How to Build a Professional Wardrobe
Is It Business Casual or Professional Attire?
You’ve heard the dreaded phrase “business casual”, at some point in your life and if you’re confused by the seemingly contradictory phrase we can clear up the confusion.
Business casual is the most common form of dress in all industries and includes a combination of separates, such as pants, a collared shirt, and blazer, while the professional dress is uniform articles of clothing and typically worn at high-level events. Doing research on industry norms gives you an idea about what is expected and what may be inappropriate.
Finding out what color palette that is more common in your industry is also important since some colors may be appropriate or inappropriate depending on the type of dress code. A good rule of thumb is to consider neutral colors, such as blue, brown, grey, and tan. You can create a variety of beautiful power outfits by utilizing a neutral color palette—just look at Olivia Pope.
Building your Wardrobe
You’ve done your homework, and determined if it’s business casual or professional. Now let’s go shopping!
Blazer (also known as a sports jacket/coat) is one of the most quintessential articles in a power outfit, the blazer is both trendy and sophisticated and can be worn buttoned or unbuttoned. Think about getting a single-breasted jacket for every day, while keeping the more structured double-breasted jacket for those more formal occasions.
Shirts are obvious but think about the type of shirt you’ll want to wear. A shirt with a lavallière is equally whimsical and elegant and can be worn tied or untied. Collared shirts are a staple in any closet, and can be improved upon with a coordinated tie and blazer. You could also go with a band-collared shirt for a more structured look while negating the need for a tie.
Pants or Slacks the rule to a good power outfit is having well-tailored pants in your wardrobe. Now while it says tailored you don’t actually have to go out and have them done by a tailor. What you want to look for are pants that are well-fitted for both your body type and your desired industry. Finding the right cut, the right fit, even the right brand can vastly improve your power outfit and while we all love Chandler from Friends, we’re not exactly crazy about the shapeless pants he wears, and the ‘90s sitcom is not a look you want to be going for. Try to find pants that do not create an excess or depletion of fabric around the waist, fall at exactly the ankle or a quarter of an inch above, and have an appropriate in-seam for a structured and fitted look.
Skirts are a common alternative to slacks. If your workplace is business casual, you can ditch the pantyhose, yet, if it’s professional attire, you should always wear them. If you’re going for a more structured or architectural look, consider investing in a pencil skirt, which creates sharp clean lines; for a softer look think about a godet skirt that has panels inserted around the hem for a bit of extra movement.
Dresses are fabulous alternatives to the traditional pants, shirt, jacket combo but they do follow the same hosiery rules. Dresses add a touch of classical femininity to your wardrobe. Pairing a sheath dress with a smart jacket makes a great power outfit.
Shoes complete your outfit. They should always match your belt and your bag. Loafers are a traditional favorite for business casual, as they’re comfortable and robust enough to match most outfits; oxfords are more traditionally reserved for professional dress and can add an additional detail to your outfit if they have brogue. If you opt for heels leave the 6-inch stilettos for the club—keep between 0.5 to 3.5-inches.
Crafting an outfit doesn’t have to be scary or something to dread. You can make it as fun as you like and have as many impromptu fashion shows as you need. A great resource for power-outfit ideas is Pinterest, where you can save your favorite looks and create a go-to look book for different palettes and occasions. Once you have some staple looks, creating new power outfits will get easier over time.