It turns out that unless you work at lululemon, your leggings are not part of an office-appropriate work wardrobe. That said, you can easily build one, and it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg to do it.
There are four steps to building a foolproof office wardrobe without spending all of your newly minted paycheck, and trust me: If you follow them, you’ll never be stuck trying to make a hot pink blazer work with a pair of brown corduroys.
Learn from my mistakes, friends.
Step one: Figure out what a work-appropriate ~look~ is for your field
If you work in fashion, the outfits that will fit right in at the office are different than if you work in tech, and that can be said about a lot of fields. Nabbing an entry-level job at a law firm means suits, not jeans, but if you wear a suit every day to an early stage startup, prepare for some jokes about how many job interviews you’re going on today.
To figure out what the generally accepted office outfits are before you start work, do a deep dive into your office’s website and even better, their social media. What people are wearing in photos on the website is likely what you’ll need to wear if you’re representing the company in front of clients, and what you can dig up on the company’s Facebook page is likely what you can get away with wearing every day.
Well, other than those photos of the office Halloween party, but you knew that already. Use those two guidelines – client-wear and everyday-wear – to figure out how your style can fit in at work.
Step two: Identify gaps in your current wardrobe
What’s that? You didn’t luck into a wardrobe that’s 100 percent ready to dive into your new workplace? Me neither. That’s why now, it’s time to go shopping – strategically.
Now that you have an idea of what’s appropriate office-wear, you probably have a pretty good idea of where the gaps are in your current clothing collection. If you have plenty of dark, skinny jeans, and those are the most-appropriate office wear for your new job? You definitely don’t need new ones. If, on the other hand, you’ve never worn a suit in your life and you’re starting at a Big Four accounting firm? At least one suit needs to be on your list.
Build yourself a list of office-wear must-haves based on the look you’ve identified as appropriate for your industry, and the gaps in your current wardrobe. Don’t go crazy while you’re at it, either – if you can swing doing laundry every week or two, you don’t need to buy a month’s worth of clothing right now.
And special caution if you haven’t started at your new gig just yet. Buy just enough to get yourself through the first week of work, and see where you stand after that. You might find out the unspoken office norms require some adjustments to your plan.
Step three: Price out your list
Now that you’re in your new job, and have an office-tested wardrobe plan in place, you can finally get down to business and build out your office wardrobe – without living on ramen for a month.
Take a look at your shopping list, and set some reasonable estimates of how much each item should cost, and will likely cost. This gives you two essential pieces of information.
One, you’ll have a rough idea of the total cost of building your office wardrobe.
Two, you’ll know that the $100 silk blouse that you fell in love with, that’s dry-clean-only to boot, isn’t going to work when you planned on spending $40 on each of the 5 blouses you need.
Any time you’re out looking for work clothes, make sure to keep your list handy, and do your best to stick within the cost estimates you set for yourself. That’ll make sure you don’t come home with a hot pink blazer that was “so fun!” at the store, but will stand out like a sore thumb in the staff meeting on Monday. (Unless that’s what you’re going for, in which case, have at it!)
Step four: Avoid going overboard
I know it’s tempting to want a new, trendy work outfit for every day of the month. After all, the people you work with see you literally five days a week, and you want them to be impressed with your style, right?
In fact, unless you work in fashion, the only bar your work outfits really need to meet is “not inappropriate.” True story. If you’ve built a solid wardrobe of basics, and you can dress them up when needed, you’ve got everything you need in terms of work wear. I’m not saying don’t buy the hot pink flamingo print dress, but maybe only buy it if you have room in your budget. At this point, it’s not a work-outfit-need. It’s a work-outfit-want.
To get some inspiration, check out posts about capsule wardrobes to see how different people combine basics into multiple different outfits. Maybe what you really need is a flamingo print scarf, not a full-on dress.
And my apologies to hot pink, but there really are very few cases where it’s the absolute best choice for your entire workplace wardrobe, unless you nabbed a job in the Mattel marketing department.
Have something to add to this story? Comment below or join the discussion on Facebook.
Header image: Shutterstock