Building a Professional Wardrobe

In life, we oftentimes find ourselves at a crossroads, where two paths collide and you have to stop and think: what the hell am I doing?

I have found myself at such a crossroad.

At the moment, I find myself stuck between my rolling out of bed at 11am, yoga pants wearing college years and becoming a young professional. I don’t care if you’re a business major or an art major: everyone needs professional, well-tailored clothing if you want to be taken seriously. There comes a time in everyone’s life where they have to trade in their sneakers for sensible pumps.

This whole growing up thing dawned on me this past summer when I did a Public Relations internship that required me to go to multiple networking events daily. I came to realize that it didn’t matter what my GPA was; no one was going to ever take me seriously if I didn’t look the part. So, from then on, I started to build my professional wardrobe.

Keep in mind that the pieces below are meant to get you started. Just because you’re working in a stiff accounting firm doesn’t mean you can’t wear color. First, buy these essentials and build upon that. Further, don’t think that you have to spend a ridiculous amount of money on these things. If it fits and you can afford it: buy it. These pieces are gender-universal unless noted otherwise:

A Tailored Blazer

outre blazers

When you’re just starting out, buying a neutral (black, gray, brown, tan and navy blue) blazer is a must. Once you’ve got the basics down, you can venture into some other colors.

A Pair of Slacks/Pencil Skirt (Women)

pro bottoms
Again, a neutral color is a good choice. Keep in mind that just because it zips, doesn’t mean it fits. If your clothes look cheap and don’t fit well, you look sloppy. Ladies, remember that your skirt should be about knee-length.

A Pair of Sensible Shoes

shoes

When you’re working 9-5, it’s important to make sure that your feet are comfortable. Ladies, in a corporate office it’s good to keep your heels under 3 inches.

A Fitted White Shirt

button down

A white button-down shirt is a staple in every young professional’s wardrobe. I cannot stress make sure it fits well enough. As a, erm, big-breasted female with a smaller waist, I understand it’s hard to find buttoned shirts that fit. So, make sure it fits up top and use a high-waisted bottom to cinch your waist in. Professional doesn’t mean frumpy!

(For Women) A Leather Tote

totes

It’s time to grow up, ditch the backpack and change it out with a leather tote. This is an investment piece. Make sure you’re able to fit your laptop, notebook, and all other pertinent things you need at work. You may, if you’re tired of me shoving neutrals down your throat, buy a pop of color. However, if you choose to invest in this bag, you may not want to pick a color that will be out of fashion in a year.

(For Men) A Nice Tie

Ties

Before I say anything, guys, make sure you actually know how to tie a tie. Clip-ons are very childish and if you show up wearing one at an interview, I can’t say your chances of landing the job will be very good. Make sure you get a neutral tie that you’ll be able to wear with a couple of shirts. After you have your one tie, you can get fun, colorful patterns.

A Good Wristwatch

watch

Even though watches are basically obsolete thanks to the cell phone, it’s still a staple in the professional wardrobe. It doesn’t have to be designer or expensive, it just has to look like it. Having good taste does not mean having expensive taste; I cannot stress this enough.


A word of caution: make sure your clothes fit and fit you well. Nothing says “I’ve got my sh*t together” like a well-structured outfit. These are the essentials. From this, you can add as many pieces and colors as you like. Generally, it’s a good rule of thumb to wear only 2 accessories at a time and to keep facial (including ears) to under 3 depending on the brand of the company that you’re working for. For ladies, it’s good to keep makeup muted and not too colorful – so, stick with the Naked pallette. Again, this all depends on the image that the company you’re employed by. For instance, if you’re working for an edgy fashion company then by all means accessorize to your hearts desire and pierce your parent’s love away. But for those of us heading into corporate America, keep the eyebrow piercings and hot pink eyeshadow on deck for the weekend.

Remember, the right outfit can make or break you. It’s a sad truth but when you step into your interview first impressions definitely matter.

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