Style + Ask The Edit

Ask Belle: Blouses for Business Women

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.



  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?

    October 10, 2012/Reply
  2. Belle says:

    Rochelle Behrens makes a silk shirt.

    Might help.

    October 10, 2012/Reply
  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.

    October 10, 2012/Reply
  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!

    October 10, 2012/Reply
  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…

    October 10, 2012/Reply
  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.

    October 11, 2012/Reply