Well-suited ... dress for success. Photo: Michele Mossop
The styles and colours of the suits worn by people in upper management are often the same, no matter what the industry.
Similarly, there are seemingly universal rules for what shouldn't be worn in the office. However, there are ways to discreetly perk up pinstripes and dark suits.
Managers, both male and female, prefer anthracite and dark blue because they want to appear serious. They are right to do so, says Berlin-based style consultant and psychologist Lisa Zimmermann.
"Business attire is rooted in uniformity. It should have a neutralising affect and allow things and ideas to be in the foreground, not the person presenting them," says Zimmermann.
It's no wonder that there is little leeway for experimentation in the wardrobes of people in classic professions such as banking, insurance and law.
There are many rules that apply to the way female business managers should dress.
One absolute no-no is any fabric that has a transparent quality, says style expert Andreas Rose. Ulrike Mayer, who runs a textile operation in Germany, says the long-standing rules against extremely high heels and tight clothing also still apply.
"We women must always make sure we don't appear too sexy and, at the same time, we don't look too severe in a pantsuit," Mayer says.
There's also only a little bit of room to play with colour when it comes to business attire. The less colour, the more serious the effect, goes the rule of thumb. But a spot of colour can be integrated into a classic business outfit.
"A colour that is currently in style, or a blouse with a graphic pattern that is currently in can be worn underneath a suit or outfit," says Zimmermann. "Ideally, the pattern begins under the breast so that it disappears when the blazer is buttoned."
Generally, colours that work well are nudes, pastels and sorbet tones. Firetruck red and grass green usually don't work. Those colours that work well are especially elegant in fabrics such as silk, as they also are when care is taken to match them to the complexion, says Rose.
"Less is more" is a rule that also goes for choosing jewellery, says Zimmermann.
Ideally, only one piece of discreet jewellery should be worn.
Rose also suggests some jewellery can be used to accent office attire. "Now and then a woman can wear costume jewellery, but it shouldn't be too conspicuous." He advises against heavy bracelets and bands because they can clank against each other and on the desktop during conversations.
Fashion experts agree that a basic business wardrobe should start with a few high-quality pieces that can be mixed and matched and varied. For women, this includes blouses with various necklines. Rose says the collars of classic blouses shouldn't be worn over the blazer.
Female managers who are not the chief executives can wear a cardigan or twin set. The currently fashionable box jacket in a Chanel style offers an attractive look for a somewhat informal business meeting.
Another hot style is a classic pencil skirt with a high waist. Stay away from skirts with fringed seams, says Rose, adding that women should always wear stockings when they wear skirts in the office.
"And in the summer, shoes worn by women who work in classic industries may be open at the back, but not at the toe," says Zimmermann.
Shoes, belts and scarves can also be used to accent office attire. "Highly fashionable trends are usually misplaced in an office setting, especially in upper management," says Rose.
That is, unless a woman is very high up in a corporation. "She can then afford to be a little extravagant, but not in every industry."