Student Fashion: Decoding Office Style for the Conservative Workplace

by Rachel Yeomans | March 14th, 2012   

By Jenn Bussell

Wrapping up a consulting project last Friday I found myself engaged in a fashion-related conversation that had my mind spinning. A friend of my client’s had just started a new job with a mortgage company and found herself on the receiving end of office demerits because she was not dressing to code. Yes, folks, you read that right: Demerits for inappropriate outfits. After picking up my jaw from the floor, I chuckled. This was a joke, right? Those places don’t still exist…do they? My client informed me her normally sassy and stylish friend had mistakenly walked back into the 1960s and was handed a printed Code of Conduct complete with instructions on what was deemed office appropriate. For women, their skirts have to be a minimum of two inches below the knee. Arms must be covered at all times. Cleavage-bearing tops are tantamount to an NC-17 movie.

While no real punishments are doled out for sartorial insubordination at this particular company, being condemned as the office Jezebel has damaging effects on the psyche, not to mention one’s work performance and advancement potential. So this week’s decoding office style focuses on successfully navigating the conservative workplace. Think accounting firms, brokerage houses, and some banking institutions.

When is comes to the art of conservative style that is both classic and on trend there is no better role model for a young professional than the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton.

As seen last Thursday with Queen Elizabeth’s heading out on the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee tour of the U.K., Kate is the model of modesty. Yet she comes off looking polished and smart, not prim and stiff. Her color choice of teal is on point for Spring 2012; her peplum jacket is the season’s style star.

kate middleton Student Fashion: Decoding Office Style for the Conservative Workplace

Queen Elizabeth II and the Duchess of Cambridge Source:; Image by Anthony Devlin/PA Photos/Abaca


Not to be overlooked Queen Elizabeth herself is rocking a rich royal pink that also happens to be one of the colors according to Pantone’s Spring 2012 color trend report – Cabaret. Pared with basic black, the Queen’s tailored coat and fashion-forward headwear keep her feet firmly planted in the 21st century.

pantone cabaret Student Fashion: Decoding Office Style for the Conservative WorkplaceLet’s take inspiration from these modern monarchs and just say ‘no’ to twinsets and pearls and ‘yes’ to re-interpreting conservative classicism in a fresh new way – all while still towing the conservative company’s apparel line. As shown in the style sheet below, bow to the office queen of code by keeping things covered up with a chic striped cardigan atop a crisp white top and pink Capri pants. Black patent accessories lend an air of sophistication, while a colorful oversized watch ensures this look doesn’t take itself too seriously.

y Student Fashion: Decoding Office Style for the Conservative Workplace

Be great like Kate in a fitted, cap-sleeved teal sheath that hits below the knee.  Top it with a proper blazer and classic accessories that will easily take you from day to night in style.  Feeling cheeky? Don a fab fascinator like this one from ASOS. But don’t be surprised if the paparazzi start mistaking you for a Middleton.