Formal, not boring

Formal, not boring

Comfortable, easy, subtle – formal attire is leaving lasting impressions in traditional work environments. Nidhi AFormal wear is slowly making its presence felt across Indian offices. Women, especially, are waking up to the benefits of this non-casual attire.

Be it pants, suits, jackets or skirts, western formal attire means pure business. No doubt, 90 percent of the formal wear is western. But western formal wear has no defined
standard of appropriateness, both in the country and internationally. For instance, a sari worn for meetings in Indian offices will be appropriate, but may not make for a professional appearance in, let’s say, US.

Most of us struggle with what formal wear actually comprises, given that the daily working environments differ, even within the same office. We often wonder to what extent we can adopt the formal attire of dresses and skirts in our professional environments. So, simply put, this is not just a problem of ambiguity, but also a problem of plenty.

Before you reach for that shiny jacket in the store, take a few minutes to understand the basics of formal attire:

Fit: Fit is the most important criterion in formal wear. While the general rules for sleeve and pant length apply, wearing a well-fitted garment is also a function of preference and what suits your body shape.

Functionality: While something may fit your body perfectly, make sure it doesn’t make you feel conscious. If it does, it isn’t the right garment for you. The major factor is to feel comfortable while looking good.

Feminity: Non-casual attire doesn’t necessarily mean frumpy or plain. You can bring in elements like detailed embroidery or frills, as long as they aren’t very dominating.
Fashion forward: Who says a fashion runway cannot inspire non-casual or formal wear? There are smart ways of incorporating fashion into formal clothing. But do keep in mind the occasion, work environment, your body shape and preferences while emulating a fashion trend.

Here are some easy to remember guidelines to help with your formal look:
The colours: Bright colours are acceptable as long as they are used minimally and are not too stark against your skin tone. Make sure you balance out the colours and focus on one dominant shade.

The jewellery: Jewellery in professional environments is acceptable as long as they aren’t noisy or chunky. Soft-toned jewellery can be a great way to accessorise simple clothes like a white shirt and dark pant.

The dress: By appropriate dress, we mean a sheath dress ending at the knee. It could have prints, colours, flared necklines and a fitted silhouette. To stay conservative, you may keep it minimal - pair it with pearls, a bracelet or a watch, a thin belt.

The white shirt: We know you may have plenty of these already and that you may already know how to experiment with them. Remember, how you wear it can make or break the look. With a simple twist, you can transform your look from boring masculine to stylish and feminine. To make a fashion impact, especially for impromptu meetings, you can combine your white shirt with colourful heels or moccasins, subtle earrings and, maybe, even a scarf.

The pencil skirt: Pencil skirts, while feminine, will always look formal, no matter where you wear them. The length, of course, would have to hover around or below the knee. Pencil skirts combine well with white shirts, and a set of pearls will set the look. Wear a silk blouse in jewel tones and your favourite pair of coloured heels and you are ready to rock your office.

The jacket: When it comes to jackets, make sure you have one (or two) in the basic shades of white, black and beige. Bright colours (red, pink, purple, indigo) are also acceptable as long as the colour is not too distracting. You can pair such jackets with literally anything - jeans, dresses, skirts, trousers.

(The author is founder and CEO of

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