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5 Business-Formal Outfits That Aren’t Suits

As the pandemic led many companies to rethink what dressing for work should look like, the definition of business formal has expanded far beyond the suit.

By Madeleine Kim

When you think of a business-formal dress code, what do you think of? I’ll admit that before I worked at M.M.LaFleur, “business formal” brought to mind two things: boring suits and endless dry-cleaning bills. But if you’ve tried our elegant, office-ready styles—many of which are machine-washable—you know it doesn’t have to be that way. And after the pandemic led many companies to rethink what dressing for work should look like, our definition of business formal expanded even more.

In 2021 and beyond, business formal means so much more than just suits. Maybe you stick with a blazer and slacks, but you switch it up with contrasting fabrics. Or maybe you forego the jacket altogether and instead opt for a floaty silk top. Read on for five non-suit outfits that are absolutely business-formal.

The Color-Blocked Look

Let’s start out with something simple: a classic, tailored dress paired with a cropped jacket. The Audrey-Hepburn-esque Cynthia dress was designed in tandem with the sleek Neale jacket, so you know they’ll pair perfectly with one another. A more traditional business-formal wearer would get the Cynthia and the Neale in the same color, but not you! You’re switching things up with a color-blocked look. Finish the outfit with some comfortable pumps and elegant earring jackets that can be worn with any pair of studs.

The Monochromatic Look

Dressing in monochrome, and especially in all black, is an easy way to create a formal-feeling look. Tuck the elegant Leo pullover into the stretchy-yet-structured Harlem skirt for a streamlined outfit that gives off the vibe of a sleek black dress. The strappy Ella sandals will hint at the swanky evening plans you may or may not have, without detracting from your professional appearance. Delicate gold jewelry completes the look.

The No-Blazer-Necessary Look

One main function of a blazer is to incorporate formal design elements (think lapels, crisp lines, and unique bits of flair) into your outfit. But with a top like the Beverly—which features a scarf-like front panel that you can style however you want—those design elements are already taken care of. Simply tuck your top into some wide-leg trousers, then finish the outfit with matching knit booties and simple-yet-shiny earrings.

The Not-a-Skirt-Suit Look

Business-formal dress codes often get pigeonholed as bland or boring, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Take this outfit, for instance. The bold, ultra-wide Beebe belt defines your waist and creates an unexpected focal point between the black Cobble Hill skirt and ivory Wren top. Plus, wearing different colors on top and bottom will help you stand out from the black-and-navy-suit-clad crowd. Add the Rowan flats in snakeskin for texture, and hook the Leora earring jackets onto your favorite studs for an extra bit of interest.

The Column Look

This outfit has all the makings of a classic pantsuit—sleek pants, an underpinning, and a blazer—but unconventional color and fabric pairings give it a unique point of view. Instead of matching your pants to your blazer with a contrasting top underneath, wear pants and a top in the same color (like the Curie pants and Elizabeth sweater in black), then add a contrasting blazer (like the O’Hara). This creates a “column outfit,” which is apparently so named because it makes you look extra tall and statuesque. Want even more height? Add the (super-comfy) Zelda boots.

Written By

Madeleine Kim

Madeleine Kim is a Brand Manager at M.M.LaFleur, where she started out as a stylist. She loves developing styling-focused content and creating newsletters that bring the M.M. community together.

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