Suit Up!: Layered Neutrals

Yesterday, I mentioned that there are times when it is simply not appropriate to wear color to work.  For example, when working on the Hill, you should never wear color to a committee hearing.  Why? Because the staff often sit behind the Congressmen, and you don’t want the C-Span viewers to be distracted by your bright citron blouse.  So if you can’t wear color, how do you create a professional ensemble that doesn’t make you look like a Dominican Nun?

Neutral outfits can be interesting if you’re willing to play with textures and layer the clothing and accessories.  Some textures to consider include sequins, lace, ruffles, tiered layers, pleats, chunky knits and different types of fabric like layering chiffon tops underneath a wool sweater.  For today’s outfit, I decided to stick with something simple and mix in a subtle bit of sequins with a lightly textured jacket and a long chain necklace.

1. J.CREW Super 120s Nouvelle Suit (Jacket, $230; Pants, $130)

I don’t usually wear pant suits (because I prefer skirts), but they seem to be the uniform of the realm on Capitol Hill.  So why not encourage women to wear a modern pant suit with tailored trousers and a slightly longer jacket?  The color of this suit is also light enough for seasonless wear, which is very important for poverty stricken staffers.

2.  French Cut Shirt (Banana Republic, $60)

A simple white shirt.  Not much to say here.  Just make sure you starch the collar.

3.  Striped Sequin Boatneck Tee (J.CREW, $80)

Layering a lightly sequined casual top over a business shirt is a great way to get more wear out of both shirts.  If you are going to wear this look without the jacket, I recommend that you roll the sleeves up a bit.

4.  Apt. 9 Chain Necklace with Clear Stone (Kohl’s, $24)

This necklace is long enough to balance the collar of the white shirt with the horizontal stripes and jacket.  It reframes the neckline and provides a focal point for the outfit.  And the dash of industrial chain offsets the shimmer on the tee without adding too much silver.

As for shoes, you’ll want to go with a charcoal or dark grey pump to add some depth to the light grey palette.  Personally, I like kitten heels with pantsuits, so these Diani shoes would be my choice.  I also think that pant suits require pointed toe shoes because it creates a longer leg line and makes your stems look slimmer. 

Just because you should wear neutrals doesn’t mean you should wear a white shirt under a black suit and call it a day.  Adding textures and playing around with different shades in the same color family is a chic way to spruce up your basic pieces.  There’s never a good reason to dress like a penguin.


    leave a comment

  1. KLo says:

    I cannot wait to copy this look. Love.

    November 17, 2010/Reply
  2. C says:

    I have a bone to pick with you, Belle. You have been posting things for the past month or so that have been less than fashionable, in my opinion. This look is fine- BUT you're just posting a gray suit from j. crew! some of this stuff is not affordable nor fashionable… What I am saying is that the information you share used to be something that I saved because I found it valuable and lately it is less so.

    November 17, 2010/Reply
  3. Belle says:

    The suiting posts were meant to cover the basics for new staffers. If you don't require that advice, then I guess these posts aren't for you.

    And while you're entitled to your opinion, feel free to find another blog to inspire you if this one is no longer doing the trick. Or perhaps, you should start your own.

    November 17, 2010/Reply
  4. TA says:

    Belle is only giving us examples and suggestions. It doesn't mean we have to go buy exactly the same suit from JCrew–we can try to “copy” the look for less or we may have it in our closets but never realized we could put different things together to make a look.

    I know there are some things that Belle posted that I can't afford on my SA salary but I try to find similar styles when shopping.

    November 17, 2010/Reply
  5. Melissa says:

    Keep in mind also, you can snag a really great quality suit from a consignment shop, if you are on the look out for one.

    I make almost weekly stops into Current Boutique and scored a never worn J Crew suit for half off the retail value.

    November 17, 2010/Reply
  6. Ana says:

    I'm in love with that entire outfit shown on #1.

    November 17, 2010/Reply
  7. Ms. B says:

    Love the longer jacket. Long torsoed gals thank you.

    November 17, 2010/Reply
  8. Kim says:

    I am in D.C. but don't work on the Hill, so luckily, there are really (if ever) times when I can't incorporate a little color into my outfit. So, I guess this post doesn't apply to me. However, I still read it because I view Cap Hill Style (and all style blogs, really) as good places to go to get ideas. I probably wouldn't ever wear these items all together, but I really love the shirt in #3. I also probably wouldn't pay $80 for something like that, but now Belle has inspired me to go look for something similar. I think it's important to view blogs as stops along the web where one can get outfit inspiration and ideas, not as stops along the web where one can be told exactly which pieces to buy. (Of course, there have been occasions when I've bought exact pieces featured here and other places, but I don't think Belle is saying, “You should always get the exact pieces I feature.” She's just giving some ideas.)

    November 17, 2010/Reply
  9. S says:

    My coworkers and I were just having a discussion about light gray skirt suits and what color tights you would wear. We were thinking that black looks a bit too harsh, but doing a gray with so much other gray is also too much. What is your suggestion?

    November 17, 2010/Reply
  10. Rachel says:


    While it doesn't fit in with the theme of this post, I think a plum or aubergine tight and shoes would look great with a light grey suit. Especially if you keep it fairly neutral on top. However, I don't see anything wrong with black tights and light grey either.

    November 17, 2010/Reply
  11. K. Hill says:

    @S, Belle will probably say 2 out of 3 – meaning that the tights have to either match the gray skirt of they match your shoe. Is that right?

    November 17, 2010/Reply
  12. gingerr says:

    I like #1 too.

    I think J.Crew is a good sample brand because they have some nice things, the colors are usually up to date, and they are in the mid-price range. I get tired of always seeing people style outfits from Target. If you are so inclined you can shop around and find the “look for less.”

    November 18, 2010/Reply
  13. Allison says:

    Way to go Belle. ­čÖé

    In my personal opinion, light grey skirt suits are for the summer. I am admittedly a little old school though. I have one, I wear it in the summer with bare legs or nude pantyhose.

    November 18, 2010/Reply
  14. Allison says:

    Um I may not have made sense, I was trying to respond to S's question. Light grey pantsuits are more seasonally versatile, with a seasonally appropriate shirt under I think they are fine for winter.

    November 18, 2010/Reply
  15. mc says:

    sequins to a hearing? i'm in college and don't think i could swing it. jmo..

    November 22, 2010/Reply
  16. Erin says:

    Yeah, how are sequins not going to catch the camera's eye? Also, horizontal stripes are terribly distracting on tv…

    November 22, 2010/Reply
  17. Belle says:

    If you look at the shirt, you'll see that the sequin stripe is not shiny. To a camera it will look just like a regular striped top, just like it does in the photos.

    And Erin, I worked in TV for awhile, and while I don't recommend houndstooth or gingham, stripes are just fine.

    November 22, 2010/Reply