Sara Hollamby
Style Counsel

THANKS to a 19th century decree, Parisian women are – apparently – banned from wearing trousers, because it says that women should not dress like men. Maybe this is why Parisian women have such a reputation for being chic – they are female and proud of it. In London, however, it’s hard to find a woman who isn’t dressed like a man, especially in the City – even if they do venture out in a skirt or dress, the chances are they’ll be striding out in trainers with a huge backpack. So are we Londoners more masculine, or just practical?

The majority of women I see in the City would like to look more feminine but frankly don’t have time to think or worry about it. Once you’ve got the kids off to nursery, fought your way on and off a crowded commuter train and battled through the wind and rain to the office, the last thing you would want to wear to work is a pencil skirt and jaunty red neckerchief. Consequently a trouser suit with comfy shoes becomes the staple wardrobe and the addition of an attractive top and a necklace to match is just about as chic as it gets. Some women, particularly if they’re pretty with blonde curly hair, feel they “need” to dress like a man or they don’t get taken seriously in their male-dominated environment.

So what’s a girl to do? Well fortunately this winter, there are plenty of dresses suitable for the office that are not only smart, but comfortable. Only yesterday I saw two or three I really liked in Banana Republic – some of them designed to wear with a long-sleeved shirt or top underneath to save on the dry cleaning. Opaque tights, which don’t reveal skin on your legs, are somehow more comforting (seven denier natural tights make you feel virtually naked). Add some comfortable, and dare I say it, “sensible” shoes with a slight heel that make you look like a woman but not feel crippled with the pain that comes with sky-high heels; a little mineral foundation that’s actually good for your skin and protects it from the cold (such as ID Minerals); a touch of blusher, eyeliner, mascara and lipgloss and finally, some jewellery. And voila, say hello to the feminine new you.

Sara Hollamby is a business image consultant at WorkingVoices.com. sarahollamby@blueyonder.co.uk