So now that the euphoric high of turning in your last paper, and subsequently, making it across the stage to receive your diploma, has worn off, you are left sending out countless resumes every day. But just as you are beginning to wonder if you will ever make it beyond your parents’ basement, you get that call. Someone actually wants you to come in for an interview! You are ecstatic, but then you also realize that pajama pants and t-shirts won’t cut it anymore.
It’s time to hit the stores in search of a new you. But browsing for an interview outfit can make shopping feel overwhelming. Still, updating your wardrobe in preparation for your journey into the “real world” doesn’t need to be as daunting as it seems. Understanding the basics you will need to get started, some general guidelines for making the right impression, and learning to think about what you already have in new ways can help you make a smooth wardrobe transition from campus to cubicle.
While there are many definitions of “office appropriate” attire depending on where you work, such as whether you’ll be in a creative or corporate environment, it’s best to err on the conservative side when it comes to the interview, especially if you are a new graduate. Style expert and owner of Rodeo Drive Resale, Raya Jaffer, suggests investing in a black, three-piece suit in a tailored fit with some stretch in the fabric. “Whether you are interviewing for a job in finance or fashion, your attire will show the interviewer how important the position is to you,” she says.
Keep in mind, however, to choose a suit that skims, rather than clings to, the body. You want to make a good first impression and demonstrate that you understand professionalism even as a young applicant. Therefore, stay away from anything too tight. Jaffer also notes women should stick to closed-toe shoes and neutral-colored handbags for the interview. Along these same lines, jewelry should be delicate and not screaming for attention. “Your interview is not the time to be showing off your ring collection or a handful of noisy bangles,” Jaffer notes.
Now, it may take a few interviews before you actually land a job, but when you do finally get that exciting news, it is definitely time to expand your work wear beyond your interview suit. In terms of managing cost, “[y]our basic suit pieces should be what most of your wardrobe budget is designated for,” Jaffer advises. “But by simply adding blouses and accessories from discount stores, this one suit can be worn a million different ways throughout the entire year.”
With this in mind, here are some basic pieces you should consider investing in as a foundation for your professional wardrobe:
- Black suit. Jacket, pants, and skirt in a tailored fit with some stretch in the fabric. You probably already purchased this, or another neutral-colored suit, for your interview.
- Additional suiting separates. Blazers, dress pants, and knee-length skirts in neutrals such as grey, tan, or navy will be the most versatile.
- White button-up shirt. If you find one that fits well, go ahead and buy a few.
- White camisole. A few of these in your wardrobe are great for making v-neck and lower cut tops work appropriate.
- Cardigan. White, cream, or beige will be the most versatile to start with, but you can add in colors as well.
- Pumps and flats. Closed toe and a moderate heel height. Black, tan, or nude are great basic colors to start with.
- Tights. A convenient way to make a warm weather outfit stretch into the cooler months. Black, navy, or burgundy are good shades for a work wardrobe.
- Structured work bag. A tan or camel colored handbag works well for all seasons, but black and other neutrals are versatile options as well.
Jaffer notes that Theory sells some of the best tailored suits on the market, but if you don’t have the money to invest in these pieces yet, there are many mid-range retailers that sell high-quality suiting separates. Express, Banana Republic, and Loft are just a few options for more budget-minded shoppers. Jaffer also suggests new graduates consider resale or consignment shops. “Shopping ‘pre-owned’ is not only great for your budget, but for the environment as well. You can really score some great deals if you know what you are looking for,” she says.
Gauging Your Environment
It’s best to stay on the conservative side when you first start at your new job. You want to take the time to make a good impression and gauge your environment, ensuring you understand what exactly office appropriate means there. Look to your boss or other supervisors to see what they are wearing. They will be your best role models, according to Jaffer. “You want to stand out from the others in your department and your wardrobe will show people that you are ready to start your climb to the top from Day One,” she says.
Develop Your Own Style
While you are making an important transition in your life and want to put forth the best image possible, you don’t necessarily have to replace everything in your wardrobe. Once you have settled in and feel you have a comfortable understanding of your office dress code, you can start developing your own sense of style at work. In doing so, you can transition some of your existing pieces into more work-appropriate styles. Here are some creative ways you can try this:
A simple white button-up is a great layering piece. Add in a classic pencil skirt in a neutral color and more work-appropriate accessories, and you can still make use of some of your casual pieces.
A white camisole and blazer transition a weekend top to the office. More delicate jewelry and a colorful, but high-quality, bag inject a bit of personality while still staying business casual.
If you work in a more creative environment, you can even try layering a more casual dress over a white turtleneck or button-up.
Try layering a blazer over an otherwise casual blouse. Wear it with dress pants or a dress skirt during the week, or with a dark-wash trouser jean for casual Friday.
Of course, not everyone’s office is the same in terms of what level of professional dress is expected. If you work in a very conservative office environment, such as in law or oil, you may need to stick to suiting separates, woven button-ups, and closed-toe shoes. If you ever find yourself questioning whether or not something is appropriate for a business casual office, use good judgment. “You should never wear something to work which you could not wear to church,” says Jaffer. This is a good rule of thumb for most traditional office environments.