As New Zealand heads back to work after the long summer holiday, it's time to revitalise our work wardrobes. With the fashion sales in full swing, it's a great time for the prudent and informed buyer to cost-effectively makeover their wardrobe. Designer Annah Stretton shares her tips and tricks on how to dress for success in the workplace.
Heading back to work? Make 2016 the year you create your own signature style
When it comes to fashion, New Zealand women are well known for their love of black.
And that fixation seems to be even more pervasive when it comes to workwear.
It's something that fashion designer and businesswoman Annah Stretton is hoping to change in 2016.
"Sure, black is easy and goes the distance. It requires very little effort each day, given that no one will remember what you wore anyway if it's black!" Annah says.
The Annah Stretton label is well-known for being full of vibrant colour, drama and frippery, and is a go-to for many women when "frocking" for a wedding, the races, or another special occasion.
And there's no reason why colour (and maybe a little frippery) shouldn't also be part of the working wardrobe, Annah says - which is why she's styled her summer collection to show the suitability of the label for a workplace day.
"Business Class is my take on how colourful, feminine and classically elegant the New Zealand business world would be with a great wardrobe capsule and a small dollop of courage," Annah says.
As a businesswoman herself and frequent guest speaker at a variety of events, Annah sees thousands of Kiwi women in the workplace.
Something she's observed is that Kiwi women tend to dress in a sort of 'uniform', with limited individuality, neutral colours and easy, nondescript shapes.
I would like to entice women to be a little more adventurous with their work attire choices.
"The way to overcome this uniformity is to create a signature style in your working wardrobe."
Like it or not, the clothes we choose to wear each day say something about us - and you want that message to be interesting and at least make people take another look.
"Women are so diverse, and the higher up the career ladder we get, the more time poor we become," Annah says.
"So styling a collection like this becomes the assistance we need to get it right every time.
I know in my week, I attend so many events, meetings and moments that all require attention to my look."
The interesting thing about Annah's Business Class collection is it simply takes pieces from her summer collection and styles them in a businesslike way.
A colourful dress initially bought for a wedding instantly becomes businesslike when paired with a cropped jacket and appropriate heels.
"These styles can easily be reworked to suit a special occasion, which is the beauty of this label. So many people tend to think the label is for special occasion only - it's time to take another look."
Annah says many women get stuck in a style rut when it comes to work and need to care more about how they present themselves each day.
"This applies to our hair and our make-up - we wear the same look for years, slowly getting old and never really considering that a visual that worked at 30 years of age may no longer be so fitting 10 years later at the age of 40," Annah says.
"I guess we simply put a tick in a box (a most important box) each day, and possibly never think about how things could be different. This is understandable when you consider the number of demands and pressures on women from work, family and friends.
But why not take time in 2016 to make this year more about you?"
How to create your signature look
Annah says the best way to start is to try looks that you would never have attempted in the past.
"Even the smallest attempt to keep up with trends will have a positive impact on your appearance and the way you feel. It will encourage you to experiment more. Even I have to push myself to move forward in a 'frocking', hair and make-up sense, as it is so easy to stay with the tried and true."
Start by visiting stores whose clothes you covet - it costs nothing to try on clothes.
"When you go into a store, open up to the options available. Get rid of preconceived notions and start trying stuff on. Get intrepid and make it happen.
"Ask for help, ask for suggestions - the team in retail know more than you give them credit for. You wouldn't go to a gym and simply start to work out on the machines without a briefing, so apply this to clothes shopping too. Accept that you won't always know best.
Annah Stretton staff are trained to style the best looks for your body shape, and offer a styling capsule that works to four body shapes, no matter what size you are.
And though it's tempting to choose black as a fall-back option, Annah says introducing colour is a sure-fire way to start to set yourself apart as an individual and create your signature style. It will be the days you wear colour that you notice the compliments flood in.
For many women this all seems like too much hard work and we end up dressing in the classic "uniform" of black, black and more black.
If that's the case, Annah suggests calling in a professional. Personal stylists may seem like the realm of Hollywood starlets, but a stylist can offer you practical help with your wardrobe and creating a look that works for your life.
"Keeping up with trends can feel a bit daunting or time-consuming. Having someone do this for you so that you are constantly updating your look and wardrobe capsule is a great investment."
Behind the desire to change the working wardrobe is a bigger picture.
Annah says Kiwi women need a "massive shift" in mindset and self-belief, and to apply a 'can do' approach to their dream and vision.
"We need to know that as a multi-tasker extraordinaire we can have it all, rather than comparing ourselves to our male counterparts. Comparison is the thief of joy.
"Let your own light shine in self-belief and capability, and go out and just do it!"
So get started on step one - package yourself well and make 2016 your year.
Annah Stretton's tips for business dressing:
* Create a signature style - one that reflects your life and who you are
* Encourage yourself to try looks that you normally avoid
* Make an effort to update yourself - keep up with current trends
* Wear colour every day - even if it's just introducing a colour pop through an accessory
* If fashion updates are not your forte, seek help from a stylish friend or a great retail store