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The Professional: How to Build a Basic Work Wardrobe

The Professional: How to Build a Basic Work Wardrobe
Rachel Humphrey

ann-taylorIf you’ve spent your whole college career wearing sweats to class, jeans on the weekend, and club dresses to go out at night, you might feel a little confused when you’re getting ready for a summer internship at a formal office, or you’re graduating and going to job interviews. Her are some tips on building a professional wardrobe without breaking the bank.

Pencil It In

Every woman needs a great pencil skirt in black and/or grey. They are flattering, classic, and create a great base for creating different outfits with tops, shoes, and jewelry. Find one that looks great on you, and buy it in two or three colors. It’s worth it to pay extra for quality here, because this will never go out of style. You’ll wear your pencil skirts until they fall apart! Then you’ll have to get new ones, because going bottomless is frowned upon in most office environments. (Ann Taylor Knit Ponte Skirt, $88)

Blazer of Glory

Blazers are also a great professional wardrobe staple, because they can give you the holy grail of office attire – something that will go from workplace to happy hour to a night out. Simply throw your blazer on over a dress for work. Then take off the blazer, add some flashy earrings, and you’re ready for a night on the town. (Ann Taylor Polished Sateen Blazer, $158)

Buttoned Up

Button-up shirts are classic office attire. Buy them in your favorite colors and prints to liven up any suit, skirt, or slacks. You can also belt them over a dress for a stylish, slightly less formal look. (Ann Taylor Perfect Cotton Shirt, $58)

The Better Sweater

Cardigans have a magical ability to transform many of your sleeveless, non-office appropriate tank top into professional attire. Slip on some slacks, a printed tank (not too low cut) with a cardigan in a coordinating color. You’ll look totally pulled together in less than five minutes! Cardigans also look great over button-up shirts, as long as the shirt is slim enough and the cardigan isn’t too flimsy. Otherwise you’ll look lumpy, bumpy, and very frumpy. (Ann Taylor Cardigan, $78)

Shoes Wisely

Every woman needs a pair of basic black pumps. They go with everything. You can build your professional shoe wardrobe from there, but start with black pumps. Go for a lower heel if you have to walk and stand a lot at your job (making a coffee run for your boss in 4 inch heels isn’t fun). Generally, open toed shoes are not considered very professional in most workplaces, so keep those piggies under wraps. (Ann Taylor Rose Canvas Kitten Heel, $158)

Baubles, Bangles and Beads

Jewelry can be interesting, but not over the top. Save your multimedia bib necklaces and flashy cocktail rings for the weekend. Make sure your jewelry isn’t distracting. If you’re presenting at a meeting, you want people to look at you, not at all the shiny stuff hanging from you. (Ann Taylor Braided Bangle, $48)

If you like the items we used from Ann Taylor, you're in luck! Everything is 40% off until April 24th, 2011. Click to learn more.

Do you have any tips for building a professional wardrobe? Have a go-to work outfit you want to share? Please let us know in the comments!


  1. Michelle

    So true about sweaters transforming things you wouldn't wear otherwise. These are great tips for any basic wardrobe build.

  2. Aimee

    As a recent college graduate I have found myself not knowing what to wear to interviews. This gives some great ideas as to how I can dress professional, yet trendy!

  3. Melony

    I love the Blazer of Glory and the Better Sweater. Can't wait to go shopping this weekend while keeping these ideas in mind. Thanks ultimatecoupons!

  4. Stacy

    I love dressing flashy, but it's tough to do that at work. Though this helps me find some professional looking clothes while keeping it a little flashy for myself.

  5. Hannah

    It's really hard to balance looking nice and looking professional at work, this article gives me a happy medium. I can now easily go shopping for some clothes that will make me look like I'm into my job but still look cute at the same time! 🙂

  6. Lauren

    Work clothes are hard to make cute so this is very helpful and gives me some great ideas. Makes me excited to go out and get a new work wardrobe.

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