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First ever 9-5, need help with office clothes please!
Dresses or skirts will be fine - playsuits less so. In terms of length, up to two-thirds down the thigh seems to be acceptable now-a-days and, as a size 8 you should be fine getting away with that. Smart casual is always a tricky one though (think Ralph Lauren/Tommy Hilfiger ads for that look).
For dresses - I'd stick to a straight or pencil type skirt. If you go for sleeveless then it gives you the option to wear a different shirt or short-sleeved jumper underneath and save on washing/dry-cleaning. For skirts - you can go pencil or skater-style and team with a smart, tucked-in, shirt, (TK Maxx had TM Lewin shirts in the other week for half nothing). You can also go for a 'twin-set' style and then use the cardi's with the dresses on cold days.
I'd start with dresses and skirt suits. You can get these in any decent high street store. Pencil or straight cut as already suggested would be your best bet. Shirts and smart tops, like shell tops or peplum style tops, would be good as well. A few nice cardigans, one or two pairs of neutral coloured heels (think nude or black) and a decent handbag and you should be set for a while. A decent trench/mac type coat would also be a good bet. You can add colour to plain outfits with nice scarves or a few nice but not over the top necklaces.
I wear black skirt suit (pencil just about knee) but at the same time I bought skinny and wide trousers. With skirt and skinnys I always wear heels (rarely higher than 3inch) and love micro net tights, not too tarty but bit different to the boring barely blacks or nudes. Mind you shouldn't we be in bare legs by mid may, bloody British weather!
I wouldn't think you'll need suits if some in the office wear jeans. You may feel a bit overdone! Go for fitted dresses which can be dressed up with a shirt or down with a cardi, skirts (full or pencil) and an assortment of tops. Our office is smart casual and you get a real range! In winter perfectly acceptable to wear skinny trousers with boots etc and a smart sweater.