided to rise to AGIK’s challenge.

I hope it might give those of you who need an office wardrobe some inspiration on how to build one up with existing items or the addition of just a few accessories!

My approach was to imagine that I had a new [office] job where there was a more traditional dress code, but with allowance for at least a little creativity. I wanted to prove that I could create a working wardrobe out of what I already owned, rather than buying everything new.

The Concept:

I’ve chosen and photographed 16 items from my own wardrobe: 4 tops, 4 bottoms, 4 pairs of shoes and 4 accessories, and arranged them in a grid:

10 Ways To Wear: Office Chic
By arranging them this way, I can make up at least 10 outfits I could wear to work: select a row horizontally, vertically or diagonally and you have the basics for a “complete” outfit.

You can probably can see that by mixing across different rows there’s actually a lot more than 10 outfits here. With the odd addition of a few more accessories (belts, necklaces and scarves are the main ones that can transform your basic look), you’ll have a huge variety of outfits to wear.

Want to see them on…?

2012-09-07 Not Dressed As Lamb OUTFITS 003
Left: With the addition of an extra belt, this outfit is given balance with the strong black belt coordinating with the black shoes.
Right: A metallic scarf adds some sparkle to a monochrome look.

2012-09-07 Not Dressed As Lamb OUTFITS 002
Left: If you have a good quality but slightly outdated pair of trousers from a trouser suit (as my ten-year old pair are), try turning up the hem to make them more on trend.
Right: Jersey blouse/shirts (blirts?!) are an affordable, easy care alternative to cotton shirts – I have about four in my wardrobe in different colours because I detest ironing.

2012-09-07 Not Dressed As Lamb OUTFITS 004
Left: A patterned midi skirt provides both colour and enough modesty for an office environment.
Right: I’ve broken the “never wear brown shoes with black trousers” rule by wearing a pair that coordinate with both the black trousers and the colours of the rest of my outfit.

2012-09-07 Not Dressed As Lamb OUTFITS 001
Left: If you’re brave enough, I don’t see why pattern mixing can’t be worn to the office. It’s a good idea to pair up patterns with similar colours to ensure the outfit looks pulled together rather than thrown together.
Right: Two bold colours making up the main part of the outfit will look less garish if paired with neutral accessories.

2012-09-07 Not Dressed As Lamb OUTFITS 005

Left: A black and white blouse with neutral suit trousers is always a smart combination, and red shoes add colour.
Right: Another style of black and white blouse, this time with bold colours on the bottom half.

So the possibilities with this set of 16 items are endless – as I said, using the grid gives you ten outfits, but there are many more with these items alone!

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So that’s my work wardrobe concept; I hope it’s given a little help and inspiration to those of you who struggle to work out what to wear to the office!

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I’m now wondering whether this concept could be applied to other occasions that people need to dress for on a regular basis. For example: date nights, shopping with friends, walking the dog…?!! If this is something you’d like to see in another post, please make your suggestions in the comments – I’ll see what I can do!


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  2. 26 September 2012 / 2:57 pm

    P.S: Oh, and I found your blog by way of 'Conversant in Colour' the sewing blog, as I see some others have too. Can't wait to go through all of your old posts, so refreshing to see someone who isn't a 20 something rocking awesome looks in a refreshing and personal way.

  3. 26 September 2012 / 2:40 pm

    This is a revelation! I have my own method of creating capsule wardrobes out of my stuff each season by picking 35 items (including everything from clothing, accessories, shoes, coats etc, everything except underwear) to mix and match for 3 months. Mainly because I have so many clothes that I wouldn't get around to wearing all the things I own or just forget about them (I'm not bragging, I just hate to get rid of anything and worked in fashion for years, so developed quite a collection). But, I love the idea of doing this on a monthly basis and seeing how to work a smaller selection together for a shorter period. Will be giving this a go and letting everyone know what a great idea this is. Thank you! x

  4. 21 September 2012 / 1:20 pm

    This is like clothing Sudoku – I'm inspired and intimidated at the same time, LOL. What a great idea!

  5. 21 September 2012 / 12:46 am

    This is a super cool idea! I'm gonna have to try to make a few grids myself!

  6. 16 September 2012 / 6:48 pm

    After I posted this comment I realised that it was unfair. Even in your office clothes you look different and better dressed than most women. You even show a couple of office outfits I really like.
    I suppose it is because I have come to really love your exuberant style. And even though I would not all copy it, I think you look absolutely lovely.

    • 16 September 2012 / 9:37 pm

      Aww that's absolutely fine, Greetje – I think I understood what you were saying! I don't know whether you realised, but this isn't actually what I wear on a day-to-day basis at my office… the intention really WAS to produce "office outfits" as you said. It's a theoretical wardrobe if I had to stick to a much stricter dress code. A lot of people have to wear uniforms, or dress appropriately for whatever job they're doing, then "let their hair down" at the weekend!

      I wanted to give people a way to organise a basic wear-to-work wardrobe out of what they already owned… and the best way seemed to take my own advice and see if it could be done using my own clothes, rather than just showing new items online (as many of these kinds of posts do, I've found). I would personally, of course, dress the outfits up a lot more with accessories, coloured tights, jewellery, etc. – but I kept them simple to show just how the four basic items looked together.

      I appreciate all comments of course – and yours are always constructive, never critical, sweetie! I love that you take the time to write more than "great post"… that would be too easy, wouldn't it?? You have still been exceptionally complimentary about my style, even in a post where the point was giving some tips, not specifically about how I look in the outfits. You are just too thoughtful!

      Catherine xx :))))

  7. 16 September 2012 / 9:26 am

    Very cleverly done. It is clear that you are not just a pretty face. Verical, horizontal and diagonal…. Very clever. Mathematic.
    Even though your office stuff reflects a bit of the real you, they are still "office clothes" and a bit prim and proper. I prefer you as you really are.
    I work in the headoffice of a bank, but fortunately in marketing and advertising. And we can wear what we want. With some exceptions (meetings with the big boss or clients).

  8. 11 September 2012 / 4:53 am

    I found your blog through School Gate Style. Love the concept you have presented here. I work from home but love clothes an want to look smart. This gives me ideas for my wardrobe, thanks

  9. 10 September 2012 / 4:27 am

    This is awesome! My fav is the red skirt and polka dot shirt. Thanks so much for giving my blog as one you should check out that was so nice.


  10. 9 September 2012 / 9:00 am

    What a great post Catherine!
    I love capsule collections to mix & match with, it's good to get more wear out of things, especially work wear.

  11. 9 September 2012 / 5:02 am

    LOVE the concept! LOVE all the work you put into it!

    -Daisy Nguyen from PS BANANAS fashion blog:

  12. 8 September 2012 / 10:08 pm

    I really enjoyed this post. Wonderful inspiration – thank you!

  13. A Well Styled Life
    8 September 2012 / 4:50 pm

    Wonderful idea and seeing it all put together really impresses just how many outfits you can make from 16 pieces. . Less is more to perfection.

  14. 8 September 2012 / 3:31 pm

    Whoa, Catherine, you are amazing! What a huge and jam-packed post of gorgeous options, really great. I especially love seeing the outfits on – and they all look so wonderful! – though I have just a little soft spot for pattern mixing and black-with-brown. Your saturated colours make this capsule totally stellar.

    • 9 September 2012 / 12:22 pm

      P.S. I also have a much bigger soft spot for other non-ironers! xo

  15. 8 September 2012 / 2:03 pm

    WoW some of the best ideas are so simple. I am going to apply your idea and see what I can come up with for myself. I so appreciate your willingness to share this on your blog. I love your blog by the way. Have you noticed that some of the best dressed ladies these days are over 40? I have.

  16. Anonymous
    8 September 2012 / 10:43 am

    That grid is a brilliant idea. Am trying to actually wear ALL the clothes in my wardrobe (closet to you Americans!) instead of the same favourites all the time, and this will help me change the mix without too much agony. Thank you very much. Jean
    (PS have vowed not to buy any new clothes until I have worn everything at least once!)

  17. 8 September 2012 / 2:05 am

    Brilliant post! More like this, please!

  18. 8 September 2012 / 2:01 am

    Very nice and this is a really good challenge and thank you for sharing it with us. They are all gorgeous but my favourite would be the white top and flare printed skirt =)


  19. 7 September 2012 / 11:43 pm

    You blew me away with this post !
    The grid, the pattern mix, the accessories…. needless to say you look smashing.

  20. 7 September 2012 / 11:03 pm

    You've done it again, Catherine! I love every.single.look. I'd say my No. 1 is definitely the mixed patterns -dots AND zigzags? Gorgeous!!! ~Sarah

  21. 7 September 2012 / 10:21 pm

    Oh my gosh, Catherine, this is great! Awesome post and gorgeous outfits.

    Have a wonderful weekend!


  22. 7 September 2012 / 10:11 pm

    Awesome idea! And you look great 🙂

  23. 7 September 2012 / 8:21 pm

    This is such a nifty idea! I need to do this…love the way your creative brain works 🙂

    <3 Cambria

  24. 7 September 2012 / 8:17 pm

    it's always amazing what you can come up with
    i learned from the 30×30 challenge that our closets are much more overloaded than they need to be lol
    just ordered a shirt like the fab white black trim one you are wearing

  25. 7 September 2012 / 4:56 pm

    You are brilliant…the grid concept is amazing 🙂 As are all the outfit options

  26. 7 September 2012 / 4:10 pm

    Catherine what an amazing post!!! You have done a truly great job of showing us all how to approach workwear styling, You should be so proud. I love your style and your creative approach! 🙂

    Take care and enjoy your weekend,

    Daniella xox

  27. 7 September 2012 / 3:37 pm

    This grid is beating so many professional stylist's books on the same topic! It's so simple and easy to use – brilliant Catherine! And you look wonderful in all the outfits of course!

  28. 7 September 2012 / 3:26 pm

    What an amazing blog post – that grid is genius…found myself making up all the outfits and then some! Great to see you then in all of the outfits…nice touch. Well done on a brilliant post that must have taken you hours…respect! Avrilx

  29. 7 September 2012 / 3:01 pm

    Your outfit grid is incredibly impressive. I generally take a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants approach to office dressing but I can see this type of process helps you come up with many more options (and avoids making oneself late which involves the dreaded sprint to the train.) Great post!

  30. 7 September 2012 / 2:13 pm

    Catherine! Take a bow woman! I need that grid in my life right now! How have I survived without one?! What a great way to minimise cost yet somehow create more outfits! I am now going to work on putting something similar together based on what I already have. One thing's for sure it will definitely make choosing a outfit in the morning much quicker!!

    Thank you so much for taking the time to put this post together AND linking me in. Have a FAB weekend. xx

    • 7 September 2012 / 6:06 pm

      Girl, you're so welcome! I like a challenge and this one definitely was… yes it took a bit of time, but the next post in this style shouldn't as I've got the templates all ready to go. I'm SO glad you've found it useful, I was a bit worried it wasn't the kind of thing you were thinking of. Yay, it's all good!!!!!!!!! :))))

  31. 7 September 2012 / 1:59 pm

    Walking the dog is one I'd love to see! No heels because my dog is strong and I need to stay on top of my game…plus I walk her a lot and I need to be kind to my feet. It's so tempting to go out super schlumpy, and currently I've slid into that more often that not, unfortunately, but I'm trying to plan a fall dog walking wardrobe so I can turn over a new leaf. Do you have a dog too? Thanks!!

    p.s. I'm new to reading your blog and I think I found you through 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World, a sewing blog I like…I love your style and think it's sympatico with mine, if I could get it together…

    • 7 September 2012 / 6:03 pm

      Heehee I sort of suggested a Walking the Dog outfit feature as a joke, Argie – but you know what, it does kinda make sense!! I think we all want to look stylish even at the supermarket or walking the dog as you say, but I too am guilty of occasionally pulling on jeans an an old sweatshirt. I'll give it some thought…! Thanks for your lovely comments! xx

    • 7 September 2012 / 7:08 pm

      Ha, I was deadly serious! Well, it also translates to the supermarket or errands, or anything, really. Also, I'll sometimes throw something on to walk the dog, meaning to change later, and then never get around to changing, so it would be best of course to start out with a decent outfit! And I run into people I know all the time, when I'm least expecting it. I'm in Manhattan but it really is a small town, sometimes. In any case, your blog is beautiful!

  32. 7 September 2012 / 1:47 pm

    You are such a clever lady! I'm a stay at home Mum, the home is my office but I like to stay stylish – some excellent ideas here. Thank you for taking the time to put this together. 🙂

  33. 7 September 2012 / 12:23 pm

    This is fabulous, Catherine! Thanks for all the time you put in, and the creativity. I am borrowing some ideas right this minute.

    • 7 September 2012 / 5:47 pm

      Ditto! Nicely done. Love the pieces and colors together.

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