Navigating Shenton Way: Workplace Fashion in Singapore

It’s not the overpriced lunches nor the dog-eat-dog Wall Street culture that have arisen in this South East Asian city-state; it’s the mini skirts and uncomfortable heels I observe.

Shenton Way - workplace fashion in Singapore - Dressed for Success or not
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Workplace fashion in Singapore is not what it used to be. Do you know what it’s like walking through the central business district and seeing the Korean fashions today? These women wear short hemlines, tight dresses, and five-inch heels and it’s not appropriate.

These are women working in professional environments and I am often to my surprise, met with the same response in that these women choose to dress like that in order to get a promotion.

Relying on revealing outfits in the hopes of earning recognition in the workplace is counterintuitive to gaining the respect of one’s colleagues and bosses and being treated as an equal in a primarily patriarchal society.

So why are Singaporean women choosing to dress provocatively in the office, and what can be done to change this?

Confidence is a key quality to possess in the workplace

Confidence demonstrates to employers that a person is in control and capable. The first step to dressing confidently is to be comfortable in one’s clothing, however, tight, skin-baring outfits attract attention but proper attire is detrimental to getting that promotion.

The following 10 tips are some tips on how to dress for success in Singapore, and what not to do if you want to nail that promotion.

Uniform Dressing

With retailers such as Uniqlo offering a plethora of colorful basics, complimenting every season, it’s easy to accumulate a work wardrobe that’s tasteful, on-trend and gets one noticed in the workplace for all the right reasons.

Having a uniform means that one can apply more focus on other daily tasks, nailing that important client presentation and impressing one’s boss. Finding a silhouette that suits you is easier than ever. 

You have a choice of midi skirts and button up shirts; white blouses and cropped black trousers; printed shirts and wide-legged pants; the possibilities are endless, and saves a lot of time in the mornings.

Find A Tailor – Fashion in Singapore Matters

A good tailor can change your look entirely. Well-fitted clothes are an indicator of attention to detail and add to one’s confidence.

Singapore is home to countless tailors, with many of them based out of shopping malls, including Queensway Shopping Centre, Far East Plaza and People’s Park Complex or you can shop online.

Even a $30 plain white shirt from Mango can look more elevated when tailored to fit the wearer.  Even if the difference is subtle, a well-hemmed pair of trousers looks great and won’t cost more than $10.

Fashion in Singapore – Material Matters

Fast fashion has brought affordable, trendy clothing to the masses, and it’s great seeing fashion become more accessible to everyone. Environmental concerns and the issues that arise from mass consumerism aside, fast fashion is problematic for the materials used.

Problems with cheap clothes include shrinkage, loose threads, and wrinkles that won’t quit. The biggest culprit is polyester chiffon, a fabric of choice for many Singaporean women.

Silk chiffon looks wonderful and feminine; polyester chiffon looks frumpy, cheap and unprofessional. Instead, breathable fabrics such as cotton are a much better choice for looking presentable.

Fighting The Elements

Being 142 kilometers from The Equator, Singaporean women also need to consider the futility of wearing any sort of clothing that would be cool enough for walking in the hot afternoon sun.

It should also be warm enough to handle the central air conditioning of the office that’s always, for some reason, on full blast. I have observed bulky, ill-fitting jackets and blazers that never actually go with any outfit draped over office chairs.

A basic, well-fitting black blazer would complement any outfit and keep the wearer warm in the Arctic indoor temperatures that plague Singapore offices.

What’s The Deal With Wet Hair?

Singapore’s climate is hot, sticky and often uncomfortable, but that isn’t a valid excuse to come into work with wet hair.

Singaporean women are especially inclined to grow their hair long; struggling to avoid contact with a woman’s dripping wet mane on a packed MRT in the morning is an uncomfortable regular occurrence.

Hair dryers are wonderful, inexpensive inventions and women with concerns about hair damage can look into buying heat protection sprays, good quality hair dryers, and learn how to take a few additional steps to maintain healthy hair.

The Problem with Peplum

Never have I ever seen a woman wearing a peplum dress and thought to myself, “I wonder where she bought that dress from?” hahaha But obviously it’s a dress silhouette of preference for many in Singapore.

I’ve heard that it’s because the extra fabric placed strategically at the waistline shields onlookers’ eyes from the possible existence of a protruding post-lunch belly. Can anyone support this theory behind the popularity of peplum?

Those Rubber Shoes

That cloyingly sweet bubblegum smell that emanates from so many office workers’ feet gives me nightmares. This popular Brazilian shoe brand is available in possibly every department store in Singapore and there are several stand-alone stores dotted across the island.

They are relatively affordable, waterproof (which is good for those unexpected tropical showers), and won’t fall apart mid-meeting, but they also imply that the wearer, isn’t to be taken seriously.

The rounded toe and oversized bow scream “child stuck in an adult’s body,” a common trope for Asian women; it’s better to keep a pair of jelly flats on hand in the office for rainy days and invest in a more presentable, good quality leather pair to wear on a daily basis.

The Necessity of Heels

Since we’re on the subject of shoes, let’s tackle the problem with heels. Dress codes requiring high heels are currently being debated in the UK with good reason, but in Singapore, it’s unlikely that any workplace has a dress code that officially dictates that women must wear high heels.

Silent dress codes are more difficult to identify and eradicate than those stated in black and white and are unfortunately prevalent.

Such discriminatory dress codes need to be changed in order for society to progress, and this will only begin when we take a stand against them rather than perpetuate the problem. Repeat after me: Heels Are Not Necessary.

Culottes, Gauchos, & Palazzos

Loose, cropped pants are all the rage right now on Cecil Street. Lightweight and comfortable in our hot tropical weather, these make any outfit put-together and professional.

They look especially great with a boxy sleeveless tee; just stay away from the micro-pleated variety (Because who are you kidding? It’s obvious you aren’t wearing a pleated skirt), which can be a challenge for the average woman-on-the-street to pull off.

The awkward lengths also run the risk of shortening the wearer, and for petite Asian women, that’s a risk we don’t want to take; a good rule of fashion in Singapore is to choose a pair that ends just above the ankle.

The New Suit

In place of wearing a thick Chanel tweed skirt suit in Singapore’s 30-degree weather, a matching top and bottom set looks just as professional – and makes getting dressed in the morning so much easier.

Fashion in Singapore includes floral combinations or even tone-on-tone variations which are easily available and make the wearer look sharp. What’s even better is you can re-wear the pieces individually and nobody will notice!

Sleeveless Blazers

What happened to the sleeveless blazer? They were all the rage in 2014, with their loose, elongated silhouettes, and were a great layering piece for hot climates.

They were professional yet stylish and added a little spice to an otherwise bland outfit. I’d like to start a petition to bring back fashion in Singapore plus the sleeveless waistcoat: who’s joining me?

The Shentonista: Singapore’s Own CBD Streetstyle Blog

Any self-proclaimed Singaporean fashionista must admit to trawling through the archives of local street style site The Shentonista, looking for style inspiration and hoping that she’ll be stopped outside One Raffles Place during her next lunch break by a style photographer for a feature.

The great thing about Shentonista is that the subjects are usually wearing affordable clothing: Zara, Uniqlo, and H&M are favorites, and there is a good mix of people from those working in creative industries to more formal work environments that require outfits with a bit more polish.

Work life in Singapore is competitive, fast-paced, and often frenetic. Of course, the capability of the individual to do their job properly should be given the utmost priority when being considered for a promotion.

Singaporean women need to work even harder to overcome the prejudices of our society which often gives men an unfair advantage.

Rather than diminishing our worth with revealing outfits, we need to be acknowledged as equals and treated with the respect that we deserve, and it begins by demanding that respect and commanding authority by dressing professionally.


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