For the first time this summer I stepped away from the world of bike riding, cookie baking and pool afternoons into a little bit more of a professional environment. Needless to say, my days look a lot different now [also, who would have thought an 8-5 desk job could be just as- if not more- tiring than chasing around ten year olds all day?!] And my usual uniform of leggings and a stretched out t-shirt weren’t gonna cut it either.
I was excited for a lot of things about my summer internship, one of them being the fact that I literally didn’t own a single pair of dress pants prior to starting, so I knew I would have quite a bit of shopping to look forward to.
After what seemed like a few hundred hours spent in dressing rooms over the first couple weeks of summer, I finally ended up with a simple and fun professional wardrobe. Most of us will have to enter into the world of business casual at some point, so here are some tips.
Go shopping in your closet first! I didn’t own any dress pants but I found that I had plenty of other pieces that could be dressed up with a cardigan or jacket. Make a list of the things you DON’T need before making a list of the things you do. Save money on your shopping trip by utilizing pieces you already have and building off of them.
Here are some of the things I found in my closet:
- A couple nice dresses I had worn to weddings and then shoved to the back and forgotten about.
- Lots of textured and patterned tank tops that I’d wear out to dinner with jeans and wedges that could be made work-appropriate by adding a cute, colorful cardigan.
- Basic cotton shirts and light sweaters that could be dressed up with a statement necklace or worn tucked into a skirt.
Invest in neutral pants. Pant shopping is the worst, and there’s an easy way to avoid spending more time on it than you have to. Stick to the basics! Patterned pants are fun but it takes time to figure out what looks good and they will only go with a very limited variety of tops. By investing in a few nice, neutral pairs of pants that will match tops of any color, you save time and money. I started with navy, black, khaki and white pants from Old Navy (Pixie cut) and that gave me plenty of options for making outfits. Then as I perused some clearance racks, I added the pink (Marshall’s for $12!) and green (Target for $8!!!) ones to my collection.
To go along with that, I used printed and textured shirts to liven up my wardrobe. When you’re working with basic pants, you’ve got tons of options. A lot of which, like I said before, I realized that I already owned!
I also usually try to pick one bold piece of jewelry per outfit. You guys know how I feel about my tassel earrings and long necklaces and stacked bracelets, but I try to choose just one statement piece when dressing for the office. It’s a good place to tone things down a little bit with the sparkle. And I always like to compliment my statement piece with smaller staple pieces like my Kendra Scott necklace and Alex & Ani bracelets.
A good rule of thumb is that if you’re wearing a tank top, or if your sleeves are any less than three finger-widths wide, always bring a cardigan or jacket with you to work. You don’t always have to wear it, but generally if you have a lunch or meeting or presentation, that’s the more professional way to go. I went through a pretty lengthy cardigan phase so I had quite an extensively colorful collection already. Otherwise, I would treat jackets and cardigans like pants and invest in a few neutral-colored ones that will match any shirt. White is definitely the color I wear most often!
Stock up on colorful flats. I have a thing for fun shoes, so while I could tell you that at the bare minimum you really only need a couple pairs of neutral flats, I won’t do that. Because shoe shopping!!! I mean, if you’re gonna wear your flats to work and nowhere else, then by all means only pick out a couple of pairs. But I wear flats all the time, so I figure they’re always a great investment.
I, of course, had the idea in my head that I would be walking around the office in my pencil skirt and little shiny black heels like they always do in the movies. And then I snapped back into reality and thought about whether I really wanted to torture my feet for nine hours straight, five days a week. And I decided not to do that. So I went the comfortable and cute route. Plain, colorful flats can usually be found for pretty cheap at places like Target and Old Navy [that’s where all of mine are from]. Your feet are the perfect place for a little pop of color to make an office outfit more interesting!
My FAVORITE place to shop for work clothes is J Crew Factory. There are always tons of sales on top of sales. Their Skimmer and Chino pants fit me really well and come in lots of colors and patterns [and are on sale right now for $20-$40, originally $70!]. Gap Factory has lots of different styles of button-up shirts, from crisp white to relaxed printed, almost always on sale for 50% off! Some of my other favorite pieces have come from LOFT and Talbots. Be sure to check the clearance section first! You can find some real gems in there.
So whether you’re off to a summer internship or you just graduated and are officially entering the professional world, looking the part can be simple and putting together outfits can be fun. Business casual doesn’t have to be boring!