Professional Clothes For The Young Working Woman
One huge difference between being a student and a semi-functioning working adult is your wardrobe. In college, you can easily get away with wearing sweats to class and no one will think twice. Then, when it’s time to graduate and you finally have that adult job you wanted (maybe?), you realize it comes with a catch: the dress code. A number of “traditional” jobs require you to trade in your college tee for a cardigan set and heels. You have spent the past four years curating your closet full of trendy street clothes and now you’re expected to not wear them five days a week. No one tells you this. No one tells you that you’ll basically overhaul your entire wardrobe just to be uncomfortable at work.
Company Culture Shock
Every company has their own dress code based on its culture which can vary by office, location, or industry. In the age of start-ups, wearing a sweatshirt or athleisure clothing is completely acceptable work attire. A variety of other industries have tried to adapt this lax dress code in the hopes of attracting and retaining the millennial workforce. Yet, there are still a number of industries, particularly finance, that haven’t changed their tone towards dress. Only a few firms have adapted a jeans-tolerated dress code to make up for the fact that their employees work 80 hours a week, minimum.
I got a job at one of the more ~conservative~ firms in the industry, so I obviously had to dress the part. Of course in New York, the dress code is a little bit more traditional than in offices around the country. For example, my office does not participate in casual jean Fridays (sad, I know :/), but all our other US offices allow jeans EVERY DAY. I am so jealous. The usual male attire includes a button down, pressed pants, and dress shoes. A vest may or may not be included. Some even go for the suit with no tie look (a personal favorite). They can dress the same way everyday and no one would notice if they wore the same shirt on Monday and Friday.
Investing in Your Professional Wardrobe
Women on the other hand, that’s another story. For us, there are so many more options with endless combinations. Both of my summer internships also had similar dress codes, so I’ve had some time to develop a professional wardrobe. Literally half of my New York City- sized closet is dedicated to these work clothes. HALF.
I should also mention that these clothes don’t come cheap, are only sold at a few stores, and usually aren’t really that flattering or made for a young woman’s body. One pair of pants can easily cost around $100, which is kinda pricey, especially when you haven’t even been paid yet. Unfortunately, you need to fork the money over just to start working. Just keep telling yourself that this is an investment in yourself and your future career with every credit card swipe *breathes*.
Is it too hard to ask for some reasonably priced adult clothing that is flattering and makes me feel like a confident business woman? Like c’mon, help a girl out here, it’s already challenging enough. From my frustrating shopping experiences, here are some recommendations for fashionable professional clothing that won’t make you feel dowdy or break the bank.
Standards of Dress
There are also standards key differences for what is considered to be between business casual or and business professional. These guides can be found here and here. For example, pants cannot be too skinny or tight, no mini skirts, nothing too low cut, etc. If I’m feeling edgy for the day I’ll wear one of my personal sweaters or a fun belt to mix it up.
- Dress Pants – full and cropped length in black, navy, and grey
- Button Down Blouses – variety of colors, but the basics are white, navy, and soft pink
- Pencil Skirt – black, charcoal grey, and navy
- Sweater Cardigans – the Stepford wife kind in neutral AND fun colors (great addition to liven up an outfit)
- Blazers – black and navy
- 3 Business Appropriate Dresses – A presentation dress, wrap dress, and a basic work dress
- Black Tights – for colder months to wear items all year round
Where to Go for Professional Clothing
These stores can be a little pricier than some of the other options, but they are really the places to go. They offer a wide variety of sizes from petite to plus size so anyone can find some options here. Each store has a wide array of styles, making it great for different seasons while mixing in some more casual pieces.
These stores have sale sections that should not be slept on and have storewide sales pretty regularly, making it easy to score some great pieces at a discount. J.Crew is one of the stores that may not have as many sales but they have a lot of great options, especially if you’re already a fan of the brand. In order to maximize your dollar you could really plan out when to buy based on what stores are having sales on items you need. Ann Taylor Loft’s sizes run a tad larger than regular Ann Taylor so if you’re on the smaller side then Ann Taylor would probably be a better fit.
I know that fast fashion is a huge faux pas given the amount of pollution it releases into the environment, but H&M is one of the best places for professional attire if you’re on a tight budget. They have button downs, sweaters, pants, dresses, shoes, etc. Literally everything you need can be found here. Dresses can be bought for $24 and cardigans for $12-$15. The pieces that they carry are also really cute and flattering and are of a (relatively) higher quality than some of their other garments in the store.
These stores are great if you’re looking for a great professional coat, dress, or some transitional pieces that can easily be integrated into your weekend wardrobe. They both can be a little pricer depending on the item, but you can wear it for more than one purpose. So it’s justified, right?
If you’re more of a department store shopper, then Nordstrom, Nordstrom Rack, and Macy’s are the places for you. It’s one stop shopping with everything you may need including suits, shoes, and coats with some of the top brands in a spectrum of sizes, including plus size and petite. These stores may take a little longer to comb through given their massive square footage, and as a warning there are a ton of distractions from the other items you would rather be buying. Keep your eye on that button down prize.
Marshall’s & TJ Maxx
How can we not mention these two amazing places. They are a little bit more of a hit or miss, but if you’re lucky you could really score a few great pieces at a pay-dirt price. Remained focused on why you came there in the first place and try to resist purchasing workout leggings or candles, I know it’s hard to resist temptation.
This is a great place to get all of your work appropriate shoes that you may need since they have so many different styles and are usually priced at a discount. They have a great sale section and have an amazing rewards system that gives you HELLA coupons. If you’re looking for heels, loafers, mules, or any other type of shoe DSW is the place for you. You should be warned that with so many options in the store it can be tempting to spend your money on other shoes that you may not need. Be strong, I know it’s hard. I got my favorite pair of black Calvin Klein work heels there and I recommend them to anyone.
Hidden Secret: Factory Stores
Companies with factory stores such as J.Crew and Banana Republic, are the best. They are always having sales on top of already discounted prices. Most of the items found online are usually similar or even the same ones found at the regularly priced parent store. You can really get the most bang for your buck here.
A New Wardrobe Takes Time
Finding work appropriate clothing can be a stressful task coming from firsthand experience. Don’t be discouraged if everything you try on doesn’t look great at first. It takes time to curate your new closet from scratch but you’ll find your new professional style in no time. If you’re still feeling lost on how to dress, especially as a female, look to the more senior women in the company and try to mimic their style. I hope your new clothes will make you feel confident and capable at work! If you know of any other great retailers for professional clothing or ways to add some individuality to your new wardrobe let me know in the comments!