How often have we envied and been awed by some of the stylish and chic office outfits sported by women in Hollywood movies, wishing we could adopt similar ones in our offices as well. Sadly, in India, women and more than them, organizations appear to be confused about the right formal dress code for office for them. When invited for an interview, women are more perplexed by what to wear rather than the interview questions. But thankfully, this scenario is gradually changing and so we thought this would be an ideal time to give you women a comprehensive idea about the work wear or formal wear for women in India.
Now, it goes without saying (and we have also always reiterated in almost all our blog posts the importance of dressing well), your sense of style is considered a part of your personality; hence, your choice of clothes and dressing style at work, is important to create the right tone.
As women, we may tend to be a bit conscious about the way we dress, especially in an office atmosphere; hence, its key to ensure that you dress modestly. But, we are sure with this simple guide, you can dress more confidently and be the style icon.
In India formal wear are categorized as : Indian wear and Western wear.
1. Indian Wear
The term Indian wear needs no particular explanation. For those of you who are quite hesitant to wear trousers and shirts to office, Indian formal wear is the best solution; from sarees to kurtas, it has so many different options to choose from. And nevertheless, can be styled in chic and smart ways.
In Indian wear, lets further categorize as:
- Full Set- Saree, Salwar Suits
- Top Wear- Kurtis, Kurtas
- Bottom Wear- Salwar, Churidar, Leggings
In India, sarees are an accepted professional outfit and without doubt, a part of the women’s formal wear.
Now sarees, have different draping styles regionally across India, but the common and standard style is the one with the pallu draped over the left shoulder towards the back.
Though we had done a full guide on Women sarees, what we are referring to, from an office or formal point of view, are something quite different. Nine yards of pure elegance, when styled well, a saree can be your best friend and come out as an ultimate and sophisticated formal wear for women. Capable of putting up a tough competition to some of the most stylish western outfits, its ideal to opt for subtle and nude, earthy or pastel shades for office.
Some of the things to keep in mind when choosing a saree for office:
- Avoid big bright prints and embellishments (unless of-course, its a party or get-together)
- Reserve the silk sarees for functions and stick to easy to drape and easy to maintain fabrics like cotton silk, kota silk, chanderis etc for daily office wear.
- Its best to not experiment much with blouse neck/sleeve designs when wearing them to office.
- Rest assured, with the right accessories, you will be truly be on top of the fashion game, in your office.
Read more: The Ultimate Silk Saree Guide for Women
1.2. Salwar Suits
Yet another complete outfit in itself, a salwar suit is a great alternative choice for women to wear to office. Salwar suit is nothing but a combination of salwar/churidar, a kameez and a dupatta and today, these can be so easily mixed and matched to create so many different combinations. But remember, there are different types of salwars available especially, with most differences being in the top/kameez styles, and not every style is suitable for office. Its best to choose straight cut or A-line salwar suits in fabrics like cotton, jute silk, chanderi, tussar silk etc.
A good idea would be to invest in some elegant dupattas, since they can truly help transform the entire look and outfit itself (so now you know why Fabindia dupattas are so pricy!!).A few things to remember when choosing a salwar suit outfit:
- Opt for solids or small prints and with less or no embellishments
- Avoid revealing or deep necks and extremely tight fitting tops
- Avoid styles like anarkalis since they are more of ethnic wear kind
- Its good to make sure that the kameez/top is at least of a knee length, to make it look more formal.
Extremely popular among women in India today, kurtis occupy a key position in most wardrobes. Available in myriad styles and colors, they are extremely comfortable and trendy and can be styled very easily as well. Highly versatile, you can wear them to just about anywhere, from weddings to college to office.
Kurtis are a very popular outfit as office-wear among women, and they can be styled to create a smart and chic look by pairing it up with leggings, churidar/salwar or even cotton/linen pants.
Read more: Beginner’s Guide to Women’s Kurtis
To ensure you are making no mistakes, its key to choosing the right style of kurtis.
- Its best to avoid flared, tiered, hi-low/asymmetric styles of kurtis and opt for A-line, straight cut or button down/shirt style kurtis
- Choose breathable fabrics that are comfortable to wear all day long
- Prefer long kurtis that extend at least up till the knee
- Go for earthy, nude, lighter or pastel shades, ideally in solids, smaller prints/embroideries.
- Slits are another aspect to keep in mind; ideally go low key with slits, choosing kurtis with smaller/shorter slits.
What happens when your Kurti gets cut down at waist length, it simply becomes a Kurta! Jokes apart, a kurta is more or less a short version of a kurti, ending almost at waist length. They are short tops in blouse styles (Western wear) that has been Indianised.
Ideal as a casual as well as formal wear, you can pair it up with trousers or pants to create a stylish yet subtle formal look that you can sport to office.
The same tips applies for kurtis as well; its best to stick to subtle, earthy or lighter shades in breathable fabrics that will keep you comfortable all day long. Avoid over embellishments and distracting embroideries or prints too.
Now that we have spoken about the different top wears under Indian formal wear category, lets move on to explore some of the bottom wears with which you can pair them up to office.
A salwar is a comfortable and loosely pleated trousers, that is tapered to a tight fit around the ankle area. There are different types of salwar available today, and the style mostly varies from region to region. For example, in Punjab, they are much more looser and is called a patiala salwar.
Hence, just like kurtis, choosing the appropriate style of salwar is key, when wearing to office as part of formal wear.
You can pair up salwars with Kurtis, especially with those of knee or slightly shorter length. To ensure its formal enough, you can choose tapered ones that are not very loose and has lesser pleats. Beige, whites, off whites and blacks are some of the most ideal shades to choose.
Also called Churidar Pyjamas, they are narrow trousers that are tight fitted and usually buttoned at the ankle level. Being longer than the length of the leg, the excess part of the garment gets folded, and these folds usually begins just below the knee or at the calf to ankle level, and resembles a set of bangles. Hence called a ‘Churidar’ (‘Churi’ meaning bangle and ‘dar’ meaning like).
Churidars look very classy, especially with the right fitting and is best suited to be paired with long kurtis as part of your work outfit. Just like salwars, its advisable to stick to standard and solid colors rather than neon or extremely bright shades.
Though there has been several debates and flurry conversations over wearing leggings to offices and colleges, women have always loved and preferred them, mostly because of the amount comfort and ease it provides. And because of this, they have almost found a secure place in women’s work wardrobe in India.
Highly affordable, they are more or less like tights, available in multitude colors, in a stretchy fabric. They are criticized by many for the fact that they tend to be quite tight and does not give an elegant or professional look and feel. But in India, they are acceptable as part of an ensemble like kurtis, by most organisations, unless explicitly mentioned.
Only word of caution, avoid using them with shorter kurtis and kurtas and stick to neutral shades. Also, avoid leggings that does not reach up to the ankles.
We have managed to cover most of the Indian formal wear outfits that can be worn to office by women. We will now move on to the formal wear category under Western wear.
2. Western Wear
For most, when you mention formal wear, its mostly western formal wears that jumps into your mind, especially, shirts and trousers and maybe, blazers. So here we are going to list down the different options available under western formal wear category for women in India. Like the Indian wear, we will categorize this in a similar manner.
In Western wear, lets categorize as:
- Full Set- Dress (Shift & Sheath dresses)
- Top Wear- Shirts, Blouses, Tunics
- Bottom Wear- Culottes, Pants/Trousers (Slacks), Palazzo, Skirts
A very popular trend among women abroad, dresses are quite a common and integral part of women’s formal wardrobe. Just like sarees, dresses are a complete outfit in itself.
Now formal dresses are mainly two types: Shift dresses & Sheath dresses
2.1.1. Shift Dress
A shift dress, just like the name suggests, shifts with you; its a minimalistic and short type of dress that is loosely cut compared to a sheath dress and hence tends to be more comfortable. They are ideal as a casual wear and as a chic formal wear, the differentiation factor between both being the style of shift dress, the color as well as the styling. Its considered more versatile and suits most body types.
2.1.2. Sheath Dress
A sheath dress is a body hugging or well fitted dress style outfit, available in varying length from right above the knee to even calf or ankle length. Its a highly formal outfit that can be worn to office or even for a black tie event. You could consider a sheath dress as the glamorous cousin of a shift dress.
Now, be it a shift or sheath dress that you are opting for, its best to stick to a simple and minimalist style with little or no embellishments, yet has a chic look. Shades like black, beige, maroons, dark blues etc are ideal color choices. And to ensure a modest look, you could choose dresses that are have a length below the knee, a modest neckline and has shorter slits. Depending on your work place and comfort, you could decide on the sleeve length.
One of the most popular top wear among women’s formals, shirts are quite a wardrobe essential to look all business like and smart. Best paired with pants, trousers and skirts, there are multitude different options available in shirts for women. With varying sleeve lengths, you can opt for solids, printed or striped ones!
Tip: A crisp white formal shirt is a timeless wardrobe staple for both men and women
Not sure how to style your white shirt? Read: How to wear and style White this season
Yet another top wear that is part of women’s business attire are blouses. If shirts are to create a pure business like and smart look, blouses have a more elegant and stylish touch; they help create a more feminine silhouette. Blouses, like shirts, can be paired with trousers, pants, skirts and even a step ahead, going beautifully with palazzos and culottes as well.
Tip: Blouses, being a bit more flowy and comfortable, suit most body types well. They are ideal for women who are on the curvier side.
Tunic tops are loose fitting garments that are slightly longer than shirts and blouses and usually, extend well below the hip. Available in different styles and lengths, they are easily one of the versatile type of tops, that can quickly transform from formal to casual with some simple styling and accessorizing.
They go well with pants as well as tapered trousers. Palazzos or wide legged trousers might not be a good idea with tunic tops.
When choosing tunic tops for office, the usual rules with regard to embellishments, large prints and bright shades apply.
Culottes are more of a divided skirt; at the first glance, it might look like a skirt since its pretty wide and loose but is actually a pant. And after quite a long sabbatical, they are now back in action in the fashion scene.
A great option for office, their length of these wide legged pants may vary from anywhere right below the knee up till the calf and it of course, goes without saying that, it’s best to choose the lengthier ones to wear to work. Culottes can look very chic and stylish when paired with shirts as well as blouses and even with a blazer. Choose shades like navy, dark green, browns, beiges or blacks to create versatile options.
Tip: Your footwear plays a very important role in shaping your entire look, especially when wearing culottes since your ankle below is exposed.
Pants and trousers are quite the same; the difference in terms arise because, the British call it trousers and the Americans refer to it as pants. Hence, the rest of the world uses it interchangeably!
Be it pants/trousers, it needs no formal introduction and is one of the most popular bottom wear among both men and women, all over the world. And today, with the fashion scene fast evolving, there are so many different styles and cuts available to choose from, depending on your body types, like skinny, straight, tapered, boot-cut, cropped and so many more!
Women’s formal trousers are also called dress pants or slacks and is a stylish bottom wear that suits all body types (you just need to choose the one that suits your body shape the best). Make sure you have blacks, navy, greys, beige and browns in your wardrobe.
Similarly, there are so many different Indian brands, including Fabindia, that have come up with trousers/pants in fabrics like linen, raw silk, cotton etc., which are perfect to be paired with kurtis and even tunics.
Yet another versatile bottom wear for women, that has become a rage ever since its reappearance in the fashion world are palazzos. With these, the easy transformation from work to play, from board meetings to clubs and malls, coupled with the style and comfort factor, have made them a women’s favorite so soon.
These loose, wide legged beauties available in different lengths and fabrics, are super easy to style and goes well with shirts and blouses. You just need to choose the appropriate cut that suits your body shape and accessorize the look for a stylish avatar at work!
Tip: The footwear you choose to wear along with it is quite key!
Need help in choosing the right type of palazzos?
Read more: Women’s Palazzo Guide or Different types of Women’s Palazzos
Skirts are trendy, feminine and super sexy! They are capable of helping you achieve a plethora of different looks, perfect for every occasion!
In India, skirts are a stylish and sophisticated option for women to wear to work, with pencil skirts being the most popular and chic choice. Even lightly pleated, high waist or circular skirts are great options. In fact, you have so many different varieties that you could easily pick one that will go well with your body type.
Like dresses, you can choose the length of the skirts depending on the dress code policy of your organisation as well as your comfort. And its best to stick to standard, solid or striped skirts, with no or shorter slits.
Love skirts a little too much or not sure which skirt styles are right for office, read: 7 essential skirt styles women should own.
Tip: Since your ankles and feet are going to be exposed, make sure you choose the appropriate footwear.
Want help in choosing the right footwear to go with your skirt, read How to choose footwear according to your skirt length.
All the categorizations, above, have been made only for the purpose of easy representation and understanding. These outfits can be mixed and matched to create multitude work outfits for women (like kurtis and palazzos or linen pants, etc.).
We hope you will be able to whip up some chic outfits and run the day with these ideas. Also, if you feel we have missed any outfit, feel free to drop them in the comments below.
Banner Image Courtesy : Priyanka Pareek