How to Build a Professional Wardrobe for Women

Recently, I interviewed for a position at a company where the dress code is very casual. It was the last of the three interviews for the position, and that particular interview was to assess cultural fit. Having previously worked for organizations where the dress code was relaxed and casual, I remembered thinking that it wouldn’t be a problem to dress casually for work and what mattered most was my role and responsibilities. However, after the interview, I came home and really thought about the workplaces where I thrived the most. I thought about the dress code and how that played into my role and how I felt about my work. After careful consideration, I declined the position because I didn’t feel like I would be a good fit for the company.

For me, dressing professionally for work gives me a sense of confidence. Even on days when I may not be feeling my best, when I put on my work wear I feel empowered and energized. There is also a level of respect and authority that comes with what you put on. Think of police officers, firefighters, or medical professionals. Putting on a suit or a dress and blazer is the equivalent of a business professional’s uniform.

Just this past week, I started working for an organization where the dress code is more formal and business professional. So far, I have had a great experience. I feel like I am a good fit for the organization. Every day as I get ready for work, I feel like I am going to work in a professional environment. The distinction in that has been very important to me because what I wear sets the tone for how I interact with others and how I represent my organization.

I still remember my first suit. It was a Calvin Klein black women’s suit that I had tailored to fit. When I went in for interviews, I felt good and ready to show my best self. Even so, I am a first generation white-collar worker. My parents never taught me how to dress business formal. I emulated the women on TV or in magazines. That suit was a little too stiff and didn’t show off my personality. Now that I have spent some time in business settings, I have developed a sense of what I like to wear that is both professional and fun. Over the years, I’ve collected some items that I enjoy wearing. I have had to recently add onto those items, but I did so on a budget.

Below are the items that are currently part of my work wardrobe. For work wear, I like to shop at New York & Company, JCPenney, Ann Taylor Loft, Macy’s, and even H&M and Target. You don’t have to spend a lot to look and feel good at work.

To start building your business professional workwear, start with classic pieces like black slacks, knee-length pencil skirts, a little black dress, button-down tops, and two blazers. Then, have fun and start adding in your personality. For example, I love different shades of red, as you can see in my wardrobe. I added in pops of color with my cardigans and tops. My business pieces may also be neutral, but neutral doesn’t have to be boring. The cut of the pieces and material can add character. For example, my white blazer has unique sleeves. Even my black blazer has a more contemporary cut to the neckline. My button-down shirt has a ruffled neckline. Then, start adding in accessories. My blue pencil skirt has a skinny belt. I added in scarves that can be tied in various ways to add character. I am not a jewelry person, but you can always add in some quirky earrings, a favorite necklace, or a meaningful timepiece.

And, don’t forget the shoes! Wear something practical, but still cute. I like to stick to basic footwear. It is essential for me to have a pair of black flats, black heels, and neutral heels. The Mary Jane footwear was a fun purchase for me. You can get as fancy as you like with footwear, but just make sure that you can wear it for an entire day running around.

With timeless pieces, you can mix and match and have outfits that can last you for years. An essential tip that I have learned over the years is that fit is important. If you have pants that are a little too long or big, get them altered. Make sure those tops are not too tight or revealing so that you are comfortable throughout the day. Also, spend more on pieces that you will reuse over and over again, like blazers that can be mixed and matched with various outfits.

Start building your business wardrobe today and have fun doing it!


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