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Vogue & Style

Adding a creative touch to your corporate outfit

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Dressing for the office can be both a blessing and a curse. Just like our school days when we were made to wear uniforms, corporate dress codes often remove the pressures of having to decide what to dress ourselves in each day. Or, at the very least, it narrows our decision down to a simple shirt and tie combination.

But for some of us, this just isn’t enough. We end up feeling stifled and restricted in our sometimes stuffy work ensembles and strive to find ways of expressing ourselves. This is where adding a creative touch to our corporate attire comes in.

The Difference between Creative & Corporate Dressing

There are not too many things in life that are completely black and white, but when it comes to corporate dressing it is often just that. From bankers to lawyers, a more formal working environment generally calls for less variety in the clothing department. Yet as long as fit, fabric and style are considered, corporate wear can be a suave and sophisticated affair.

The key with corporate dressing is that your overall look needs to be slick, refined and professional. Whether you’re attending an important client lunch or standing up in front of a crowded boardroom to deliver a presentation, you will want to keep the focus off what you’re wearing and on what you’re doing. A tailored monochrome suit is the go-to (and sometimes the be all and end all) for these lines of work, finished off with a well-polished pair of Oxfords.

But when it comes to dressing for more creative work environments, such as jobs in media or advertising, there is often more room to experiment. You’ll still want to maintain a sense of professionalism, but you might be able to try out more relaxed pieces such as unstructured tailoring, a short-sleeved shirt, vibrant colors and even statement prints.

That’s not to say those working in creative fields should get to have all the fun. It is very important to inject some personality into formal attire. Besides, you are often required to think creatively in any job, whether it’s to rectify a business problem or come up with an advertising concept, so why not dress more creatively too?

The ‘Rule of One’

The best way to start incorporating some creative flair into your corporate wardrobe is by focusing on one item in each outfit. This way, you won’t overpower the entire look or ‘go too far’.

Whether it’s including a printed piece, opting for a textured shirt, revealing a bold pair of socks or simply the way you roll your sleeve cuffs, there are many subtle tweaks we can make to our current nine-to-five looks.

The Power of Color

Following this ‘rule of one’ technique, let the power of color work its effortless magic. Of course, we don’t mean a vibrantly colored suit here; the chances of you feeling comfortable and confident in a bright green two-piece – let alone being allowed to wear one – are slim to none. Think subtle yet impactful.

The most obvious accessory to start with is your tie. Bear in mind our advice on shirt and tie matching and then look to build yourself a collection of high quality block-colored ties in a variety of textures and hues that can be combined with your traditional white, sky blue, pink, and striped work shirts. Just remember to keep your choices contemporary and not OTT – anything too thin, shiny, cheap-looking or ‘quirky’ should be avoided at all costs.

Key brands to consider when building your own tie collection include Marwood London, Drakes, Suitsupply and Brooks Brothers, along with high street names such as Reiss and T.M.Lewin.

A pair of brightly-hued socks are a great way of factoring colour into your workwear wardrobe. If you’re wearing a black or charcoal suit, your choices are almost limitless when it comes to which shade you go for. From bright blue to citric orange, a great pair of socks will liven up even the most dreary of office ensembles, with the unexpected flash of colour when you sit down or cross your legs proving even more powerful than an obvious, overt statement.

For those with that are allowed to wear a navy suit to work, try lighter, complementary colors such as pastel pink or yellow or keep it in the same family with an on trend cobalt blue pair. There are a number of great men’s hosiery specialists on the market currently – Pantherella, Happy Socks, Corgi and Falke all produce high quality socks in a variety of contemporary colour ways and patterns.

Another way to introduce colour into your workwear with the ‘rule of one’ technique is through the lining of your suit or overcoat. The lining of your garment might seem like a rather subtle element of your ensemble, but you’d be surprised what difference an unexpected splash of colour makes to the way you look and, more importantly, the way you feel. After all, expressing yourself through your clothing is all about an attitude. It’s a mindset.

Traditional British heritage brands are often your best bet for tailoring with striking inside linings (block-colored or patterned); think Ted Baker, Ben Sherman, Paul Smith and even high street names like Marks & Spencer.

Finally, spectacle wearers have even more room to be creative in a corporate workplace. Ditch your wire-rim glasses for a unique frame shape, which can quickly become a trademark of your personal style, or opt for specs with a hint of colour in the frames – the Ray-Ban wayfarers fit the bill perfectly.

Prints, Patterns and Texture

PPT is no longer just shorthand for PowerPoint in the office. It now stands for Prints, Patterns and Texture. If you’re not quite ready to introduce vivid hues to your workplace, prints, patterns or textures will help add a subtle creative touch to your ensemble without the snarky co-worker comments.

A printed pocket square is the perfect accessory to breathe life into your corporate wardrobe. Folded, tucked or simply stuffed into the top pocket of a well-cut blazer, they instantly add a dandy touch to your city slicker look.

It’s important to note that matching your tie to your pocket square is a sartorial no-no, whether it’s the exact shade or pattern, so bear in mind your colour pairing basics and instead look to contrast them in an elegant and refined way – a burgundy polka dot pocket square with a solid navy grenadine tie, for example.

From on trend polka dots and modern geometrics to classic checks and polka dots, Reiss and MR PORTER are great places to start when it comes to finding pocket squares that are full of panache.

Another go-to accessory for adding some character to your corporate workwear is a textured tie. Subtle but effective, a slim tie crafted from a textured fabric is an easy ticket into expressive yet sophisticated formal dressing.

Final Word

When it comes to dressing for a corporate environment, we’ve proven that it doesn’t always have to be so black and white. Adding a touch of flair to your work wear will enhance your creative thinking; before long, colleagues will be relying on you for your out-of-the-box ideas and problem solving skills.

So what are you waiting for? There are so many ways to liven up your nine-to-five wardrobe while remaining professional and refined, just remember the ‘rule of one’ and add a couple of key accessories to your collection. You’ll be surprised by what a big difference it makes to both how you look, feel and work.

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Vogue & Style

The rising trend of African wear in the corporate office

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African wear is gradually gaining roots in the corporate offices since the introduction of the National Friday wear program in Ghana. Most companies prefer styling up in their customized African print while others wear general African prints styled to their design. The result of this culture has been the exponential increment of both small and large scale enterprises like boosting the sale of African prints on the market, fashion designers making money and increasing the production of such textiles; not forgetting the unique identity it gives to companies who have customized their African prints.

In spite of the fact that only a day of the week has been allocated for this purpose, the trend of African wear for corporate offices is rising. Some people opine that, African prints are very comfortable to be in and very easy to accessorize and as such, one can always improvise to fit business occasions like meetings, presentations, summits and other business purposes. How then should a corporate worker spruce up in an African print for corporate environment?

Choosing the right Fabric:

  • Texture: One needs to be mindful of the kind of fabric one chooses for the corporate environment. Choose one that sits well on the skin and does not cause any form of irritations to the skin. Avoid very heavy fabrics which do not allow circulation of air to and from the skin, thus producing a lot of heat and sweat. If one also decides to choose a lighter fabric, be sure it is properly lined. And watch out for threads hanging out from any part of your dress or shirt; so it doesn’t look funny walking around.
  • Colour: The temptation of picking something colourful is exceptionally high when one wants to look stylish. Avoid looking like a flower pot by shunning prints with so many colours and broad patterns. It becomes a distraction, especially when interacting with clients. For a suave look, just aim for something beautiful but not so bright. For businesses with customized prints for work, if one could not wear theirs, they should get something similar to what is acceptable so they do not look like a visitor at their workplaces.

Style:

  • Men: Men do not have much to do with African prints except of course their shirts for work. Unless one works with a fashion, a creative or a media company, one needs to kindly avoid using bright African prints for jacket or suit. Stick with the well-fitted short or long sleeve shirt. Shirts should be crease-free and worn with neatly ironed black, grey, navy blue, brown or a dark shade of the most dominating colour of the print trousers, with neatly polished black or brown leather shoes, or a more casual loafer and a pair of socks that blends with the trousers. In a dark coloured suit, an African print vest is simply stunning.
    • Women: The challenges that come with picking a style appropriate for work increases when it has to do with African prints. If one finally decides to wear a blouse, avoid styles that cut low exposing the cleavage. The style should not be ‘wild’ and by all means, make sure the undies are well covered. The blouse should have enough space so that it is not too tight or restricting. One needs to look smart and comfortable at work.

What to wear with an African Print?

Depending on the style of the blouse, the usual pencil skirts, trousers or even flare skirts may fit well or not. For a blouse with no exaggerated additions or for a small top, wear a flared skirt or a trouser that is not too skimpy or smallish. For a broad or big blouse, a pencil skirt or a fitting trouser is advisable. But of course, it is subject to one’s stature which varies with every lady.

If one decides to go with a straight dress, shun from bright or loud colours. The style should be simple but classy. Nothing too loose or tight, just well-fitted. There should be absolutely no form of excessive skin exposure either around the chest or the thigh. To allow free and easy movements, there should be an open beside or behind the dress just enough for movement and not as much to expose too much skin.

If one decides to use African prints for the skirt, the same rules apply. A flared skirt will best fit a small top, whereas a print pencil skirt goes with a broad or big top. Do not use African prints for trousers to work unless to a creative, a fashion or a media company.  Wear African print skirt with a simple blouse; not too bright! Preferably the dark shade of the colour with no or small patterns. A nice blazer will switch the look up to another level of class and elegance.

Accessories:

The way one accessorizes can make the look spot-on or clumsy. The latter is not advisable.

Bags: Either as a handbag for ladies or a laptop bag for both genders, a dull colour will best fit when looking colourful or bright, the same way a colourful bag will do the trick when one is in a dull outfit. It’s all about complementing the total look. In case one wants to wear an African print bag even though he/ she is dressed in an African print skirt or top, one must make sure it is the same fabric as the dress or something similar that blends in with the dress. Let’s reduce the wearing of African print straight dress and accessorizing with fully covered African print bags. A black bag or a bag with the darker shade of one’s favourite colour will work perfectly.

Shoes: For a corporate environment, it is not advisable for men to wear a shoe fully covered in an African print. This draws too much attention to one’s feet. A strip of African print on a black or dark brown leather shoe can do the magic. For ladies, either the shoe is fully covered in an African print from the same fabric one is wearing or the bag one is holding or stick with the black or dark brown low heels.

The neck or the area around the neck: Accessorizing the neck for both men and women either with a necklace, a tie or a scarf also comes with its own dos and don’ts. Using an African print around the neck means the brighter the necklace, tie or scarf, the darker and plain (or smaller patterns) the shirt or top but the darker the accessories the brighter the tops or shirt. Let’s not forget African print earrings to be worn should be small but nice.

When we descend on the body, accessorizing the chest area with either an African print brooch or a piece of African print in the breast pocket of our suit, should strictly be on a plain or a smaller patterned shirt or blouse.

Now to accessorize the hands with either African print wrist watch, beads, bracelets or cufflinks, the smaller the better. It shouldn’t be too bright unless of course, the dressing demands otherwise.

Men who would want to use African prints for belts, the less colourful it is, the better. One does not need to draw attention to one’s waist area at work.

Dressing in an African Print for a presentation:

Whenever there is a presentation at work, the presenter aims at gaining some form of attention and cooperation from those listening to the presentation. Captivating the attention and holding the interest of listeners are essential. This is why one cannot compete with his/ her dress for attention during a business presentation. One needs to come off as confident and knowing what he/ she is about, not the other way round. This is why brightly coloured, large patterned and detailed design fabrics should definitely be avoided.

Day, season and weather cannot be overlooked when choosing an appropriate African print fabric or style. The day should inform one on the kind of fabric to choose. In a rainy season, a heavy African print sewn as a long sleeve shirt or blouse is advisable because of the cold weather. So, obviously a summer season will demand the opposite; a light fabric (not transparent) sewn as a short sleeve top. And when the weather is just right, dress right!

Another fact is that all these tips are susceptible to the stature or shape of the individual. Since we cannot go into styling up for all the body types, let’s simply say if one’s upper body is bigger than the lower part, wear a small looking top on a flared skirt or loose trousers rather than a pencil skirt or a tight trouser. Which is to say that if one has a small upper body and a broad down or hip, a broad top on a pencil skirt or a tight trouser will flatter the figure perfectly. It is all about comfort and confidence when styling up to a corporate world. Simply have the image of the company you represent at the back of your mind and dress accordingly.

Men should perform their tonsorial duties as they always do and ladies’ makeup and hairstyles for work should not be affected by the presence of the African print. Go simple, beautiful and neat just as always.

One will notice that most of the tips centres on colour, style and texture of the African print; this is to say that once these elements are not in the right proportion, the look slips into a church look not a corporate look. Walk the fine line with class, confidence and the concept of thin slicing at the back of your mind!

This rising trend of African wear in the corporate offices has gone a long way towards making Ghanaians embrace and accept their culture by creating some sort of positive conformity where they feel left out if they don’t wear made in Ghana fabric on a Friday. The question now remains, should African prints be relegated to just Fridays or should be worn in any day of the week like it is done in Nigeria?

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