Sure it's a staple, but it doesn't have to be a snooze. One woman tries four creative configurations.
By Adam Glassman
Swap in a Cardigan
A suit jacket, pants, or skirt mixed with less structured pieces makes for a modern take on business dressing. "I can wear patterns and still look professional," says Erika Michelle, a 36-year-old physician.
Jacket and skirt, throughout, $198 and $108; AnnTaylor.com. Cardigan, $275; ToryBurch.com. Tank, Hilton Hollis, $285, Neiman Marcus; 800-365-7989. Belt, Melamed, $150; 310-247-8789. Shoes, $570; DolceGabbana.it for stores
Layer the Jacket Over a Dress
Wear your jacket with a dress nonchalantly, as if it were a boyfriend blazer. Flip up the collar or push up the sleeves to instantly make it look more youthful. The pairing of this jacket with this dress, which resembles a top and a skirt, proves that black and navy are brilliant together.
Accent black with any bright but yellow (which would make you look like a bumblebee). A red corset and matching pumps enliven the suit. "I'm in black almost every day," Michelle says. "This top is a great update." A tailor can easily line a jacket's sleeves with bold fabric.
"Even though I wouldn't wear a sequined top at work, I'd wear the jacket and pants and change my shirt on the way out," says Michelle. Cropped wool flannel pants tone down the shell, and black and silver create a no-fail dressy look.