How to rock the smart utility look on a budget

smart utility look on a budget

We all love a bit of designer style at high street prices, don’t we? Fashion is currently being hugely led by 90s and Y2K influences, but those low slung combats and crop tops aren’t going to cut it in the workplace. Step forward the chic new cargo pants look with its office-appropriate tailored trousers and sleek accessories. Can you get the smart utility look on a budget? Hell yes.

This latest cool girl look is just starting to filter through to a few high street fashion shops, and the good news is that there’s something to fit and flatter all shapes and sizes. The trick is to build your outfits around a really great pair of trousers, so let’s start there.

First, choose your cargo trousers

The best way to recreate this trend and keep it looking designer is to concentrate on picking a well-fitting pair of tailored wide leg trousers.

Look for simple cargo-style flap pockets on the sides of each outer thigh, and a high waisted design. Bonus points if there are belt loops, and perhaps a small amount of gathering under the front waistband or a pleat down each leg.

When choosing the colour it’s best to opt for black, olive or khaki green, or a shade of beige or latte. This echoes most of the high end brand offerings, and will also give you the most versatility when it comes to mixing and matching.

By the way, if you can’t decide which colour to go for, you might like to have a read of Capsule Wardrobe Masterclass: Colour & pattern for inspiration.

Now let’s move on to my top pick for a great value pair of designer-inspired high street tailored cargo trousers.

River Island Black Wide Leg Cargo Trousers | £39.00

Featuring a flowing leg fit, zip fly, belt loops and a slight gather at the front, these are proper designer looks at high street prices. Available in regular size 6 – 18 and petite size 4 – 16. Also available in khaki, cream, beige and light brown, as well as a dressier black satin version.

See the wide leg cargo trouser options at River Island.

If you like the khaki trousers and want to make a suit out of them, there’s a matching blazer, £69, sizes 6 to 18.

See more at River Island for the matching trousers and khaki blazer.

Has your size or favourite colour sold out? You can find the River Island range at ASOS and Very too. There’s also a super smart RI Plus utility trouser, £39, at Very in sizes 18 – 28.

New Look High Waist Wide Leg Cargo Trousers | £29.99

New Look high waist wide leg cargo trousers petite fit

Looking for something similar in a petite fit? There’s an excellent petite wide leg cargo trouser with slightly less formal styling at New Look, £29.99, in camel or black, sizes 4 – 16.

See these petite cargo trousers at New Look.

Next Smart Utility Cargo Wide Leg Trousers | £38.00

Want a tall fit instead? These trousers from Next come up a little longer in the leg than you might expect, but they look elegant and hang well. Available in black or camel. Sizes: regular 6 – 26, tall 10 – 22, and extra tall 10 – 18.

Find out more about these smart utility cargo trousers at Next.

Now pick your mix & match items

The only two other garments you need to create this mini-capsule are a simple, light coloured blouse or collarless shirt and a slightly masculine long-ish blazer in a neutral shade. You probably own something like this already, but if not then here are a couple of options for you.

M&S Per Una Cotton Blend Textured Lace Insert Blouse | £39.50

This round neck ivory blouse is one of those ‘buy it once, keep it for years’ pieces, and will be highly versatile through those spring, summer and autumn months. It’s an excellent addition to most capsule wardrobes.

Breezy cotton viscose blend. Available in standard sizes 6 – 24.

Find out more at Marks & Spencer.

River Island Brown Rolled Sleeve Blazer | £69.00

A neutral-toned smart longline jacket is just right this season, and goes with everything from suit trousers to jeans. It’s also handy for toning down extra-feminine floral or flouncy dresses.

For a semi-relaxed look, try this light brown blazer from River Island, which goes especially well with their smart black wide leg cargo trousers shown earlier. Definitely one that will take you from work to weekend. Sizes 6 – 18.

Unfortunately that jacket’s just sold out (very popular!) but some near-identical ones have now gone on sale at Matalan for £29 in sizes 8 to 20.

Smart utility look on a budget: Accessories

The best way to accessorise this look is by adding:

  • Chic mid or low heeled shoes with pointed or square toes,
  • a smart structured bag, and
  • some slightly elevated gold hoop earrings.

These three items are really all you need to keep it looking effortlessly pulled together and stylish.

M&S Collection Leather Kitten Heel Pointed Slingback Shoes | £45.00

These pointed toe leather slingback shoes have a 6.8cm kitten heel, comfort insoles, and a vamp at the front for extra fashion points. Also available in tan mix or ivory colourways, sizes 3 – 8.

Grab a pair of these at M&S.

Topshop Sidney trophy shoulder bag in black | £30.00

A smart shoulder bag with goldtone hardware, the Sidney trophy bag available at ASOS. Also comes in a cream version if you prefer lighter shades for spring and summer.

Find the Sidney bag at ASOS.

Gold Plated Silver Diamond Cut Hoop Earrings | £32.00

These hoop earrings by Candy add a little something special to lift your outfits without being overpowering, and the cutwork texture makes them sparkle. Made from gold plated over sterling silver, diameter 20mm, and currently on offer at John Greed.

See more about these gold hoop earrings at John Greed.

Styling tips for seasons & occasions

Make your purchase work harder with clever styling through the seasons, and mixing it into more relaxed outfits. Here are some simple tips for getting your full money’s worth out of a new pair of smart utility trousers:

Take it from spring to high summer by switching out the longsleeved shirt for a simple short sleeve blouse, a camisole or a high neck racer vest. You could also wear a buttoned-up waistcoat as a high fashion sleeveless top. Add a platform footbed sandal or simple sliders to complete the warm weather look.

Switch the trousers from formal to casual by pairing them with trainers, a logo t-shirt, and a relaxed khaki or denim jacket. Change up your outfits for brunches, shopping trips and weekends away by adding a crescent bag or rucksack.

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