How to dress (fearlessly) for work // Style Counsel

Alexa Chung
Take a cue from style icons like Alexa Chung and have fun with your work wardrobe

By Emma Williamson

On Monday May 26th, 2014


I recently found myself hunkered down in my parents’ cold, damp basement, finally sorting through the junk I left there when I moved out years ago. (Seriously, who keeps their grade 11 math tests?) In addition to R.L. Stine’s oeuvre, I found bags of childhood costumes, and it got me thinking — whatever happened to those good old days of playing dress-up? Sure, we can’t wear cat ears to the office, but we can rediscover the joy of play when dressing for work — even if our or princess dresses have been replaced with power suits. 

When deciding how to dress for the work day, first, choose the basics, then add the pizzazz. No matter how fashionable or adventurous you are, as a lawyer, your outfit must be anchored in professionalism. So start with that suit, sheath or crisp button-down and pants, and then look for ways to take it up a notch:


Experiment with colour.

Try a vibrant blouse or pencil skirt. A bright manicure or lipstick can help you stand out and feel special. Or make like a former colleague of mine and try a few colourful strands in your hair: with her otherwise conservative pantsuits, it was a conversation starter. It’s amazing how colour can impact your mood. So select your power shade and rock it!


Play with texture.

This adds interest and depth to an otherwise simple outfit. Try a tweed jacket over a silk dress, or a cashmere sweater with jaquard pants.


Don’t be afraid to mix patterns.

Try stripes, florals, houndstooth and paisley in various combinations. Done right, patten mixing looks cool and super modern. For a more conservative approach, try touches of pattern in a silk scarf, hairband or shoe.


Try amped-up versions of the basics.

A white shirt with an embellished collar, a dress with an interesting hem or a tuxedo-style blazer with satin or leather trim. 


Experiment with accessories and shoes.

Go big or go home, ladies! I love sparkly earrings, a mishmash of bracelets, a statement necklace or gold cuff bracelet. Choose a bag in a splash of colour or with unique hardware or detailing (grommets, perforated leather, tasteful tassels… the possibilities are endless). Exit that black flat comfort zone and don plaid pumps or studded flats!


Consider theme dressing.

I’m not talking princesses or pirates; I’m encouraging you to be inspired by fashion muses or themes. So if you’re feeling like Alexa Chung, select a quirky piece to add to your suit (maybe a bear-print blouse?), cool glasses or Oxfords in place of heels. Reliving the days of listening to Nirvana on repeat? (Or was that just me?) Work something grunge-inspired into your office look: a crisp plaid button-down under a blazer, a grandpa-style cardigan or a striped blazer over a floral dress. You can even work in vintage pieces.

This might be strange, coming from someone who writes a style advice column (and who’s advised readers to play it safe on occasion), but I’m tired of over-thinking what I wear (Is it conservative enough? How’s my skirt length?). We all know that women lawyers, for myriad reasons, have it tougher than men when it comes to work wear. And the reality is that what we wear does matter, to a degree. But when we were children, we weren’t concerned with how others viewed us. We wanted to be cowgirls, fairies and ballerinas, so we dressed up and let our imaginations run wild. It’s so freeing to set aside your inhibitions and have fun with clothes — so try it! And if people judge you? Let them! They only wish they were having as much fun as you.

Emma Williamson is a fashion-obsessed corporate commercial lawyer at Dentons. Her mission is to inspire Precedent’s female readers to break out of a style rut while obeying obvious and not-so-obvious workplace dress codes. Follow her on Twitter: @EmmaWorkStyle.

Photos courtesy of Madewell