I wrote a post on what essential items a capsule wardrobe for a business casual dress code should contain. However, I’ve had a few requests to do some capsule wardrobe posts with actual pieces, so take the post from the theory to the practice. Your wish is my command, Reader.
Before we start, some points to note are:
- you can either just stick with the key pieces that form a capsule wardrobe or use it as a foundation, from which to build a larger wardrobe (by including some extra colourful and printed pieces);
- its important to choose a colour palette, so that everything coordinates. I have chosen black (with some blue), as its the most versatile, however, you may prefer other neutral colours, like charcoal or navy;
- these pieces are likely to be hardest working ones in your working wardrobe, so choose them carefully and buy the best quality you can; and
- know your workplace: depending on how informality your workplace is, you may wish to mix these pieces with more casual items, like knitted tops and (unripped) jeans.
Here is a wardrobe board showing The Key Pieces:
I have created a Pinterest board that contains both the key pieces and the extras, that together to give you a multitude of outfits:
Follow the workwear edit’s board Capsule wardrobe: business casual on Pinterest.
1) A PLAIN BLACK BLAZER
Get the best quality, best fitting blazer you can, in a neutral, but you may prefer a modern shape like a biker jacket or a zip up blazer, rather than a traditional suit blazer. Tweed and other fabric variations also work well here. If you do have a formal blazer, the sleeves can be rolled up, or it can be worn with non-tailored pieces like jeans. Regardless of whether you buy cotton or wool, buy the best quality you can afford, as you will notice the difference in a blazer.
The key plain black blazer here is the WHISTLES | Ella Ponte Jersey Jacket in black | 96% Cotton, 4% Elastane. Machine Wash | £95 as it has the classic suit blazer shape, but is unlined and made of stretch cotton, which makes it business casual attire. Also, it has some contrasting fabric panels which makes it a little more interesting than some:
Another black jacket, in a different shape is the JIGSAW | Cotton stretch jacket in black | 94% cotton, 5% polyamide, 1% elastane. Dry clean only | £169, its a hybrid between a blazer and a cardi (blardi?).
EXTRA: A COLOURED OR TEXTURED BLAZER
Once you have a plain neutral blazer, do also consider a different coloured and/or textured blazer, particularly if you favour black trousers or skirts, but don’t want to wear a solid black outfit.
The extra textured blazer is the MANGO | Belt jacquard jacket in neutral | 64% cotton, 20% acrylic, 14% polyester, 2% polyamide | £34.99 (was £69.95). The jacket would probably benefit from either a different belt or no belt at all:
An alternative is the the BANANA REPUBLIC | Textured Collarless Jacket in black with white | 80% cotton, 20% polyester | £39.99 (was £110).
Another elegant alternative is the JIGSAW | Stretch Tweed Jacket in black and cream |86% cotton, 7% acrylic, 4% polyester, 3% polyamide | £89 (was £179). This blardi jacket is largely unlined, but looks good and fits well.
A colourful blazer is the MASSIMO DUTTI | Orange knit blazer | 100% cotton. Lining 100% viscose | £79.95. Orange is fabulous: fun like red but a little less classic.
A nude or pink blazer is a flattering, useful piece, such as the MANGO | Bow pattern blazer in neutral BOTONA3-H | 52% cotton,34% polyester,14% viscose| £44.99.
A lighter alternative blazer is the TOPSHOP | Stripe Cropped Jacket in ivory and black | 100% Cotton. Dry clean only | Cropped tailored jacket with frayed hem and zip pocket detail | £58.
Finally, a white blazer is surprisingly versatile, such as the ZARA | Short blazer with pockets in off white | 98% cotton, 2% elastane. Lining: 100% acetate | £59.99.
2) A PLAIN IVORY BLOUSE
If a button down shirt is too formal, then a blouse shape works well here. It should still be ironed and nicely fitted.
The key blouse here is the PURE COLLECTION | Silk satin T-shirt in ivory | 100% Silk Satin | £79; jersey can look too casual for work, especially if paired with jeans, but silk works well in this shape: EXTRA: A BLACK AND A COLOURED BLOUSE
I would also recommend a black blouse, such as the BODEN | Ravello Top in raven black | 63% viscose 37% silk. Machine wash | £49:
A brightly coloured extra is the PURE COLLECTION | Pure Silk Satin T-Shirt in sailor blue | 100% silk. Hand wash | £37 (was £79):
If you prefer the look of a classic button down white cotton shirt, with the sleeves rolled up, there is the UNIQLO | Broadcloth Long Sleeve Shirt in white | 73% Cotton, 23% Polyester, 4% Spandex. Machine wash | £19.90, which you can see me trying it on here. This MANGO | Bib detail shirt in white (SAN) | 96% cotton,4% elastane | £16.99 (was £34.99) also looks terrific, as I favour the extra opaqueness a bib front offers.
3) A PRINTED BLOUSE
Any abstract or graphic print, or stripes, work, but approach florals, frills and loud/large prints with caution.
The key printed blouse is the Somerset by Alice Temperley | Kimono Print Blouse, Cream | 100% silk | £89:
An additional printed blouse is the JIGSAW | Blue depths print silk top | 100% silk. Cold hand wash | Round neck, relaxed fit, elbow-length sleeves | £98. This is a smart buy as it has a matching skirt, so you could even wear this double print outfit as a dress alternative.
There are some other beautiful printed shirts and blouses such as the PURE COLLECTION | Silk Tie Front Blouse in blurred check black and white | 100% silk georgette | £43 which would look great with skinny jeans, to counter the formality of it:
Another beautiful printed blouse is the REISS | Delores Pansey Print Silk Blurred Bloom Blouse | 100% silk. Hand wash | £135. A further printed blouse is the BODEN | Paris blouse in swan print black | 100% viscose | £69.
4) A NEUTRAL ROUND NECK KNIT
This is a great, low maintenance piece, as long as you choose a flattering (not tight), hard wearing one. Merino is the most durable wool, and also looks finer than cashmere, so that’s why the plain knits I have chosen are merino.
The key round neck knit here is the J CREW | Merino Tippi sweater in north sea blue | merino wool | £69.50:
The heather grey version also looks very versatile. A less expensive alternative is the similar albeit more fitted and long sleeved GAP | Merino sweater | 100% merino wool |£39.95, that comes in a range of colours:
EXTRA: A PRINTED KNIT
A terrific looking printed extra is the COS | Printed panel cardigan in black | 100% Cotton with silk/cotton front panel | Hidden press stud fastening | £55:
5) A BLACK PENCIL SKIRT
The classic office skirt is a pencil skirt, but a more voluminous shape might suit you better. For versatility, its smart to buy a black skirt that coordinates with your black blazer, for when you need to be dressed formally (interview, anyone?). For a business casual look, a pencil skirt is perfect worn with a t shirt or knit, for example.
The key black pencil skirt here is the J CREW | No. 2 pencil skirt in cotton twill in black | £66 (was £110). You can see me trying the cream version on here:
EXTRA: A PRINTED SKIRT
As mentioned, a smart buy is a matching skirt and top, so you can wear them either separately or together. So, I am also including the the JIGSAW | Blue Depths Print Pencil Skirt | 97% cotton 3% elastane | £98.00:
A further versatile print pencil skirt is the MINT VELVET | Liza Print Pencil Skirt in mocha, black and ivory | 97% Cotton, 3% Elastane | £35 (was £79):
6) SLIM BLACK TROUSERS
Cropped cigarette or straight trousers are quite popular right now, but wider leg trousers might suit your figure better. As with the pencil skirt, its smart to buy trousers that coordinate with your blazer, even if you rarely wear them together.
A more affordable alternative is the GAP | Ultra skinny pants in black | 95% cotton, 5% elastane | £39.95. These are wonderfully flattering, but size down 1 or 2 sizes, and expect them to give during wear. You can see me trying them on here.
EXTRA: COLOURED AND PRINTED TROUSERS
Colourful pieces are both more interesting and less formal than dark neutrals, so I have also included the BODEN | Bistro Crop Trouser in gemstone | 95% cotton 5% elastane. Machine wash | £59:
Beige trousers really useful and versatile, such as the BANANA REPUBLIC | Hampton fit sateen crop in casual beige | 98% Cotton, 2% Elastane. Machine wash | £59.50:
A good printed trouser option are the WAREHOUSE | Floral geo print trousers | 97% cotton, 3% elastane. Machine wash | £36:
7) A PLAIN DRESS
The classic office dress is a shift dress, but a cocoon or a boxy shape (stick with structured shapes), might suit you better. Dresses are the simplest way to dress, however dresses may be too formal for your workplace, so you may not need them or may prefer to wear them with flats.
The key plain dress here is the BODEN | Ottoman Shift in black | 100% cotton. Machine washable | £79. This dress calls for leopard print heels; but I often think that about clothes!: EXTRA: A PRINTED DRESS The key printed dress is the WHISTLES | Bella Ikat dress | 85% Silk, 15% Elastane. Dry clean | £155. Its possibly veering towards too formal for some workplaces, but it would be that perfect dress to take you from work to after work drinks:
Another, more summery, dress is the COLLECTION by John Lewis | Lucette Sleeveless Dress In azure blue | 100% cotton | £79.
8) BLACK AND METALLIC HEELS
I recommend closed toe heels that are no higher than 8 or 9cm, ideally with both a leather outer and lining. Every working wardrobe needs as many interesting shoes as possible, too, as they truly do transform the most neutral outfit.
The key black heels here are the LK BENNETT | Floret Leather Point Toe Court in black | leather, leather lining and sole | heel height: 8.5cm | £170:
An alternative to the Floret shoe is the RUSSELL BROMLEY | 5th Ave in black patent | Patent leather upper, leather lining and sole | Heel height: 8cm | £165.
A less expensive alternative is the DUNE | Appoint in black leather | leather, Lining: leather, Sole:synthetic | Heel Height: 7.5cm | £65. For leather outer and lined shoes, these are great value.
Metallic heels are so useful, and are a little edgier than nude heels, so these Jimmy Choo-esque silver heels are another key piece: BODEN | Jackie Heels in silver | Metallic leather upper, leather lining and sole | £99:
EXTRA: COLOURED AND PRINTED HEELS
Do also buy some coloured and printed closed toe heels, if you can, like the BANANA REPUBLIC | Ninah Pump in snakeskin print | 100% Leather, breathable synthetic lining w a cushioned insole and synthetic outsole | 3 1/2″ heel | £60 (was £85):
Leopard is a neutral, after all, so its not easy to go past a pair like the KURT GEIGER | Bea in leopard print ponyskin | Leather, Lining: Synthetic, Sole: Synthetic | Heel Height: 8cm | £39 (was £95):
If its colour you are after, these new season heels are gorgeous in real life: the LK BENNETT | Florisa in ultra blue saffiano leather | Kid leather upper, leather lining and sole | Heel height: 6.5cm | £160:
9) PLAIN FLAT SHOES
Whether you commute, are on your feet at work or just prefer flats, it seems most women wear flats during their working day, so they should look good as well as feel comfortable.
The key plain flats here are the M&S | Autograph Leather Pointed Toe Pumps with Insolia Flex® in nude | Leather upper, synthetic lining and sole | £45. Lovely, sleek looking things:
EXTRA: PRINTED OR COLOURED FLATS
The extra flats here are the CARVELA | Leopard Pumps, Pony Blue | Leather upper, synthetic sole | £49 (was £110):
A beautiful looking pair of coloured flats are the BODEN | Flat T-bar Point in aubergine | Leather upper and lining, synthetic sole | £69: 10) ACCESSORIES
Neutral outfits are really boosted by shoes, and also accessories like necklaces or, in winter, a fine scarf (this blue one from Cos is my favourite). As its summer, I will just refer to necklaces (and there is no coat in this post for that reason, too).
The key necklace here is the classic but modern ZARA | Big jewel necklace | 65% zinc, 30% acrylic, 5% steel| £19.99. Its really beautiful in real life and excellent value for money, like most of the Zara jewellery:
EXTRA: MULTICOLOURED NECKLACE
The extra necklace here is the ZARA | Multi coloured necklace | 55% zinc, 20% glass, 15% acrylic, 10% steel | £29.99. This necklace is stunning in real life, very Bulgari on a budget: ————-
So, the 10 key pieces should enable you to create a plethora of outfits, by mixing them with the extras and/or your existing casual pieces, like jeans, a denim shirt, a T-shirt. I will post again soon with some outfit ideas using the key pieces and extras. In the meantime, here is my dress down Friday / casual workplace Pinterest board that has many street style outfits to get inspiration from: