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WOMEN’S
WORKWEAR:
FROM PAST
TO PRESENT

After World War Two, more women than ever claimed their place in the workforce, with a whole new doctrine of office dressing to digest – we explore how they’ve worked their look through the decades

1. The beginnings

Following World War One, industrialisation boomed and there was a greater demand for ready-to-wear clothing. M&S introduced womenswear in the Thirties, including overalls for busy housewives.

Women’s workwear overalls displayed in an M&S shop window, 1930s
 

2. Off to work

During the Fifties, M&S increasingly catered for the working woman. We produced wool-crepe dresses and double-jersey tailoring that worked for both the office and as eveningwear.

Woman wearing coordinated printed skirt suit in the office, 1959
 

3. Suits you

More women were juggling home and office life in the Sixties. Wool-worsted skirt suits were bestsellers and M&S introduced ranges of smartly tailored two-pieces, with accessories to complete the nine-to-five look.

Woman wearing a blue wool skirt suit with a green top, 1967
 

4. Short shift

Up to the early Seventies, the smart shift dress was a versatile go-to, and the mini silhouette was the definitive look for young women. Thankfully for them, M&S was increasingly innovating with ladder-resistant hosiery materials and construction.

Woman wearing a yellow mini shift dress and white tights in the office, 1970
 

5. Dare to flare

In keeping with Seventies trends, wide collars and flared trousers increasingly appeared in customers’ wardrobes. In the summer of 1970, opting for a safari-inspired tunic and trousers co-ord was a natty way to show who was boss in the style stakes.

Women wearing coordinated tunics and trousers in the workplace, 1970
 

6. Punchy power dressing

Huge shoulder pads and TV shows ‘Dallas’- and ‘Dynasty’-inspired power dressing defined the Eighties. Other popular office looks included Victorian-style ruffled blouses, nautical-themed blazers and tailored dresses.

Woman wearing ‘Dallas’-inspired workwear look, 1985
 

7. Borrowed from the boys

The masculine tailoring trend was a womenswear hit in the late Eighties and M&S enlisted renowned designers such as Betty Jackson and Bruce Oldfield as womenswear consultants. Jackets had a looser, boxier shape and skirts were straight and worn knee-length.

Woman wearing a masculine tailored skirt suit, 1987-88
 

8. Back to basics

During the Nineties, consumers saw a welcome return to softer tailoring with less shoulder definition and a pared-back colour palette of office-ready options. The tailored jacket was often teamed with jersey separates – Eighties pearls and hairspray optional.

Woman wearing a beige skirt suit in the office, 1999
 

9. New ways to work it

Our new sub-brands helped customers find a style to suit their taste and budget. Autograph launched in 2000, with input from British designers Katharine Hamnett and Julien Macdonald – think premium-quality pieces that reflected a more flexible working environment.

Woman wearing Autograph black trousers, a printed shirt and kitten heels, 2001
 

10. The office and beyond

Today, M&S’s office-ready pieces have evolved to suit a more sartorially relaxed workplace. Whether it’s in the boardroom or the coffee shop, our modern looks reflect the dynamic roles of women.

Woman wearing navy mac, green trousers and red bag, 2017
 

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