Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Building a Professional Wardrobe Part II: What does work

We've covered what doesn't work if you're trying to create a versatile professional wardrobe. Now we'll talk about what does work. After I'd been at my job about a year, I realized I had to stop making random purchases.  I spent some time analyzing my taste, and decided that I should stick to classic, unfussy styles in navy, white, khaki, and black.  This was not a revelation, but it helped to keep this decision in mind, so that I wouldn't buy silly things on the spur of the moment, which I've been known to do.

With that in mind, I invested in six basic pieces:  A conservative-length pencil skirt, a silk polka dot blouse, khaki chinos, cotton shirt dress, cashmere tee, blue Oxford blouse (pictured with the cashmere tee).  These, along with a pair of black, lightweight stretch wool trousers, which I'd bought during my SAHM days, became the backbone of my go-to-meeting wardrobe, and still are to this day, although I don't wear the skirt and dress so much anymore because of my psoriasis.

Foundation of a work wardrobe

Six pieces is a bit thin.  At this point, the people I meet with the most are probably thinking, "Here she comes again in that polka dot blouse."  I recently bought two pairs of trousers, both navy, but one cropped and one full length, and three tops: a linen blouse, a linen tee, and a striped Breton top, in an attempt to create a basic work uniform.

I'm sure that many of you saw the article about the woman who wears the same thing to work every day.  I'm intrigued by the idea, but I don't want to wear the exact same thing every day.   A while back, fashion blogger Not Dressed as Lamb, demonstrated a way to create ten separate work outfits from four tops, four bottoms, four accessories, and four shoes.  I borrowed her idea and created my own grid.

This was a fun exercise, but when I actually tried to put outfits together, I found that they can't be combined interchangeably.  The blue linen blouse, for example, doesn't look right with the khaki pants, but it does work with the two navy pants.  I wouldn't wear the heels with the khakis, or the sneakers with the black wool trousers, which are the dressiest in the bunch. (Not that you can tell from the abysmal photography.)  All of these pieces can be worn in at least three seasons of the year, and some are suitable year round.  I have other clothes, of course--pink and blue oxford shirts, my cashmere tee, the pencil skirt, a pair of gray stretch chinos from my SAHM days that I love. For fall and winter, I would add my wool bias plaid skirt, and some sweaters, particularly a gray cashmere from Everlane that has the perfect neckline to be worn with an Oxford shirt.

Linen tee, cropped wool pants, sneakers

Navy trousers, blue blouse, ballet flats

Boring?  Yes, but I don't mind. As you can see, when I put the grid into practice, I failed at accessories.  I do often wear the red chunky bracelet and the pearl necklace, but I'm not likely to wear the scarf in the summer and I tend to wear my shirts untucked, so don't wear belts very often. It was still a useful exercise and helped me to look at my clothes with new eyes.  Those sneakers, for example, I hadn't worn in over a year, and now I've rediscovered them.  Since I work in healthcare, where a lot of people are on their feet all day, casual footwear is accepted, but sandals and open-toed shoes are strictly forbidden.

When buying work clothes, I also have to take into consideration the fact that I now ride a bicycle to work.  I wouldn't bike in the black pants.  They are the dressiest pants that I own, are dry clean only, and have a wider leg that could get caught in the bike chain.  I have biked successfully in both of the navy pants.  Chances are, as the weather gets hot, or if I want to wear something that won't work on a bike, I will pack my work clothes and wear something casual for the bike ride.  I have a pair of Prana trousers in a stretchy tech fabric that are perfect for this, and are also suitable for casual Fridays or no-meeting days.


  1. I've realized my biggest wardrobe hole are shoes. It's been a while since I bought any and some of mine are starting to look a bit shabby. I got some new sandals this summer, although I could probably use another pair. Thankfully, I work in a pretty casual environment and can get away with just about anything.

  2. You've inspired me to purge my closet again. I'm ascribing to the "uniform for work" school of thought. MUCH easier!