My sister is about to graduate from college and start her first “real job,” which has lead to quite a few discussions about what she will and won’t be able to wear to work and what she should buy as a result.
It made me think about when I was offered my first (and only) internship, and I was worried that I’d have to buy all new clothes.
The office ended up having a casual dress code, so I was fine, but even if they hadn’t, I think I would’ve been ok. Getting a base work wardrobe isn’t as challenging as I’d initially thought, and a lot of college pieces actually can transition to the office.
With that in mind, I put together a capsule wardrobe of 19 pieces that can help you dress for the office without breaking the bank.
- A solid-colored top. It’s a classic piece for a reason. You could either go for something pretty straightforward, like a crew neck tee, or something a little more fun, like a top with ruffles.
- A classic blazer. I have a grey one, but black, navy, or even white can work, too. The main idea is that you’ll want to be able to wear it with a skirt, pants, or a dress for a formal look — so make sure it looks good with all three of those options! (Options here and here)
- A classic cardigan. Offices are cold, which means that layering is key. I love the cardigans at J. Crew Outlet (both the 3/4 sleeves and the long sleeves), and you can usually find them for $20-$25 in the store.
- A nice top. Or two. Variety is always a plus! (Options here, here, here, here, and here)
- A black cami. This one is excellent for when something is a little too low cut to wear to the office. My black cami is actually from Aeropostale, and I’ve had it for at least 10 years. So I recommend looking there.
- A nude cami. This comes in handy when you have a really cute shirt that is too sheer to wear on its own. (Options here, here, and here)
- A statement dress. Mine is pink with a quatrefoil pattern (it’s in the first picture in this post), and I’ve worn it to countless client meetings and interviews. Plus, it’s been a conversation starter more than once. (Similar option here)
- A classic black dress. It’s hard to go wrong with classic black. Plus, it’s very versatile. And there’s a good chance that you could wear it twice in one week without anyone really noticing. (Options here and here)
- A statement top. It’s a great way to amp up your standard black skirt, black cardigan look. (I love this one.)
- Dress pants that aren’t black. For a long time, I had a gray pair, and now I have a burgundy pair. I love that they add a little fun to your outfit, and they allow you to wear your black tops without feeling like you’re channeling Johnny Cash every day. (Options here and here)
- Nice jeans. If your office has casual Fridays (or casual days in general), you will 100% want to be able to participate. I’ve found good pairs with decent prices (especially when there are sales!) at LOFT.
- A sundress. It gets hot in the summer, and sundresses are the best solution to being office appropriate without being boiling hot. (Options here (with a cardigan), here, and here)
- A colored sweater. Ideally, one that is really comfortable. (There obviously aren’t a ton of sweaters on the market right now, but this is a solid choice for a lightweight one.)
- Nude heels or wedges. I once read in a packing guide that you should always travel with nude shoes because they’re the most versatile. And that’s 100% true. This one pair of shoes will work with every other outfit in your closet, and they’ll make you look professional, too. (Options here and here)
- Solid-colored flats. Make sure that they look good with your business casual looks so you don’t have to wear heels every day. Comfort is key. (Options here, here, and here)
- Opaque tights. If you’re like me, you’ll still want to wear your pants and dresses in the winter – and tights make this possible. Ideally, these would be the same color as your flats to create a cohesive look. (These are my favorite.)
- A statement necklace. It can make a plain top or dress more interesting, and sometimes it even makes your outfit look nicer. I’ve found great options at Forever 21, Target, and Walmart.
- Black pants or a black skirt. Eventually, you’ll probably want both, but when you’re building your wardrobe, one or the other is perfectly fine. (Skirt here, pants here)
- A colored skirt. There’s something about a colored skirt that stands out in a really good way. (Options here, here and here)
This can probably be supplemented with a lot of items that you ready have, and over time (as stores have really good sales), you can expand it based on what you wear most frequently.
Overall, you should feel comfortable and confident in what you wear to work, so make sure your wardrobe has plenty of those pieces!