So you’ve graduated. You’ve either snagged your first job or you are on the active hunt. Wherever you are on your career journey, one obstacle everyone must tackle is wrangling the professional wardrobe.
It’s not an easy feat. There are a slew of variables, unknowns, and we certainly can’t ignore the expense. What kind of office environment will you be working in? Is the dress code casual? Will you be attending client meetings, industry events, or conferences? Before you go out and buy everything or concede and wear your mother’s hand-me-downs, my best advice is to start with the basics.
Fortunately, the basics are simple. Whether worn individually or grouped together, a gray suit (pants and blazer), a black pencil skirt, a white Oxford shirt, your existing accessories and a great pair of black shoes can easily soothe your wardrobe anxiety and provide you with endless style options, all while stretching your hard-earned dollar.
Start with a Grey Suit
One of the best wardrobe investments one can make is purchasing the versatile and always-in-fashion gray suit. Here’s a darker one from J. Crew.
Or a lighter one:
Aside from the obvious—wearing the suit pants and blazer together—one can style these two pieces multiple ways. First off, gray pairs well with almost anything. One can easily pair the gray slacks with a black top and black shoes. Want to go a different direction? Pair with navy or royal blue. The hues definitely complement one another and create a unique look. Go nautical! Add gold jewelry and a white scarf. Want something a bit more understated? Trade in silver jewelry or pearls, and the outfit becomes an immediate classic. See this styling from Ann Taylor:
Now, grab that gray blazer. No wardrobe is complete without a reliable suit jacket. Simply reverse the suggestions shared above and add black or navy pants. Wear the gray blazer with a black skirt and white Oxford shirt. Want something more colorful? Gray pairs well with almost any color, so shop your closet and see what makes a great match. Is it causal Friday? Rock your blazer with a nice t-shirt and a pair of jeans. J. Crew again:
Here’s another suggestion from Laura Harari of Edgify Me, via Glamour magazine:
The blazer will help you along on that crisp morning commute, protect you from the ridiculous office air conditioning, and in the event you run into an office principal, you still look tailored and polished.
Do yourself and your closet a favor: get a black pencil skirt. A black pencil skirt is a staple in the professional world. Pair just about any shirt or blouse already in your closet, and you’ll be ready to face the day. Here’s one at Macy’s:
And another at Ann Taylor Loft:
Just note, when selecting a skirt, it’s important that the skirt fits your body type. So, if this style doesn’t fit your shape, an A-line skirt would be equally fabulous. Bridgette Raes has the idea:
The unprecedented and most traditional piece of professional staples is the white Oxford shirt. It didn’t gain its popularity for nothing. It’s so versatile that everyone, men and women, make it a standard of their weekly office-wear rotation. It goes with just about everything. It will easily pair with all of your gray suit and black pencil skirt combinations, or drape simply over a pair of leggings or skinny jeans. Ralph Lauren has some ideas.
Wear the shirt completely buttoned and add a short necklace that lays directly under the collar. Or grab a white or colored camisole, button the shirt just partially, allowing the shirt to gap and the camisole to show, too. If your work environment is more casual, roll up the sleeves or tie a knot with the two front tails.
Once you have these items secured, its then time to interject your personality and one of the easiest ways of doing that is through your accessories. Scour your closet and jewelry box, because you probably already have great items on hand to play up and showcase your own personal flair. A good go-to is jewelry. A statement piece, a long or short necklace, will instantly add interest and excitement to your wardrobe. Adding a colorful belt, a patterned scarf, or even a great pair of colored shoes will take your outfit from boring to future boss. Have fun with creating new looks, mix and match your options, and you’ll give your closet an instant upgrade. Here are some ideas:
Lastly, no outfit is complete without the perfect pair of shoes. It has been said, “Give a girl the right pair of shoes, and she can conquer the world!” Your shoe choice can really make or break your outfit, so be deliberate with your purchase. You can’t go wrong with a simple pair of black pumps or flats, like these from Banana Republic.
While shopping, be cognizant of what they are made out of, for some shoes can quickly show a lot of wear and tear (i.e. suede or cloth-covered are just asking for that accidental coffee spill). Additionally, make sure they are comfortable and that you can walk in them. I’m all for a high heel, but stumbling around the office or grimacing from the pain is no fun for anyone, especially your feet!
As you progress through your career, so will your professional wardrobe. But, regardless of time, these wardrobe basics will continue to remain as your go-to staples. Keep these items on a rotation, and your professional wardrobe will be on its own road to success.