I recently obtained a new position working with a mental health research institute that requires that I dress (cue doom’s day noises) like a professional adult. That, I will admit, was an utterly terrifying prospect a few weeks ago. The entirety of my wardrobe consisted of leggings, jeans, and t-shirts with very little in between or extra.
Trying to find new clothes seems like a fun thing until you are floundering around a department store you don’t frequent looking for articles of clothing you’ve never touched. Then it just bites. But never fear, Gwyn is here. I received a bit of help from one of the most accomplished career women I know, and now I shall pass her knowledge and expertise down to you. So, without further ado, here are the must-have items and key guidelines to follow with respect to building a business wardrobe.
- three pairs of slacks (I’d recommend black, navy, and gray or brown.)
- two skirts (Not short – I’d say get these in neutral colors too, and if you keep it in the same color family as the slacks, it’ll make your life easier.)
- five to ten business blouses (You can wear color and patterns here, but just ensure that the cuts of the tops are both flattering and modest. Skintight or showy is out of the question for a workplace environment.)
- two to four business dresses (I’d recommend things that fall a few inches above the knee or longer, following the same idea as the blouses. But don’t forget to have some personality in there because it’ll make everything feel less drab. I would also say to make one of those dresses a simple, all-occasion black dress.)
- a business purse (I didn’t know this was a thing until a few weeks ago, but generally go for something that looks expensive and designer — even if it’s not. I’d also recommend that you find one that has a slightly more square look and is less slouchy.)
- a jacket/blazer (This is a great way to pull your look together and can often take an otherwise office inappropriate top and make it useable. Also, offices/labs/other places get drafty and you’ll want an easy-to-wear layer.)
- good shoes (No stripper heels. Ever. You can rock stilettos provided they’re not platforms, and I think they look killer with a well-tailored pair of slacks. I’d say that either flats or smaller heels are usually a really good way to go with this stuff. Neutrals are often best because they can be worn with anything, but you could also do a bold red shoe or something similar for a statement piece.)
- Modesty is key. If you want to be taken seriously in the work place, there is no place for immodest clothing. And that can be a tricky line to draw because much of what we would consider modest in an everyday setting is still not appropriate in the office. Too much shoulder? Anything vaguely low cut? Anything clingy or otherwise overly form fitting? Yeah, that won’t cut it.
- You can be cute and professional at the same time. These aren’t mutually exclusive. You should wear things that make you feel beautiful, powerful, confident, and good about yourself in the office.
- Accessorize! Luckily, you can still wear bold jewelry and cute accessories in the workplace! Just make sure that it doesn’t look cheap or trashy. That Forever21, chunky, neon necklace that was so in for summer? That’s a no. But nice gold/silver/rose gold pieces, or anything that is not too in-your-face is totally acceptable.
- Once you’ve got the basics, you can expand. Cross your t’s and dot your i’s with the simple staples, and then start to add to it. Once you’ve got a few pairs of slacks and skirts, you can really start to develop an unique style and venture into a different patterns and looks.
- Watch What Not To Wear once in a while. It’s actually good inspiration and style advice for this sort of thing. I found it really helpful in establishing my guidelines.
I hope that this post helps to outline the business wardrobe basics for you, and please leave any advice or questions for me in the comments! What’s your office style?