Imagine that you’ve finally landed your dream job, and now it’s time to dress the part. You throw open the doors of your closet and begin to search for the perfect “first-day-on-the-job” ensemble. Looking around, you find party wear, jeans, weekend clothes, more jeans, jackets, and cocktail dresses. Then you begin to panic and ask yourself: Where’s the work wardrobe? In order to succeed in a professional career, it’s necessary to build up a dependable, office-worthy wardrobe. If you feel like your closet is underperforming in this department, keep reading for some helpful hints on how to curate a work wardrobe that will really work for you.
Although it seems mundane, the main pieces of your work wardrobe should be composed of reliable, steadfast basics that can stand the test of time. You will need a few key pieces to do the heavy lifting, so it’s important that you don’t skimp on quality. Some of the most important investment staples for the workplace include: a well-fitting black blazer, a tailored power suit (with both pants and a skirt), silk blouses, neutral-colored cardigans, a pair of comfortable black pumps, a pair of comfortable nude pumps, a black pea coat, and a leather bag.
Since well-made, perfectly tailored-to-fit outfits generally come with a large price tag, space out your purchases and add to your collection over the course of a year or two. One strategy involves dedicating a portion of each paycheck to your work wardrobe fund. Make a list of essential pieces to buy, and then purchase them one-by-one during the off-season (for example, a tailored black pea coat could be purchased in the summer at a better deal than the winter season). After 12 to 24 months, you will have a great collection of high-quality items. Even if the initial investment feels large, you can think of your key pieces as having a low “cost-per-wear” calculation (since you will be using them for years to come).
Strive for Simplicity
One of the best workplace phrases used today is “buttoned up.” No matter whether it’s describing a spreadsheet that evens out perfectly, or a report that has every “t” crossed and “i” dotted, this simple expression undoubtedly conveys a sense of complete tidiness. Similarly, when dressing for the workplace, you should have one goal in mind: neatness. Anchor your outfit with your key investment pieces, then build on each outfit by adding a bit of trendiness, color, or personality. For example, a simple-yet-classy work outfit might begin with a basic button-up blue and white pinstripe shirt tucked into a dark navy A-line skirt. To add interest, pop on some blood orange d’orsay flats and grab a coordinating clutch. Top the outfit off with a cuff bracelet and some dainty gold earrings.
Although fashion is a glorious way to express uniqueness, you should temper the urge to express too much of your individuality in the workplace. Any articles of clothing that display large logos or brands, obnoxious patterns, low v-necks, or high hemlines should stay safely tucked away at home. Similarly, ill-fitting pieces have the same negative effect, and the overall look can come across as “lazy” or “unkempt.”
Consider the Culture
When you are investing in a professional wardrobe, it’s important to take in account the company’s culture. Some businesses have a strict dress code, whereas others might promote “casual Friday” on a daily basis. Be sure you are clear on your company’s policy before hitting the shops. Even if your company has a more lenient dress code, looking put together is still paramount. If you are allowed to wear denim on the job, choose a dark wash to give your outfit a sleeker appearance. Even when wearing denim, be sure to incorporate your investment pieces (such as a blazer or pumps with jeans). Add some oomph to your outfit by complementing it with jewelry (for example, a tortoise-link necklace or a vibrant vintage brooch would look amazing with colored chinos, a white button-up, and a blazer). For super-casual, creative environments (like meeting a colleague at Starbucks) try a trendy shirtdress and skinny belt, or tailored shorts, a dressy top, and a cropped blazer.
American workers top the chart when it comes to most hours spent on the job, and it’s no wonder that a full-time professional should have a wardrobe to match. Although seeking out sensible work clothes may not have the same lure as a trend-indulgent shopping spree, you should aim to stock your closet with basic investment pieces and simple styles that will provide constant support as you rise through the ranks.