Whether you just landed your dream internship or you’re starting out in an entry-level position after graduating college, one of the biggest questions you may have is, “what the bleep am I going to wear to work?”
Sure, you’ve seen countless episodes of Law & Order: SVU and you know that Olivia Benson’s tendency to wear pantsuits is not the direction for you. On the other hand, the glitz and girly glam of Carrie Bradshaw’s Sex and the City wardrobe seems a little too unprofessional for your position. What you’re looking for is the middle ground — a collection of chic, comfortable pieces you can wear again and again without sacrificing style or professionalism. These are the pieces that you need in your wardrobe (and where on Beyoncé’s green earth you can find them).
1. A pair (or two) of perfect pants
While the ‘70s may have been a sartorial mecca for wide-legged suit pants that were a little too long and a little too baggy, most offices won’t appreciate a poorly tailored manifestation of hippie nostalgia. The most important thing in your business-wear arsenal is arguably a pair of killer pants. These days, we’re loving ‘em skinny, cropped and streamlined.
One of our favorite pairs of cigarette pants is the Minnie from J.Crew. At $89.50, these pants are a good investment piece that you’ll wear almost every day. They’re stretchy and comfortable, but they’ll keep their shape even after hours of coffee runs, lunch dates and whatever else a busy girl like you has going on during her workday. The Minnie is also super flattering on virtually every body type — we’d be in favor of buying two (or three) pairs.
If you have the kind of body that fits into pants right off the rack, then bless you. If, like 90 percent of us, you don’t love the way pants fit you right when you try them on, then it’s important to take them to a tailor. In most offices, a little ankle is kosher, so you can get your pants cropped right above your anklebone.
2. A classic skirt (that’s actually comfortable!)
In the sticky summer months, sometimes the thought of pulling yourself into a pair of pants in the morning sounds less enjoyable than a bikini wax. On days like this, slip into a versatile skirt and zip out the door. Skirts are fantastic because they allow your skin to breathe more than constricting pants will. In a conservative office, a classic pencil skirt, like this one from LOFT ($69.50), will take you a long way. An adaptable color, like navy, can be worn with lots of different tops depending on your mood and office environment.
In a more creative office, your skirt options increase. We’re loving mid-length A-line skirts this summer; their longer length keeps them office-appropriate, but the range of colors and prints you can find them in allows you to express yourself. This poppy-hued skirt from Zara ($59.90) adds a bright punch of color to your outfit and can be worn year-round.
3. Neutral pumps
We get it — heels can be awful. With the right pair, however, you can make a pretty good outfit a fantastic one. In any office environment, no matter how conservative, our recommendation is to stick with heels that are between 2 ½ and 3 ½ inches high. Anything shorter gets dangerously close to kitten-heel territory (maybe the most obnoxious shoe ever invented), while anything higher will be super uncomfortable and unprofessional.
If you’re just starting to build up a professional wardrobe, the perfect place to begin is with a classic pump in a neutral color like black, navy or camel. For example, collegiettes will love this leather pump from Lauren Ralph Lauren ($69.95). It goes with almost any outfit you may want to wear at the office (and also works well for after-work drinks with your colleagues!).
The pointed toe on this Audrey Brooke color-blocked pump ($59.95) will add interest to your outfit. As an added bonus, the ankle strap adds a little more support to your legs, making the shoes comfy enough to wear all day!
4. A one-step outfit
A dress is the easiest outfit to put together during a hectic morning. Work dresses can be hard to perfect, however. You need a longer hem, a conservative neckline and enough stretch to keep you from overheating throughout the day. A structured yet flowy dress is usually your best bet — the breezier, the better.
This dress from Zara ($79.90) will go with almost any sweater you have in your closet. Wear it with your pumps or a pair of simple ballet flats for instant chic. We love the flouncy hem, which is professional enough for an office but also flirty enough for weekend strolls or nighttime adventures.
For something ultra-stretchy yet defined, try this dress ($74.50) from Madewell. When you pair this dress with bold accessories, you’ll make a statement without sacrificing comfort or practicality.
5. A blazer that fits perfectly
Whether you’re interviewing for a new position, you have an important meeting with your supervisor or you work in an office that requires one, chances are you’ll need a blazer in your professional wardrobe sooner rather than later.
A slim-fitting blazer, like one from J.Crew ($98), will last you years and dozens of wears. You can even wear it on casual Fridays with dark denim and a well-cut T-shirt or over a cotton dress.
6. A classic white blouse
When it comes down to it, a white button-down will never do you wrong. Invest in one that keeps its shape, doesn’t wrinkle easily and is even (gasp!) machine-washable. We’re fawning over Banana Republic’s version ($69.50), which we’d pair with skinny pants, Audre-Hepburn-style. It’s as simple an outfit as has ever existed, but also one of the chicest.
In the summer heat, sleeveless blouses will also be some of your best friends. Underneath a thin cardigan, nobody has to know that there aren’t sleeves attached to your shirt! Uniqlo’s version ($14.90) of a bow-tie blouse will go well with both pants and skirts and will prevent you from sweating through your top.
7. An awesome bag
If you rock the rest of these professional essentials but walk into the office on the first day with a tattered backpack or bag, the value of your first impression will plummet. Instead of hauling your belongings in an old purse or backpack, invest in a classic, streamlined bag that will hold everything you need and make you look good doing it. The perfect bag has to be big enough to fit all the necessities (phone, wallet, keys, laptop if you need it, iPod, makeup, etc.), but not too big. Awkwardly filing through cubicles with a sack the size of a diaper bag won’t be graceful, trust us.
An oversized tote, like this one from Urban Outfitters ($59), is the perfect size. It’s reversible, so you can match your bag to your outfit!
To add a little personality to your ensemble, you can also pick up a perforated bucket bag, like this one from Target ($39.99), which is totally on-trend for this summer. It’ll carry you from the office to drinks on the weekends and back again.
With just seven pieces, you’re on your way to accumulating an entire professional wardrobe that will last you for years. Congratulations on your job or internship — we know you’re going to be awesome!