Guest Post: Figure-Flattering Business Casual

Figure-Flattering Business Casual | CorporetteI’ll be honest: a lot of my hesitancy with newer, trendier looks for the office is that they never seem to be that figure flattering.  So I’m thrilled to bring you today’s guest poster: Angie Cox of YouLookFab, offering her expert style advice on how to elongate outfits and achieve figure-flattering business casual style. Angie was awesome enough to guest post for me back in my first maternity leave, as well, on stylish eyewear.  Welcome back, Angie! – Kat.

Today’s fashions put much less emphasis on conventional figure flattery. Silhouettes frequently surrender the waistline and make lengthening the leg line a lower priority than it used to be. This is generally a very positive thing. It is liberating, and often leads to outfits that are a lot more comfortable and forgiving around the midsection.

But that doesn’t mean letting go of the conventional approaches completely. As I help my business casual clients refresh their wardrobes with newer fluid and oversized fits, and trendier items like cropped pants, boxy jackets, high vamped footwear, flat shoes, and high-low hemlines, I’ve found that we are striving for an attractive and current look that is “just flattering enough.”

With that in mind, here are ten ways to elongate an outfit that might come in handy as you experiment with conventionally unflattering proportions. You can use more than one of these strategies in the same outfit:

  1. Heels: Heels, even ones as low as one or two inches, make your legs look longer. High vamped D’Orsay pumps or pointy toe ankle strap pumps are excellent on-trend styles to add to your career wear capsule.
  2. Low contrast footwear: Similar colours for your shoes, skin tone, and pants. For example, wear black cage heels or ankle strap pumps with black ankle pants.
  3. Pointy toes: Pointy are best, but almond toes also count. Pointy toe flats with metal toe caps are particularly great for office wear because they are a bit more dressy.
  4. Tucking: Tucking (or partially tucking) a top shortens the torso, lengthens the legs, and adds waist definition. This is particularly effective when wearing flats. If partial tucking is too casual for your work setting, opt for a fluid or oversized top with a welt (the narrowing band on the hem of a top). The welt reins back in the volume and provides structure.
  5. Column of colour: Wear a similar colour on the top and bottom under a third layer like a jacket, coat, or cardigan. This emphasizes the vertical and eliminates horizontal lines across the middle of the body. This is often an easy tweak to business outfits.
  6. Tapered hems for cropped pants: The hems should fit closely to the calf or just above the ankle. Matching the colour of your footwear to the colour of your pants, as per point #2, elongates the outfit further.
  7. Floor sweeping lengths for flared pants: The hems should be no more than a quarter inch off the ground for bootcut and wide leg trousers. Reserve this strategy for dry days because soggy hems are no fun.
  8. V-necks: The “V” lengthens your neck and accentuates your long lean line.
  9. Raise the hemlines on skirts and dresses when wearing flats: The shorter hemline, which needn’t be shorter than an office appropriate just-above-the-knee, elongates the leg line.
  10. Unbuttoned topper: The vertical line that is created down the centre front of the body by leaving a coat or jacket unfastened draws the eye up and down thereby increasing the vertical integrity of the outfit. It’s a magically slimming strategy.

It’s all about finding your figure-flattering sweet spot. Sometimes when an outfit isn’t working, all it needs is a little tweak, like switching to low-contrast footwear, adding heels, tucking the top, or unfastening the jacket.

If you’re interested in more information on dressing for your shape, take a look at my body-type dressing guidelines for the inverted triangle, apple, pear, rectangle, and hourglass. I recently updated them in the context of current trends.

Readers, do you ever hesitate to wear the newer business casual styles because you haven’t figured out how to make them look good on your body?  Which are your favorite tips to make the newer shapes flattering to your figure?


N.B. PLEASE KEEP YOUR COMMENTS ON TOPIC; threadjacks will be deleted at our sole discretion and convenience. These substantive posts are intended to be a source of community comment on a particular topic, which readers can browse through without having to sift out a lot of unrelated comments. And so, although of course I highly value all comments by my readers, I’m going ask you to please respect some boundaries on substantive posts like this one. Thank you for your understanding!


  1. I must be really out of touch because I’m sitting here scratching my head at what these “newer business casual styles” are…

    That being said, my personal style for work is very classic – the look I’m going for is “Kate Middleton Wears Business Casual/Business Formal”.

    • My dream business casual look is elegant and I never quite pull it off. Kate has good style – I’ll have to look at her photos with that in mind.

    • Diana Barry :

      Ditto – I think if there were a few examples of these “newer styles” I’d have a better idea of what the post is talking about!

    • This isn’t necessary a comment about “newer” business casual, but on my way to work this morning, I saw two women with high waisted, wide leg pants with heels. Once had on a silky t-shirt; the other wore a buttoned, long sleeve shirt with the cuffs rolled up. Both women looked extraordinary. I just felt like a sack of potatoes. :(

      • I like the analogy – I think I’m going to start calling my bad-clothing days “Potato Days”.

    • I think she means boxier tops with skinnier pants and flats. So, tunic style tops or tops that are higher in the front, longer in the bottom. It is very easy to look shapeless and stumpy in those types of outfits, even if they are comfortable. If you want to wear a boy top, in my opinion, you should wear very narrow pants cropped just above the ankle and wedges – something that elevates your height. A boxy top with pants that fit wider around the ankle (or worse, the whole leg) will make you look like a box.

      I don’t think it was clear exactly how to wear those types of styles for the office. The blog post seems disjointed to me, separated from the list of 10 tips. I would have appreciated some examples of the “newer” trends as well, styled well and styled incorrectly.

      BUT the 10 tips themselves are very good.

    • SFAttorney :

      Look at You Look Fab blog for lots of examples.

  2. Having a Good Year :

    “column of color” – love that description!

  3. Flying Squirrel :

    I think a lot of this is good advice for any outfit…even one built from more traditional pieces. Though call me old fashioned, but I just really don’t see the point in adopting new trends if they are unflattering. Not to sound harsh, but I always think that people who are wearing trends that don’t really flatter them look a little fashion victim-y. This is the reason that you’ll never see me with my scrawny ankles and ample derriere in skinny jeans. Just don’t look good on me. I did purchase a pair of straighter cut jeans to try out the style, but I still only wear them with longer tops.

  4. Senior Attorney :

    Angie! So excited to see you here at Corpor3tt3!! My office is what I call “business semi-formal” but I still appreciate these tips — especially the one about the pointy-toed shoes. I changed out most of my round-toed shoes for pointy earlier this year and it really gave my work wardrobe a boost!

  5. I think the tips are all fine, but I still struggle with the idea that people should ever sacrifice figure-flattery for fashion. If it doesn’t look good on me, I don’t care if it’s the latest style. “Just flattering enough” isn’t acceptable.

    • I get what you’re saying, but I think there are times where the clothes which flatter your figure may not express your personal style. I’ll never wear skinny jeans, because I look like an exclamation point in them, but I love my chuck taylors, even though my short legs look better with a heel.

      • Yeah, I think it just depends what you care about. If you really love fashion for fashion, purely, then it may be more about wearing artwork or making a statement than looking your best (especially as defined by particular standards, such as young, tall and slender). Personally, I have found that as I’ve gotten older and more confident, I dress more and more for myself only. I wear lots of things that don’t look cute or that my husband hates: bright lipstick, jumpsuits, oversized tops, Farrah Fawcett haircut etc. For work, this might mean pleated and tapered pants with a mid-to-high rise. Hopefully the market is diverse enough that we all find what we’re shopping for.

  6. Blonde Lawyer :

    I agree that we shouldn’t be fashion victims and it is preferable to wear figure flattering biz cas – particularly if it is your every day wardrobe – but I also think a lot can be said for just “wearing the uniform” for certain events.

    I begrudgingly just bought a pair of khakis, khaki capris, and a couple of polo shirts for certain work events I have to attend. These include golf lessons, a volunteer event that is very hands on and dirty, attending a baseball game, etc. When casual doesn’t mean jeans or athletic wear and casual skirts aren’t going to be appropriate (see dirty hands on volunteer event) sometimes you just need to put on the uniform. While it isn’t the most attractive, you will blend in a lot more with a polo and khaki shorts, capris, pants than trying to wear the female equivalent which is often too fashionable and less functional for the event at hand.

    • Flying Squirrel :

      Well, “the uniform” is very different from following trends without regard to figure-flattery…and I tend to agree with you (though for whatever reason have rarely been in the situation where it’s necessary).

      The one place, though, where I think it’s important to not follow the uniform is in very male-dominated professions (especially STEM). In a lot of engineering firms, the “uniform” is khakhis with a polo b/c that is what is easy and comfortable for men. I would argue it’s neither for women, and it is also really, really unflattering most of the time. If it were a once in a while thing for golf outings, it makes sense to just wear it. But I refuse to feel frumpy every single day of my career b/c the dress norms were set before women ever showed up at the job (not saying that you’re suggesting this at all).

      • As a female engineer in Si Valley tech company who works in a computer hardware lab every single day, I can relate to what you say. Wearing anything other than jeans and khakis feels very out of place and too dressy. I would like a post on how to dress casually but still not in a uniform of jeans and khakis in this blog.

        • Flying Squirrel :

          I’ve struggled with this forever (well, not really, b/c I decided early on not to care)…and all I can come up with is to view it as liberating since there really is not obvious dress code. I just wear what I want, which for me is mostly dresses since I work at a computer and don’t have to worry about lab safety. It gets more challenging if you work in a lab…then I think you are stuck with jeans and khakhis.

          What I will say is this, though, there are ways to do the engineering uniform while still looking put together. I once went to a meeting of all STEM faculty, and when I walked in I actually thought the two female professors sitting there were undergrad students just observing. The men were all wearing khakhis with sport coats (that was appropriate for this meeting) and the two women were wearing jeans and casual sweaters. An older female professor walked in also wearing slacks, flats, and a Chanel-style/shaped (though not at all fancy) jacket…and there was no mistaking her. Owning your style shouldn’t mean totally discounting setting.

      • Blonde Lawyer :

        Yes, you exactly caught my point. I was saying don’t be afraid of “the uniform” for one-off events. I agree that I would not want to wear it everyday! (I actually did have to wear it every day as an actual employer issued uniform in both corrections and waitressing so I totally get it.)

        • Anon at 1:38 :

          I am trying to develop some casual but not too girly or manly outfits. I was 25 when I started working and every girl who joined with me and women I used to see in my lab were wearing jeans or shorts, sneakers , t-shirt and north face like jacket during winter. It was what I was wearing even during graduate studies and I really blended very well. After three years I was growing older and I was married, I felt kind of very immature to show up in office wearing sneakers. So swapped out sneakers for leather flats or 1 inch heeled shoe. I stopped wearing north face jacket and invested in cashmere cardigans and v neck sweaters. I started wearing coats while going to and getting home from work. I am adding one or two silk blouses per year and cotton blouses and linen pants for summer. I still don’t wear much accessories, I don’t feel comfortable wearing dress pants, but I wear bootcut jeans (instead of straight legged ones I used to wear before). It is easy to dress well in winter than in summer. But I am gradually figuring it out.. :-)

          • Flying Squirrel :

            Yeah, this is exactly what I’ve seen work (though in some labs, silk and cashmere may be no-goes). I’m personally a big fan of accessories to dress things up, but I love jewelry so it’s easy for me. Might be worth investing in one or two semi-statement (not huge, but noticeable) necklaces you like to experiment with. I’ve never worked in a lab where something like a scarf would be safe (though I’ve also mostly only worked in labs where even 1-inch heels would be a safety hazard and even ballet flats are questionable…so a complicating factor is that there are a lot of intricacies to lab safety).

      • Amen, sister! I’m in the same boat here. A more experienced woman engineer put it this way, one day when they gave us all polo shirts and ball caps with the company logo: “5% of the female population looks cute in a ball cap and polo shirt. I’m not in that 5%, and I don’t want to look ‘cute’ at work anyway.”

  7. Thanks I enjoyed these tips too. Angie has a lot of good tips on her site about picking ankle pants – like the importance of picking tapered pants rather than the kind that just cut straight across and what are the best lengths for ankle pants.

    I prefer long pants to ankle for the office and it’s been much harder for me to find long pants right now that I look good in since there are so many ankle pants and crops out there and not as many longer styles. Pointy toes are also problematic for me tho because my feet are fairly big for my size and wearing pointy ones makes me feel like they’re even bigger.

  8. HSAL, as a person who appreciates extreme fashion, regardless of current trends, I struggle with the restrictions of figure flattery with a tall, thin hourglass as the ideal. For some, fashion is about creativity and artistic expression more so than trying to create a culturally prescribed pleasing shape.

    However, this website focuses on overachieving chicks in less creative professions, so it makes sense to adhere to office-appropriate standards. Well-fitting clothes are amazing, but finding them can be a chore.

    • Like it! I was saying something similar in my post above.

    • Flying Squirrel :

      Well, what I consider figure flattering may be different than what you do. Tall, thin, hourglass is just never going to be me…and frankly I’ve never sought to look full chested. But there are things that I feel accentuate my figure, and others that just make me look frumpy. I prefer the former.

      • Sure, there is a difference between figure flattery as viewed by an individual compared to society. It’s quite clear that in this country is pretty much the same, regardless of the source. Also, many comments on this site indicate people do not want to wear clothing that makes them look wider or shapeless. In order to meet the ideal many women still aim for looking tall-er, thin-ner, or hourglass-ier, such as avoiding cap sleeves, wearing high heels, avoiding wide horizontal stripes, wearing belts, and avoiding ankle straps, as a few examples.

  9. S in Chicago :

    I always thought ankle-straps were a no-no if you’re aiming for leg lenghtening. Surprised to see that. Or maybe that’s the nod to newer fashion?

    • Ankle-straps are in, but I am not sold and never will be, having biggish calves and thick ankles. I have to be very careful with horizontal lines anywhere on my legs and stick with dark, low-contrast looks, e.g. black tights with black ankle booties.

  10. Great post. I would love to see some examples of the unbuttoned topper – this is a look I would love to add to my wardrobe, but am not sure how to pull off. I disagree with it as a universally flattering technique, though. I think that it only works if you are already tall.

  11. How is “surrendering the waist” ever a good look, unless maybe you are a ballet dancer or runway model (i.e., you have no curves whatsoever)? I am quite slim, but I have wide hips – my waist is by far the best thing about my figure. Low-waist silhouettes just accentuate my hips – and that’s most definitely not even remotely flattering. I mostly wear wrap or belted dresses as result, or at least dresses with a very defined waist.

    • Penny Proud :

      I surrender the waist! I have slender legs and arms, narrow shoulders, a large-for-me cheast, and a thick-for-me wasit. Shirts that are slim on the arms and draped on the torso look best on me. I love the current trend.

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