Helena Balls: Top 10 dos and don’ts for fashion at work

We love the thought of not being judged by our exterior and the idea that the clothes do not make the woman but hand on heart – we know an outfit can make or break us in an interview or in the board room.

There are certain rules that we can all agree to when it comes to fashion at work. For example, we all know not to wear flip flops or hot pants to the office, that’s a given. These are the other things that you might want to be careful with if you want to feel confident and be taken seriously at work.

Let’s start with our top 5 Don’ts:

1. Keep your underwear under wraps.

Sheer shirts are everywhere at the moment and a great summer option. They can look amazing and professional, there are so many styles available now and they are all gorgeous.

But if it’s properly sheer, make sure that you wear it with a slip underneath. Showing off your bra is never a good idea and displays sloppiness at best and could also be a way for people to question your seriousness at work. There are lots of options for slips that you can get now that are also really affordable. Invest in a couple, it’s money well spent.

2. Skirts can be short or tight, not both.

If you really want to (and your work dress code allows it) wear a short skirt, make sure it’s not also too tight. If you’ve got a nice fitted skirt in your wardrobe and you’re planning on wearing it to work, make sure it’s not a mini skirt.

Here’s why: when you sit down, a short and tight one will inevitably ride up and your legs will be all over the place making you feel self conscious. Incredibly distracting for you if you’re in a situation where you need to focus and not having to worry about your outfit. Short tight skirts also ride up when you walk and before you’ve reached the office, you’ll be wearing it as a belt.

3. Low cut neck lines don’t work at work.

Stick to higher neck lines or button up if you want to be able to move around without popping out or showing the world what your bra looks like. If your favourite top is really low, this can easily be taken care of by wearing a slip or a different kind of separate underneath to raise for example a low cut V-neck.

Stick to higher neck lines or button up if you want to be able to move around without popping out or showing the world what your bra looks like. If your favourite top is really low, this can easily be taken care of by wearing a slip or a different kind of separate underneath to raise for example a low cut V-neck.

Not only is a cleavage on display distracting for everyone else (both men and women), it’s also something that can easily make you feel self conscious which in turn is very likely to make you lose focus on what’s being said in a meeting or draw your attention away from what you’re doing.

4. Ripped isn’t right in the office.

This might be ok in some creative work places, for example distressed or ripped denim or whatever is all over the shops at the moment and looks great in a casual setting.

If you’re working for a funky young agency, you may even be encouraged to dress more “on trend” than if you work for a corporate accountant. Jeans are however very easy to smarten up with a shirt or a blazer – nothing beats mixing smart and casual pieces if you work in an office relaxed enough.

But if you’re client facing or corporate, if you are to wear denim, they should be whole and clean. And fit well. Common sense for most but trends and fads somehow tend to make faux pas like this pretty common in the office.

There are also so many other options to jeans if you’re not corporate enough or fancy wearing suit trousers. Culottes are still everywhere and smarter more fun alternatives to jeans are no longer difficult to find.

5. Don’t wear clothes that are too small.

This seems obvious but ill fitting clothes are really common. Sometimes we make mistakes in the shop, perhaps we bought a shirt that’s a bit too tight, and we can’t be bothered returning it. But of course, we want to get something out of the money we spent so we wear it anyway and therefore we spend the entire day trying to make sure that there isn’t a gap between the two buttons over the chest. All we can think of is that the shirt is too stretched and anytime soon, the button will pop off and kill the colleague opposite you. If you’re not distracted by this, your colleagues probably will be.

This can be a problem for anyone, regardless of size and if you really want to avoid this, try a button less shirt. They can be just as smart.

And 6-10 are our tips on what to do:

6. Bright colours and prints REALLY work

As long as it’s ok with your company dress code, play around with fun colours and seasonal prints, especially when it comes to separates or tops. It’s a really easy and affordable way to take your classic work wardrobe through the different seasons and follow trends if you like. It will also make you stand out and boost your mood with very little effort and investment.

There are also really nice bright trousers and blazers this season so if you’re a bit more brave, try brightening up the key staples too. Don’t be afraid to mix and match for the right balance, try an all black outfit with a bright blazer or go bright from top to toe.

7. Wear what makes you comfortable (yet presentable).

When I say comfortable I don’t mean wear pyjamas, I mean that you need to wear things that make you feel like you. It’s easy to follow trends and tips from “fashion gurus” but if you are not comfortable wearing bright colours and seasonal prints – then don’t. If you love black, then wear black, just make sure you’ve got your basics right. Invest in classic and simple pieces and look as sleek and professional as you want.

Nothing ruins the mood and confidence more than feeling out of place in your own skin, regardless of trends and fashion tips. Don’t let people talk you in to wearing things you don’t actually like. Trust your own instinct.

8. Dress for the occasion.

If you have a really big pitch coming up with a big prospect, show that you mean business by dressing for business. Going for an interview hoping to land your dream job? Research the dress code in advance and if you can’t find it, ask the head hunter.

Choose an outfit that is just above the company’s standard dress code and the role you’re applying for. You want to show your interviewer that you are a candidate with aspirations as well as making a lasting impression. You know you’re a force in your own right, enhance that feeling with a power suit that makes you feel like you could take over the world.

Keep in mind your own little quirks. You can’t cover your cheeks but if you blush when you’re nervous, make sure to cover up your chest as it then tends to get red. Or do you sweat? Pick a shirt that’s loose under your arm pits to avoid worrying about stains.

9. Do wear the right shoes.

I love heels – boots, pumps and court shoes, almost anything goes in my office world (except strappy sandals and high platforms), it’s a confidence boost for me and can pick up an otherwise boring outfit. You might have very good reasons not to wear heels – no problems, there are a bunch of options that work just as well.

So flats are definitely not out of the question, smart flats and androgynous brogues can work incredibly well both for just another day in the office and for a client meeting. Just make sure whatever you wear on your feet work with your trouser length – ankle boots can be amazing but if your trousers get caught, it doesn’t look great. Either wear trousers long enough to cover the top of your boots, or short enough to leave a tiny gap.

10. When in doubt, reach for the classics.

If you wake up on a mid week morning with no outfits planned and you’re not feeling at all inspired, you can never go wrong with classics. Most work wardrobes have a black or grey blazer – winning! Most will have a white shirt. If it’s crisp and clean, go get it. If your office is more laid back, team up your blazer with a t-shirt, it’s a killer look!

Not allowed to wear jeans to work? Worry not, your black blazer will go with anything from culottes to pinstripes. The key is to go with simplicity when unsure, it will remove almost any of the obsessing we tend to do when we feel we’re not dressed correctly and as with classics, you’re never too dressed or too casual.

Some final words of advice for dressing for the office: the rule is to wear what you want as long as it complies with your company’s dress code and as long as YOU feel comfortable.

You can’t get away from a dress code, a company is well within their right to ask their employees to dress in a way that portrays the company in a certain way and enhances the level of professionalism they would like to get across to their clients, partners and investors. The key is to make sure that you never feel self conscious and get distracted from your job, your clients or even your promotion.

Who is Helena Balls? Find out here.


No Ordinary Suit was inspired by me (Helena), who as a full-time employee found it challenging and time-consuming to trawl the internet to find pieces to wear that wasn’t too far away from my personal style. I was looking for items that made me feel confident and well dressed for meetings, pitches and presentations without having to wear a "uniform" and at the same time, feel comfortable enough to wear in a fairly relaxed office environment or going out in after work. The internet is full of "super stores" with tons of stock where you can find anything under the sun, and as quite a particular shopper, I feel that it gets very confusing. More often than not, even though I really need something, I end up not buying anything at all which ultimately means - I have nothing ton wear! I decided to go on a hunt and find items that would be great for the office but with an attitude, be that edgy, sassy, romantic or cheeky. I'd put the relevant pieces in an online retail store, where professional women, corporate or creative, can find apparel that is as stylish and interesting as it is professional. It should be fun and easy to find suitable clothes for the office that make women feel confident and individual. We have chosen a handful of brands and designers to feature on NoOrdinarySuit based on the novelties that they have brought to fashion and their uniqueness. The garments we present are special in themselves and will perform even better for you when paired with other pieces in this website chosen according to your own taste. NoOrdinarySuit is owned and ran by Scandis and as natural born tree huggers, it is essential that our partners comply with our high standards when it comes to ethical trading and sustainability. So far they have exceeded our expectations and as a customer, you can rest assured that the selection of brands very much supports us in our causes. We also wish to make a tangible and direct difference to women less fortunate than us and as such, we have decided to share part of our earnings and efforts with WOMANKIND. This is an international organisation for women’s rights working to support women and girls to improve their lives and communities in Africa, Asia and Latin America. They work to tackle issues that affect women’s lives and strive to empower women, providing a fair world where being a woman does not limit choices, opportunities or rights. Furthermore, NoOrdinarySuit is a small, family ran, independent retailer supporting young designers and up and coming brands, mainly from Scandinavia. We are not part of any mega system and the experience with us should be personal and friendly as well as effective and honest.