A Business Casual Uniform For Women, Borrowing From Neckties

There’s nothing so useful as a uniform. Get up, consider what to wear for all of 3 minutes, go. And there’s little so difficult as business casual dress code for women. We do not, for the most part, want to wear khakis and a blue shirt 14 days in a row.

So I was terribly pleased to contrive this little trick.

I took a page from the man’s tradition of shirt and tie. Sweep of color across the chest, pattern and contrast around the neck.

Translating to business casual for women, “Shirt” is pronounced “Cashmere V-Neck,” and “Tie,” “Collared Buttonfront.” We also say “Golf” as “Blah blah blah,” but that’s another matter.

When I started this new job, I tottered bravely off in a black v-neck with purple gingham underneath. Little did I know I had begun as I would continue.

Most recently, I acquired the Anna Mashburn orange striper, above, and a paisley confection from Liberty of London. I wear them both under navy. What sartorial adventures a sturdy shade makes possible. I wouldn’t wear navy with blue seersucker, however. Even I avoid dressing Too Sedately.

Then, when so much exuberance tasks my High WASP soul, I button it all up, literally, and figuratively, with gray stripes under black.

We send signals at work, like it or not. May as well enjoy the flags.

Sweaters: Purple Brora, navy Land’s End, Black-something-or-other
Shirts: J. Crew Liberty print, J. Crew seersucker, J. Crew gingham, Anna Mashburn orange, Liberty of London paisley, Charles Tyrwhitt gray stripes.

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  • How will you translate this look for warmer weather?

    7:18 am
    Lisa said...

    I’m thinking skirts, with patterns.

  • This is what I’ve settled on for my office, too. It translates well into my software/tech world, where sweatshirts happen as often as form-fitting dresses with 5-inch heels.

  • I’ve been thinking about getting shirts, my wardrobe needs smartening up and they seem like a good way to go. Do you like the J Crew shirts? Are they good quality? Any gaping issues ever? Thank-you!

    7:32 am
    Lisa said...

    The Liberty and seersucker shirts are very thin material, so I don’t expect they will last, but I like them. The gingham is sturdier, although threads are starting to come loose a bit. As for gaping, I don’t tend to have the problem much, what with the broad shoulders and moderately-sized bust.

  • I’m not so crazy about floral patterns or paisley, but am quite fond of stripes (as I sit here in a grey-and-silver striped button-up over a grey tee). And that purple gingham? Be still my heart.

    I do believe I love your uniform, and like DocP am anxious to see what you will wear in the summer.

  • Love the orange stripes under Navy. Tell me, have you found that you have had to temper your use of oranges and yellows now that your hair is silver? As a salt and pepper gal myself, I find I have to go more cool on the spectrum, or like you, pair it with a navy or cool red.

  • Great post! I try to add color to my otherwise bland wardrobe on casual days, but you gave me some other options I had not thought of: like paisley pattern. Likely an obvious choice to most of you, but I have been accused of being “too sedate” and want to get out of this rut!

  • Love the combo’s here.
    I had a Liberty shirt eons ago in paisley as well and it was so lovely I actually wore it several times a week and wore it through at the elbows.

  • Number 2 looks so sweet; the color combination! But, is it necessary to wear a shirt under a cashmere knit, as cashmere is so soft on the skin?

  • I’m adoring how the layering has you experimenting with bolder patterns and colours than we usually see. And still so presentable and polished!

  • You got the Mashburn Boyfriend shirt I have been dying for…wish I had your job -Or- your Lineage!!!
    Lookin’ good Skye Peale!

  • Sensible in the best way, incorporating a nod to the senses in the visual and tactile beauties.

  • I almost forgot to wish Happy Valentine’s Day to All!

  • Lovely choices. I fall on my navy v-neck and a pretty shirt combo frequently as well.

  • Love Liberty, love the shirts you show, love the uniform discussion, because we are always sending signals. I actually used to wear vintage men’s ties to work on occasion, never failed to start a conversation. Among the ladies in the office. :)

    6:35 pm
    Lisa said...

    I can imagine…

  • I love the idea of uniforms, and am finally settling into a few versions myself. Great way to work in a little color! Long live the v-neck sweater!!!

  • Love it! This is my favorite uniform as well (any sort of presentation finds me reaching for my v-necks), but I usually wear textured solid button ups. (Come to think, my husband’s ties are also all textured solids.) The stripes and gingham look great, I too love the orange and navy. (And I too am not bold enough to wear paisley. You have rather more sartorial confidence, I think.)

  • Very good looking and pulled together Lisa. Love the Anna Mashburn shirt!

    Happy Valentines!

    Art by Karena

  • I love all your patterned shirts (particularly that paisley Liberty print), good to add personality to a simple work uniform. I cycle as part of my commute and so my uniform consists of stretch skinny jeans/pants and a sweater/sweatshirt/shirt depending on my schedule.

  • I love these looks but I live in Miami- its hot all year long. Any idea for a uniform look for a placewheremit is always very warm?

    6:34 pm
    Lisa said...

    I’m thinking about warm weather now, but I’ll have more for you when the reality hits here in California.

  • No 3 reminds me of school uniforms! Ida

  • Love the combo’s!

  • I love this combo. It is such a friendly set to wear in an office, esp if you have no control over the temperature your office stays in. So convenient to lose a layer if needed. And contrast is fun! Props for the different, or close by, members of the color wheel!

  • I am a little confused about how you are a 12 in the Liberty shirt. If you are a 12, then I’m a 400. But maybe/probably that’s a UK size.

    I like this idea, but I feel masculine in button-front collared shirts. I think what Coco Chanel did with her layers of necklaces is perhaps a more feminine version of the tie?

    6:33 pm
    Lisa said...

    Ha! Yes, it’s a UK size. I do think Chanel’s necklaces are another approach, but the cashmere and the fine fabrics of most of my shirts keep me feeling sufficiently feminine.

  • I’m more of a sweater and scarf woman, but your combinations work well together. Agree that uniforms are easy – including my kids’ school uniforms. They prevent endless morning angst in the young ones!

  • No one can say you don’t think your closet through well…………….I am taking notes since i seem to wear the same 6 things day after day. The hazard of working from a home studio. Lucky you, you get to go to work and wear all that fashion. Happy Valentines Day – for the good and lovely wishes it sends your way from me to you. XO

  • Been doing this style for years! Works great for business or casual needs, age is less relevant with this style, also, it works for everyone. (Size too, as I’m on the definite plus end.) If you need to wear a dress or skirt, you can apply the same principles. You can also go very dress with fabrics and look good everywhere except black tie events. This is a good, neat, classic look for all women.

  • Very functional, yet pretty.

  • The orange stripe is a wonderful blouse!

  • Fav is that carhcoal and black combo. With an ample rib cage and chest, I would have to go with the blouse and cardigan combo, which I happen to love and look good in. The cardigan has to be long though. Great idea of adding the Chanel touch with tons of pearls. Adds some style to the look.

    Happened to look in a friends closet. Her husband only has blue, navy and white shirts. Khaki pants. Never has to worry about what to wear.

  • I like your uniform very much; dashing and happy! My adaptation of your uniform is the v-neck with a patterned scarf (Probably have fifty.) Also, don’t have to iron a shirt.

  • I have recently become a perfect shirt convert and have been living in the blue floral version of your top photo–I literally wear it several times a week–and that’s a lot of ironing for yours truly! Love a good grey stripe with black any day though! It’s very comforting, I can see why you fall back on it.

    xo Mary Jo

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