Wardrobe Staples: Helping You Look Professional Without Breaking the Bank

By Julie Conway

Work clothes can get expensive- but you don’t have to drain your savings. Instead, stock your closet with some basic (but versatile) pieces, and use them as elements in a variety of outfits.

After reading fashion blogs or scrolling through Pinterest boards, it can be tempting to grab your credit card and go on an impulsive shopping spree. We’ve all been there. The internet is full of things we didn’t know we needed, and now that we know we simply must have them (remember the Slanket? I still want it and someday it will be mine).

Eventually, though, you have to pay the credit card bill. And, you want to be thoughtful about your purchases, especially with work clothes. If you don’t want to spend every penny you have, you’ll need to start building a wardrobe by investing in some basic elements. These items need to: 1.) fit you well, 2.) be of good quality, and 3.) be used often in various outfits. I like to think of these basics as building blocks- the pieces that serve as a solid foundation for your wardrobe.

Here are some basic items that will serve you (and your closet) well:

Dress pants


Gentleman’s Box

You can’t get by without pants. It’s just a fact! And if you have a professional job (and you don’t have to wear a suit or a uniform), you’re going to need a few pairs of nice, high quality dress pants. Neutrals like black, gray and navy are a good place to start. And don’t forget a belt if the pants have loops! It’s a quick and easy way to look polished.



Song of Style

As a piece that’s a little more structured than a sweater or cardigan, a blazer is great for dressing up an outfit. And they’re not just for interviews! In fact, much like accessories, adding even a lighter, more casual blazer can pull an outfit together. Neutral colors are again a good place to start. But a blazer can also be a piece that adds interest with its color, pattern or texture.



The Fashionisto

A few nice, high quality sweaters will serve you well on cold days. For men, a dress shirt and tie underneath a sweater immediately conveys a professional (but not too formal) vibe, as does a sweater and necklace over a dress shirt for women. Cardigans are convenient for layering- an easy and important feature, if your office sometimes runs cold. Like blazers, sweaters are great for both basics and to add interest to an outfit.

Dress shirts



Just like pants, you really can’t get by without shirts. And you’ll get a lot of use out of even just a few dress shirts. Light blue and white shirts are good choices- they will look good under sweaters and blazers, and can be paired with other elements that have more vibrant colors or details.

Jackets and coats


Famous Outfits

When the weather is cold, you’ll definitely need to cover up with something warm. But who says your jacket or coat can’t be stylish too? Trench coats, peacoats, moto jackets- really anything that’s structured and relatively form-fitting will work. Even a down-filled coat will look great as long as it fits your form. You just don’t want to look like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man!



Fashion Enzyme

Necklaces, glasses, sunglasses, watches, bracelets and so on can add interest to your outfit in no time flat. While not exactly falling into the category of solid basics for your wardrobe, building a ready arsenal of these items will make your life easier. Accessories are your go-to pieces for putting finishing touches on your outfits- they’re great for adding interest, but they also can pull the entire outfit together.



Putting Me Together

Of course, we can’t forget shoes. There will never be a time at work that you won’t need them- unless you work with animals in a tank at Sea World. Even then you’ll probably need flippers! Having a few sets of nice dress shoes- whether they’re oxfords, wingtips, heels, wedges or even flats- will serve you well.

No matter how you put your wardrobe together, you will undoubtedly run into a need for all of the above items. And those fashion blogs and Pinterest boards are a great resource! If you know the building blocks of what you need, then over time you can build out what’s in your closet. Who knows, maybe while you’re researching what you need, you’ll find some great sales! The beauty of this “over time” approach is twofold: you may run into great sales, and you won’t have to scramble to buy something when a need suddenly arises (like an interview).

What are your favorite items from your closet? Did you purchase them knowing they’d be staples in your outfits, or did you just like them so much that they became staples? We’d love to hear your comments!


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