Bright, bold, beautiful, colorful suits aren’t only for high-profile celebrities like Janelle Monae, Rihanna, Ciara, and Janet Jackson who have access to tailors and stylists to help them create the perfect look. This bold workwear trend can also translate to the everyday millennial woman looking to spice up and brighten her work wardrobe.
As a woman who loves fashion and style, but works in a very casual office setting, I don’t often get to express my love and affinity for bold, eclectic – yet sophisticated looks. What would happen if I purposely wore a bright colored suit to work and out and about on the weekend for a week? Would I feel like Rihanna walking down the red carpet? Would I exude confidence like Michelle Obama during a press conference? As women, we’re often told what is and isn’t appropriate to wear in the workplace. As a woman of color, these rules are sometimes magnified as we often feel like we have to explain every part of our being to our work counterparts and often shy away from bringing too much attention to ourselves. (God forbid you change your hairstyle, too!)
When opting to wear a colorful suit to work, there are a few things to keep in mind. I chatted with Style expert Denise Caldwell, celebrity stylists Olori Swank , Wayman Bannerman and Micah McDonald , and fashion stylist Mickey Freeman to get their advice on how to rock this trend boldly and confidently.
1. If you’re going BRIGHT, make sure you keep the other elements of your look simple.
Olori Swank: A chic slicked back ponytail or blunt bob will keep your look professional but stylish. Also, shy away from bold statement jewelry or loud shoes. Less is more when it comes to rocking bright colored suits at work.
The Look: Trousers & Blazer: TopShop, Pumps: Forever 21, Blouse: HM
2. There’s no singular 9-5 look.
Denise Caldwell: The 9-5 look has been refreshed. Suit combos can vary from a cardigan set and pencil skirt to a jumpsuit and blazer to match. Mix muted tones and bright color palettes together (ie. white/grey, hot pink/navy, red/black). Metallics and patterns are a YES. Just go for small prints and keep the base of the pattern dark (ie. black, brown, navy, grey).
3. Tell a story with your outfit.
Mickey Freeman: Colors always have to tell a story. Whether the suit is monochromatic, dichromatic, or printed, the colors or prints should reflect your mood or evoke one’s imagination. Fashion should be about storytelling, which usually creates dialogue and inspires.
The look: Blazer & Skirt: Opposuits, Camisole: HM, Booties: Charlotte Russe
4. Don’t play down your inner fashionista in order to be a Boss.
Denise Caldwell: Incorporating color into your office style is slimming, makes you appear youthful and is an instant mood booster. Opt for a monochromatic look that is slimming from head-to-toe or strategic color blocking that divides your body in sections with shadow and shading some of your problem areas. Gone are the days where a 3-piece suit and collared shirt sufficed as corporate style. Thanks to Michelle Obama, Maxine Waters, Amaul Clooney, Kamala Harris and Tamron Hall you can still be a boss and be fashionable!
The look: Blazer & Skirt: Opposuits
, Blouse: Zara, Pumps: Forever 21
5. Know your body type.
Olori Swank: In the realm of body-type, all suits ARE NOT created equal. What works for one frame might not suit another. If you’re petite, avoid trying to embrace the oversized trend; oversized suits will drown your small frame. If you’re curvy, embrace suits that are tailored to fit. Flowy or boxy jackets/pants [can] add bulk to your frame.
The Look: The look: Blazer & Skirt: Opposuits , Booties: Charlotte Russe
Denise Caldwell: [For curvier women], it’s all about the fit and proper foundations! Regarding foundations, make sure your underpinnings compliment the suiting you’re wearing. Depending if it is a skirt suit or a pant suit, you won’t always wear the same style of undergarments. For the perfect fit in suits, it’s okay to go up a size. I know we don’t want to hear that but sometimes to have a more casual and tailored fit, you may need to rethink alternative sizing –think cubicle, not cocktails! Color, Fabric, Shape and Hemline are 4 key factors that will help keep you comfortable without sacrificing style. For example, dresses and skirts with polyester, lycra and spandex are great fabrics to smooth and conceal your curves.
6. Opt for Structure
Mickey Freeman: Steer clear of a suit with weak shoulders. Not only does a strong shoulder connote strength, it actually can create the illusion of good posture. Also, anything not streamlined, such as ruffles, can make a woman look matronly.
The Look: Blazer & Skirt: Opposuits, Pumps: Forever 21, Clutch: Trina Turk
Get The Look: If you’re looking for business-savvy, great-fitting suits and separates for all sizes, style expert Denise Caldwell recommends shopping retailers such as Ann Taylor, Land’s End, Talbots, Worthington by JC Penny, and Lord & Taylor. For plus-sized women in particular, she recommends Avenue as a place to get some great suiting separates. Olori Swank also recommends shops like BCBG and your local Goodwill or consignment shop for vintage pieces. “Just make sure to drop them off at your favorite tailor for alterations first. There’s nothing better than a suit that fits your body to perfection.”
According to Mickey Freeman, you can’t go wrong shopping TopShop and Zara for affordable, work-ready suits. Get creative by mixing and matching blazers and trousers to create your own quality and original look. Stylist pair Wayman Bannerman and Micah McDonald list Theory and Vince as investment-worthy brands that won’t break the bank. I recommend checking out Opposuits’ colorful skirt suit options as well.
Was It Worth It?
After a few days, I got into the routine of suiting up and embracing me. No matter what you choose to wear, how you wear it and how you feel wearing it is what truly matters. On day one, no one saw it coming. Walking through the office, I felt like Beyonce. I don’t know if it was the hair, the shoes, the colors or something else, but being so polished made me feel magical. I felt like my entire work aura had changed. I was no longer “Rana from Marketing,” but “Rana from Marketing and you’re going to notice me when I’m in this meeting!” My confidence level was on 100, and for that week, I was so motivated to get s***t done.
Rocking these bold looks each day made me face my fears of caring what other people thought about me. Why hadn’t I worn more poignantly bold outfits before? Why was I so nervous to truly be me in the workplace?
As a millennial woman of color, working to become confident in the POWER of our complexions is ever important. As fashion stylist Mickey Freeman reminded me, “Whatever style suit that is chosen, millennial women of color should understand the power in the multitude of complexions they possess and the wonderful relationship those shades have with the colors they wear. Be DARING!”
You command power when you feel the power inside of you. Sometimes it takes a little color, a great fitted suit, and a little bit of inner SHINE to pull that power out and make it apparent to the world.
Rana Campbell is a marketing consultant, freelance writer, and host of the Dreams In Drive Podcast. Connect with her on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or via her site here.