Young Professional Wardrobe Essentials

by katyrose on September 29, 2010

I admit that I do not actually work in the corporate world. I’m definitely the creative type and have worked in that field for so long that I no longer even own a suit. But, when I first graduated my dad took me out shopping for the essential professional wardrobe items. As the vice president of human resources for a fairly large company in Chicago, he’s interviewed a lot of people and has definite opinions about what is and is not professional attire. Now, from time-to-time I help my friends and relatives get ready for their own launch into the working world. Here’s what I’ve learned:

The essentials:

  • a good quality solid-colored suit. This should contain both a skirt and a pair of pants and the jacket to match. Black is ideal for most of us. (I got mine from Ann Taylor and it served me very well for a number of years.)
  • a variety of shirts to be worn under the suit. Think button down in a variety of colors, dressy blouses with a little frill.
  • a pair of basic, comfortable heels. Don’t go for super high heels or for flats. Try to find the middle ground.
  • a variety of nice accessories. A couple necklaces, bracelets, earrings. Maybe a scarf or pin.
  • a quality purse large enough to hold a folder. You need to be able to bring your resume, references, samples of your work, etc… search for a bag that allows that without looking like a bag lady.

But wait! Shouldn’t we be able to have our own style and flair? Yes, of course. Part of your clothing choices must be dictated by the environment you are working in. The other part needs to be informed by your own sense of style and your personality. But meshing the two together can be tricky. Whenever buying items that will be used for professional purposes there are a few mantras to keep in mind:

  • Be put-together. Outfits should match and should be complete. Just throwing on dress pants, a nice top and black pumps does not make an outfit. Include accessories. Take the time.
  • Avoid flashing flesh. In the business world, especially for a woman, we need to be taken seriously in order to get work done. Dress in a way that says, I’m knowledge about the subject at hand. I’m capable of getting the job done. I have brains and a go-getter attitude.
  • Dress for the occasion and the job. Working in the creative field is going to require very different clothing than someone who works at a bank.
  • Bring out your personality. This may mean through a colorful bracelet and matching set of earrings, or it might mean some fierce animal print heels. Skip the trends and fads. Go with what works for you.
  • Be current. Sometimes it is easy to get stuck in the old-school corporate mentality that tells women to look like men in shapeless suits and white button-downs. That is not the case. Wardrobe items, even the classic essentials, need to be updated for the latest model.

For example… Try this for a little more flair to the classic corporate look. It still says ‘I mean serious business’ while also saying ‘I’m current and put-together.’

Or for the more bold professions that still should come across as business oriented:

(This post got me thinking… I’m going to do a what not to wear/do at an interview post. Stay tuned.)

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Collette Osuna September 29, 2010 at 10:49 am

GREAT professional pieces:)

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Iris September 29, 2010 at 11:29 am

this is really good advice and kind of ironic since I was thinking of doing a similar post tomorrow…


Cynthia September 29, 2010 at 12:42 pm

Oh man. I look at posts like these and it makes me think "wardrobe: ur doin' it wrong". Great ideas.


Alyson September 29, 2010 at 1:35 pm

This is great, something I have been struggling with as I have transitioned.


Grit and Glamour September 29, 2010 at 2:12 pm

Great tips…I love so many of the pieces you chose!

♥ V
twitter: @gritandglamour


Frances Joy September 29, 2010 at 2:15 pm

Love it! Both sets are sassy and professional, though I will say I'm glad I don't work in a corporate environment.


Kristin September 29, 2010 at 2:23 pm

Accessories were my best friends back when I was in the corporate world. They can totally transform a look. Most necessary for a poor twenty something!


Lori September 29, 2010 at 3:26 pm

Oooh, I love that polka-dotted blouse.


KT September 29, 2010 at 3:44 pm

I'm totally feeling the entire last post. That would likely be how I would dress if I was still going into an office daily!
It's so true – accessories totally make an outfit!
- Katy


Kayla September 29, 2010 at 4:32 pm

I completely agree with this post. And I think it's a great one, I see way to many young women aging themselves in order to look professional. Or worse… looking way way too slutty for the work place.

Ramblings of a Small Town Girl


Amanda September 29, 2010 at 5:43 pm

If you don't already have this book, you might want to check it out. The Lucky Shopping Manual: It's perfect for the professional! Bought it a few weeks ago – even though written a few years ago, it's got enough classic advice to make it current.


Jesslyn April 25, 2014 at 12:39 am

That kind of thiiknng shows you’re an expert


Courtney September 30, 2010 at 12:48 am

Katy! I love this! I work in a business casual office and have no idea about the world of women's formal office wear, so this was an eye opener!


Fashion Butter September 30, 2010 at 10:27 am

Great post, Katy! I feel like I need to send this to a couple of my former colleagues. Hahaha


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Patti September 24, 2011 at 5:13 am

Thanks for the ideas. I get in a rut and it’s so great to see the differant outfits you put together. Love, love, love the floral strapless top w/sweetheart neckline. So feminine and sexy!


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Zara April 9, 2015 at 6:27 pm

I love your posts Katy.

I would love to boast my writing skills as well HAHAHA


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