Yes, your sweatpants and sneakers may have been your go-to attire for class, but that college wardrobe isn’t going to cut it in the professional world.
If you’re starting an internship or a first job (or putting yourself out there in the job market at all), it’s time to update your closet for this stage of your life.
If you want to make a strong first impression, building a professional wardrobe will make you look put-together and on top of your game.
Here are eight tips to help get you started.
Know the Rules
The guidelines for workplace appropriate clothing differ between industries and companies. Check your workplace’s policy to determine whether business professional or business casual is expected, and take notice of how your coworkers are dressed as well. Make sure you’re also familiar with any specific guidelines to your organization’s dress code to determine what is and isn’t appropriate.
Build a Budget
Shopping for a whole new wardrobe can be overwhelming (not to mention expensive), so before you start shopping, you’re going to need a plan. Set aside a small percentage of your paycheck each month to buy professional clothing and decide which items you’re going to purchase before heading to the store. If you’re on a limited budget, try brewing your coffee at home or bringing your lunch to your work/internship and use what you save as extra spending cash.
You’ll be a lot more likely to build a great work wardrobe if you view the task as a fun opportunity rather than a chore. While you never want your clothes to speak louder than your work ethic, it’s okay to incorporate a personal touch of style, especially if your workplace’s policy leans more toward business casual. For appropriate work style inspiration, follow professional style bloggers (such as This Time Tomorrow and 9 to 5 Chic) or browse magazines like InStyle and GQ. Pinterest is also a great source of inspiration (check out our Dress for Success board for some great ideas).
Start With the Basics
Neutral-colored basics are the foundation of any good work wardrobe, which means they’re the first items you should purchase and the ones you should consider splurging on. Look for a couple good quality slacks, a few blouses, sensible shoes and a natural-colored business jacket or blazer. Once you’ve got enough to create a full week of outfits, you can start purchasing items to round out your look, like different colored cardigans/sweaters, blouses and accessories.
When it comes to accessories, the key thing to remember is that they should never distract colleagues from what you’re saying. Avoid wearing jewelry that’s too large or flashy, and instead opt for classic pieces that’ll make you look polished and presentable. Make sure all your accessories match as well. If you’re going to wear something colorful, keep the rest of your outfit neutral.
Find a Tailor
Even the most well planned outfit can make you look unprofessional and sloppy if it doesn’t have the right fit. A recent study from the University of Hertfordshire found that men in tailored suits were seen as more professional and confident by observers than men wearing nearly identical, un-tailored suits. Make sure you’re viewed in the best light by finding a reliable tailor for your most important pieces. Ask peers or colleagues to recommend a seamstress, or buy from a department store that offers the service for free or at a discount.
Focus on Fabric
Nothing is more distracting than wearing clothes to work that are uncomfortable or a hassle to deal with. To make sure you’re buying pieces that both look and feel great, check garment tags to find out if an item will be easy to wash and if it’s wrinkle-free, which will make planning your outfits a lot easier. Also make note of the fiber content, since items with a high percentage of cotton or wool tend to last longer. Finally, don’t forget to try things on in store to get an idea of how they’ll feel in the office (if you’re buying online, take time to read through product reviews before you purchase).
Search for Sales
Building a professional wardrobe doesn’t have to burn a hole in your wallet. You can find good quality clothing at an affordable price as long as you know how to look for it. Consider shopping at department store outlets such as Houston Premium Outlets in Cypress, and sign up for emails that will let you know when certain stores are having sales. For example, the free service Shop It To Me will send you alerts when your favorite designer brands are having sales. Apps and websites like Poshmark also allow you to find gently used clothing at reduced prices from other users and create your own closet, where you can sell pieces that don’t work for your new wardrobe.
By Priscilla Aceves