You finally got the job! Maybe it’s your dream job or maybe (most likely) it’s an internship or starting position with low pay and long hours, but plenty of room to grow and gain experience.
Regardless, entering the professional world can be daunting. And sometimes even more daunting is figuring out what to wear to work. Coming out of the college environment where t-shirts and nike shorts are acceptable day-to-day wear, it can be difficult to know where to start looking at professional wear and even more difficult to find a way of maintaining your personal style and flair in a sea of identical pantsuits (unless pantsuits are your thing in which case, rock on girl!).
Equally difficult is the task of actually purchasing some of these new essentials- while it would be wonderful if all of our lives could be like that scene in The Devil Wears Prada where Anne Hathaway is given her weight in designer clothes free of charge, most of us are likely to find ourselves with a small budget from our college jobs to scrape together a professional and stylish look. But don’t fear! You can build a work wardrobe tailored to your personal style that is perfectly work appropriate!
Before we start, it’s worth it to take a minute and really honestly assess your wardrobe and clothing habits, as well as the environment you will be working it. Ask yourself the following questions:
- How often do I do laundry? Are you a pretty regular 1-2 times a week laundry girl? If so, you can get away with having a lot fewer items in the closet than a once a month laundry girl. If you are that once-a-month laundry girl, you will probably have to bulk up your closet a bit more to get yourself dressed between washes.
- What work environment are you stepping into? Start with the “formal, semi-formal, business casual, casual” questions, but then move deeper and really try to find what people wear to your office on a day-to-day basis. Sure your office dress code might say jeans are acceptable day-to-day wear, but do people tend to dress up a bit more during the week and let loose on Fridays? Will you be expected to step it up for meetings and presentations? Of course these are hard questions to answer before you’ve even started so you may find yourself having to amend your closet as you go, but try to at least find a place to jump off from.
- Look at your existing closet and ask yourself which pieces can make the transition to an office environment? Chances are you own a few nice pair of jeans, maybe a stylish and classy scarf that makes you look like a parisian model. This is a good time to dust off the blazer your mom bought you years ago that has been sitting in the back corners of your closet hidden from sight for an embarrassing amount of time.
- Finally, set a budget. How much am I willing to spend on a work wardrobe? It’s okay if this number isn’t high, you can find really quality pieces at thrift stores and discount label stores, but you need to at least have a number in mind so that you know which stores are attainable and which stores you need to wait a few paychecks before setting foot inside.
Now let’s get started!
- Find a color scheme that you like. It is significantly cheaper and easier to create a work wardrobe if all of the colors in it match go together (or at least don’t clash!). That being said, if you have decided that your work wardrobe will fall exclusively within the aqua color family and you fall in love with a dreamy red blouse don’t worry about it! Your color scheme is only there to make things easy for you and if you need to expand it a bit to include the pieces you love, go right ahead.
- Find one heel and one flat that fit your personal style that are also comfortable! The comfort part is important. If you get blisters every time you have to go to the water cooler or the bathroom you will be cursing those shoes no matter how cute they are. Having this variety in your footwear will help you when mixing and matching your outfits. The same dress will look very different paired with a flat instead of a heel.
- Find several silhouettes that fit your personal style and that you like on yourself. If you like the way your favorite bohemian dress hangs on your body then you could look for dresses and skirts with a loose silhouette and lots of movement. If you love the way tailored menswear adds some structure to your shape then you could look for pieces with a strong shoulder and clean lines. Identify which elements of your style silhouettes you like and you can focus on finding those elements in new pieces.
- Find one or two key pieces that can be worn with just about everything. This can be anything from a scarf that adds a nice pop of color to the top of your outfits to a tailored jacket that makes you feel like you could own the company in a few years. It could even be a signature necklace or ring that you have owned for years. The point of these key pieces is to make every outfit you wear feel like you. Even if you’re wearing an outfit you aren’t in love with, these pieces will help center your style and create your signature look.
- Finally it’s time to fill out your work wardrobe! This can be the most expensive and most daunting part of the process and its the part that will likely take the longest. The most important part of this process is to only buy pieces that you love. Starting a new job can make anyone want to run out and buy a bunch of pieces “just in case”, but realistically you are not going to run out of clothes and go to work naked. Take your time and maybe even wait until you are a few paychecks in to really expand to the work wardrobe of your dreams. If you can wait a few weeks, keep up with your laundry, and re-wear some things until you can afford the pieces you love you will ultimately be much happier with the results.