Ask Belle: Blouses for Business Women

Oct 10, 2012

Hi Belle,

I’m a long time reader but this is the first time I’ve written in. I recently graduated from law school and started a new job as a law clerk to a federal judge. I have a fairly good selection of basic suit pieces I can wear but I’m struggling to find nice and work place appropriate tops to wear under my suits. I have to wear a full suit when in court but at other times of the day in chambers I can generally ditch my suit jacket for a cardigan. So I’m looking for nice pieces that would work under either a blazer or a cardigan/light sweater and be both affordable on a government salary and appropriate in the court work environment.

I love your Ask Belle column so I thought I’d write and ask. Thanks! CC

 

Anyone who has ever sat in a hot committee room for a few hours has seen some of the faux pas that happen when women remove their suit jackets.  Hot pink bra straps come out.  Spaghetti strap tanks make an appearance.  Low-back tops more suited to a night at the club are revealed.  So when I choose a shirt to wear under a suit, I always wear one that will look as professional with my jacket off, as it will with my jacket on.

Mango V-neck Sweater ($70) // Eclipsed Dots Blouse ($88) // Kasper Tie Neck Blouse ($55) // Rachel Roy Pleated Top ($45) // Pim and Larkin Longsleeve Blouse ($49)

V-Neck Sweaters.  We’ve spoken before about coordinating necklines, and I feel that v-neck sweaters look much nicer under a suit than crewnecks.  Also, if you layer a blouse underneath a v-neck, you can add a pop of color or pattern or texture to break up the look.  I also like J.CREW’s Merino v-neck sweater and surprisingly enough, Victoria’s Secret actually makes a decent sweater for the money.

Peasant Blouse.  While I probably would not wear a blouse with this neckline under a suit, I would wear a slightly fuller peasant blouse with a split neck like this one.  I love the contrast between a snug pencil skirt/well-fitting jacket and a fuller top.  Other peasant blouses to try include this navy blouse from Piperlime and this cool leopard print blouse.

Tie-Neck Blouses.  For years, tie-neck tops have been my professional blouse go-to.  They look great with pants or a skirt and with or without a jacket.  They also eliminate the need for a necklace, which is one less thing to think about in the morning.  The Loft also has a button-up tie neck in deep green. 

Embellished Necklines.  Tops with a pleated or embellished neckline also look nice under jackets.  This top from Rachel Roy’s affordable line RACHEL has a pleat detail and an all-season iris color.  I also like a ruffled neckline and or some light beading.

Sheer Blouses.  I think sheer blouses worn under a suit jacket really soften the look and give the suit a sultry, feminine quality.  This blouse is in a versatile neutral color, and I love the pleating on the front.  I also love this printed sheer blouse from Theory and this dotted sleeveless blouse.

Some women really like the look of a crisp button up shirt with a suit, but for me, it’s a bit too masculine.  If you love it, wear it.  If you want to have a shirt or two in your arsenal, I like silk button ups from J.CREW and cotton button ups from Banana Republic.

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  1. Deanna says:

    While I love a nice silk button up blouse, I have stopped wearing them. I'm too busty/ broad shouldered to make ANY button top look good. Just to keep it fitting right requires tons of safety pins…. Any solutions for girls like me?

  2. Belle says:

    Rochelle Behrens makes a silk shirt. https://www.the-shirt.com/index.php/shop.html

    Might help.

  3. Anon says:

    To CC,

    I've been stalking this blouse at Talbots since it came out for the fall. It's silk charmeuse and comes in a million colors and sizes. At the end of every season, Talbots does a GIANT sale, called their Red Hanger sale, where stuff gets marked down to a fraction of its original price. Sure, Talbots has some granny items, but they also have many things that could just as easily be sold in Ann Taylor or J.Crew.

    https://www.talbots.com/online/browse/product_details.jsp?id=prdi29282&rootCategory=cat70008&catId=cat110062&sortKey=Default&section=Regular&conceptIdUnderSale=cat70008

  4. petitesq says:

    Check out Corporette (www corporette [dot] com), if you don't already. In addition to Belle's great suggestions, there is a “Hunt” column that has featured shirts under blouses (probably in the top posts link), and you can do a google search for the site with “under suits” and probably find a lot of comments, too. Happy shopping!

  5. Dhar says:

    Thanks for this. i love the look of bow blouses, but don't think they look good on busy girls. I've been looking for good ideas that are not button-up and not overly embellished on the front…

  6. Anon says:

    Heads up! The silk Talbots blouse I linked to is on sale now (10/11) for $50. The email says “limited time,” but doesn't give an end date.

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