From the optimistic trench to the second-skin boot, style journalist Alice Olins reveals the pieces that should make it into your work wardrobe this season

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How is it that the clothes you were wearing just a fortnight or so ago – your Birkenstocks, that floral jumpsuit, those beads! – now stare at you awkwardly from inside your own wardrobe? It’s like a clichéd summer romance; in the moment, in the heat, there was passion; now though, as it rains incessantly and work beckons, everything just looks limp.

Autumn is in the air, which means cottons need upgrading. It can be a depressing transition from sarong to pencil skirt; after all, we all know the implications of unpacking those woollens – months of cold mornings ahead.

Happily, a little shopping can go a long way to ease the pain. This season, the trends are being kind: there have been no seismic style shifts and requirements to suddenly embrace any kind of intergalactic fashion futurism are nil. Clothes are rotating around a very pleasing trinity of long seventies silhouettes, pared-back minimalism and sumptuous glamour.

Work style has become a redundant term seeing as so many of us now populate so many different types of professions – and offices. But the basic trend rules still apply. In purchasing terms for autumn, this means a handful of folksy chiffons – dresses and blouses work best – a good pair of heavy, wide trousers, ankle boots and a nifty skirt or two.

Yes, there are three arch trends, but don’t let that stop you. Here are ten rocking items that will get you feeling smart again and help put that summer romance to bed. Holidays, eh, they mess with your head.


Fashion has recently sprouted an entirely new category. Ok, when you break it down, the Co-Ord Set, as it has become known is just an old category (matchy-matchy) re-marketed, but still it’s a term you might want to start bandying about. This set from Topshop, with its whimsical woodland print and neat cigarette pants, will tolerate a pair of heels or a clumpy brogue with equal enthusiasm.

Topshop print top and cigarette trousers , £32 and £39 respectively


Do yourself a favour and hold off on the heavy coat for now. A trench has so much more optimism, plus it channels seventies and minimalism in one neat outerwear solution. Flick up the collars or add a vintage brooch depending on your style.

Hobbs Saskia trench , £189


Sometimes, the swing to autumn can just be a question of colour. If you saw this dress in whites and nudes, you’d immediately pass it up as too Vongole-on-the-beach. In rich earthy hues though, it feels new and timely. Take a punt and go for bare legs and some suede ankle boots or, add grey woollen tights when the weather requires it.

Joie Minerala B Dress , £500 at Donna Ida (available soon)


A skirt possesses so many different personalities: good girl, hot chick, Margaret Thatcher… the list is endless. At the moment, the skirt has attitude. Nothing brash, of course, just a little bit of punch. On shop floors, there are skirts with panels, skirts with buttons down the front (leave an extra one open?), there are even completely sheer skits that require bravado – or a slip. Boden have plumped for something snazzy; wear it with a Pussy Bow blouse.

Boden Vintage Button Skirt , £63


Blazers can remind one of one’s Dad – in a kind of bad, nineties way (love you Dad). But blazers don’t deserve a bad rep. They haven’t done anything wrong, especially not this Zara blazer with its soft lines and rich, drunken red. It’s a dream; trust us, it’s in our virtual Zara shopping basket… We’re going to use it to prove that work tailoring can have a good time too, and then we’re going to sling it over a white tee and go out for brunch on Saturday morning.

Zara Long Blazer , £49.99


Yup you’re going to wear a suit. You’re going to feel shocked by the prospect and then you’re going to bite the bullet, splash the cash, and hey presto you’ll be making space in the wardrobe for a proper jacket and some neat, tailored trousers. You’ll keep it funky with a pair of chunky Grenson brogues. If it all sounds a bit overwhelming then take it one step at a time and check out J Crew to see how the maestros do it.

J Crew Campbell suit separates , from £98


Hello You, you wide-legged, ankle-grazing, trouser-come-culotte. You satisfy every single one of our current trouser requirements and you are cheap! But you look expensive. You are kind and you are comfortable and you say, I Know Fashion. You are the Holy Grail of trousers. You are a dream. You should available on prescription to those suffering from September’s post holiday style angst…

Massimo Dutti Black Pleated Culotte , £59.95


If we are being picky – and picky is sometimes our want – this autumn, your shoe should not be spindly. Your heels need some oomph; the stilettos will keep for after dark. At work, when you want to kick off and show ‘em who’s boss, go for a shoe with some welly. Not a welly, you understand, but a strong, elegant heel like this one by & Other Stories.  It won’t keep the rain off, but it will sit just as happily alongside trousers, skirts and folksy dresses. Plus it won’t cripple your Achilles heels or bank balance.

& Other Stories Almond Toe Pump , £69


You are going to want to have a good boot this fall. If you have the legs – and bravado – you might want to go for a pair that hug your legs all the way up to those thighs. Yes, that’s right; the second skin boot is back. If you’re not a thigh-hugging kind of woman, then look to the other end of the scale: an ankle boot. This pair, in soft black suede, with a neat block heel, is what dreams are made of. And they’re comfy to boot. Sorry.

Ohi Zip Boot Whistles , £195


Karen Millen, purveyor of dresses you wear to weddings, has just released a limited collection of VERY tasty handbags. This one, with its burnished, woven leather finish has more than a hint of Bottega Veneta about it. It is laptop friendly, but doesn’t look too practical either. At a squeeze, you might be able to use it as an overnight bag if work suddenly sends you off on some top secret mission. Or, you just decide to stay the night at your boyfriend's house…

Karen Millen Redchurch tote , £399

Alice Olins is a style journalist and co-founder of the women’s work club  The Step Up Club