Guest post by: Elizabeth Ann West
We all have stages in our lives where our clothes just do not match our new pursuits. The most common crisis for a woman’s wardrobe is starting a new job. One huge transition is from the free T-shirt craze in college to looking professional on the job. Moving from stay-at-home-Mom or college crammer to super career woman, one truth is universally present: the funds are limited for buying work clothes. Learn the basics of building a wardrobe for work so you do not waste any part of your budget on unnecessary items.
The first step is to look at your current wardrobe and set aside any pieces that are appropriate for work. Remember to take into consideration fit when determining appropriateness. Take digital pictures with your cell phone if you need to so you can find selections in stores that pair well. This is going to be your base, and it can be as large as a few button down shirts to as tiny as one pair of black pants.
Next, figure out what you need to get through one full week of work. The best wardrobes are made of pieces that are interchangeable. Even if you are someone who generally enjoys wearing flashy prints and patterns, to build a work wardrobe it is best to pick two to three key colors that go well together. The most common color families are the cools–blues, purples, grays, and blacks–or the warms– earthy browns, tans, creams, and greens. Just beginning, pick one of the two major color families to work within so you can mix and match without revealing how limited your clothing choices really are.
When selecting pieces for the work wardrobe before a paycheck, resist the urge to get anything with loud prints or highly stylized in fashion, cut, or trim. Save the flashiness for accessories; they are a much lower cost investment in case fashion changes. Simple, flattering cuts of basic colors will pair well with accessories of all types. A baby blue buttoned-down cardigan goes well with silver or gold gemstone jewelry, or a costume necklace with a multi-colored stone pendant. A boring brown jacket comes alive with a bright earthy toned scarf hung loosely under the lapels or with a pinned costume broach.
Until real money is coming in and you set aside money for monthly additions to the wardrobe, shoes are not accessories. By starting with only one of the major color families, you should only need two pairs of comfortable but classic work shoes. Eventually, we all realize we spend so much time at the office and in our work “uniform,” it is worth the boost in happiness to wear what makes us feel good. For the beginning of any work wardrobe though, the good feeling really needs to be physical when it comes to shoes, and not emotional from the cuteness.
Finally, to avoid buying “just the deals and steals,” write out the work wardrobe pieces you are looking for before you go to the stores. A small note with the number of slacks, skirts, and tops with specific color types will help you avoid a hodge podge of clothes once you are home. Sure, two of the shirts you bought were only $5 each, but perhaps they only go with one pair of pants. When one of the outfit pieces goes out of commission, either from snagging in a car door or an unfortunate coffee spill, and it puts TWO major pieces of your wardrobe on the “injury list.” It is vital when you have little to work with that all the clothing works in at least two different combinations.
It is very easy to let the excitement of a new job bleed over into buying clothes for that first week. A budget for each item will also help because it will prevent you from talking yourself into “deserving” a flashier or designer piece of clothing. Remember, until you actually start working, you have the time to really hunt and only settle for the clothes that fit perfectly, look great together, and give you the most options come Monday morning. One day you may need a bit of happiness from the clothes you wear to work to give a little motivation, but you shouldn’t need a work wardrobe to fill this role until the enchantment of “new job” wears off.