You’ve just started a new career in a professional office setting – congratulations! Now all you need is the work wardrobe. Cheesy as they sound, the sayings ‘dress for success’ and ‘dress for the job you want’ exist for a reason. Your appearance will affect first impressions with colleagues, and how you present yourself shows a lot about your personality. A great outfit will always do you favors. Luckily, you don’t need to spend a fortune to build a stylish professional wardrobe.
How To Build A Professional Wardrobe on a Budget
Start by building a work wardrobe capsule. You don’t need to own a large collection of clothes; just a smart collection of timeless items that all pair well together. And you don’t have to spend a lot either. There are many affordable options that are still good quality. Check out stores like Uniqlo, Banana Republic, H&M, J. Crew, Zara, Mango, Topshop, and Club Monaco.
Here are some essential pieces to include in your work wardrobe (the ones that never go out of style, work in a professional setting, and can easily be mixed and matched):
- A crisp white shirt.A nice white button down is the perfect building block for your work wardrobe. You can wear it all year round with any type of bottom or layering piece. It also works perfectly for off duty/weekend looks with denim or a fun skirt. Depending on your budget, consider getting blouses/shirts in a few different colors so you have a few options. Stick to neutral, undistracting colors like black, grey, navy, burgundy, or soft pastels.
- A black blazer.Nothing makes you look more put together than a sharp black blazer. You can wear it power suit style with tailored trousers or go for a more ladylike look with a skirt or dress. And again, you can wear it out of the office with your favorite pair of jeans.
- Black tailored trousers. Show them who wears the pants with a perfectly fitted pair of black trousers. These will work with any type of top. If you’re willing to spend a bit extra, consider getting a pair in grey and/or navy for rotation. If not, stick to black as it’s a classic and matches with every color. As for fit? You can’t go wrong with a classic cigarette style.
- A black pencil skirt.It’s good to have a different bottom option on days when you don’t feel like wearing trousers, especially when the weather is warmer. Choose a pencil skirt that ends just below the knees so you won’t have to worry about any dress code violations.
- A sheath dress.Include a classic fitted sheath dress on days you don’t want to wear separates. Choose one with a slim, figure hugging silhouette that’s still comfortable and not too revealing (make sure it has sleeves). While an ultra tight bodycon dress is not work appropriate, a loose a-line dress may seem too casual so you’ll want to find a happy medium. Stick to a solid color so you can easily match it to any outer layers (a blazer or cardigan).
- Classic black pumps.Finish off your outfits with some a classic pair of black pumps. Since you’ll have to wear them for at least 8 hours a day, make sure the heels aren’t too high or uncomfortable! If you can comfortably last in stilettos, kudos to you! Otherwise consider a nice, sturdy block heel.
If you have a bit of money leftover in your budget, consider adding a few extra accent pieces to spice up your work wardrobe:
- Check or pinstripe trousers/blazer. Checks and pinstripes are nice, subtle, and professional looking prints that add just the right amount of excitement to your work outfits.
- A printed blouse. Depending on your workplace, don’t go too crazy (save the Hawaiian prints for the beach). But a nice, subtle print like small polka dots works perfectly.
- A detailed blouse.If you’re not a print person but still want to switch things up, consider a blouse with another sort of detail such as a bow or piping.
Now that your work wardrobe is good to go, it’s time to actually put the pieces together. The styling is just as important as the pieces themselves, so make sure you’re doing it right!
How To Dress Professionally
When getting dressed for work, there are a few things you have to keep in mind that you might not think about otherwise. Follow the tips below to make sure you’re always looking workplace-appropriate.
- Mind your hemlines and necklines. Most workplaces don’t allow mini skirts/dresses, which is why we recommend keeping your hemline at knee-length. If you do want to go a bit shorter, a good rule of thumb is to go by fingertip length. If the skirt/dress ends above your fingertips, it’s too short. Also be mindful of your neckline. You don’t have to button your blouse all the way to the top, but you shouldn’t be showing cleavage either.
- Go easy on jewelry.Wearing jewelry to work is fine, but you don’t want it to be distracting. Stick to a few simple pieces and leave your bolder items for special occasions.
- Be subtle.Just as with jewelry, you don’t want the rest of your outfit to be distracting. It’s ok to wear colors and prints, but make sure they’re not too loud or big. You want the focus to be you, not your outfit.
How To Look Professional
Lastly, it’s time for the finishing touches before actually heading to the workplace:
- Stay well-groomed.You should be looking neat and tidy from head to toe. Don’t wear your hair in a messy style (cute as those loose buns may look on social media), make sure your nails are trimmed and clean, and don’t forget to iron your clothes if necessary!
- Go easy on perfume.Everyone wants to smell nice, but no one likes it when someone has taken a perfume shower. A few spritzes will do just fine.
- Wear your makeup fairly neutral.Just like perfume, don’t overdo it. A bold red lip and some eyeshadow is more than fine, but save the glitter and intense colors for Friday night.
Keep all of these things in mind and you’ll be winning your office’s best-dressed award in no time!