For the Sake of Shoes: Building a Professional Wardrobe | The American Word

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For the Sake of Shoes: Building a Professional Wardrobe

Mackenzie Hill | 4/24/13 9:24pm

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in the April 25 print edition of our magazine.

Transitioning from college to the professional world can be rough, and not having the right clothes to give you an extra boost of confidence can make it harder.

Looking back, your style probably changed from high school to college. Just like the high school to college transition, your closet may need updating from college to graduate school or the workplace. Before you start adding new pieces, go take a long, hard look at your closet and see what you actually need.  Looking at your clothes differently can help you tailor apparel that you already own to fit a more professional way of dressing.  It’s all about looking your best without having to spend an arm and a leg to do so.

After evaluating what you need, make a list of those items. That way when you’re shopping and see something not on your list, it will be easier to say no.

You don’t need to break the bank to update your wardrobe.  Once you’ve identified what you need, go through and make a pile of the clothes you don’t need.  Get rid of pieces you haven’t worn in two or more years.  I sometimes have a hard time getting rid of clothes if they’re in perfect condition, so having the mindset that someone else needs them more than I do can be helpful me let go.  If you’d like some extra cash to put toward adding pieces to your professional wardrobe, there are stores that will pay cash for your old clothes such as Plato’s Closet. Plato’s Closet has three, northern Virginia locations in Chantilly, Manassas and Sterling.

When shopping for additions to your closet, choose versatile blouses that can work with a blazer and later at happy hour with your co-workers.  Try to stay away from buying too many of one trend, such as the peplum style, because it may not be as popular next year.

Building a solid foundation for your professional wardrobe will make it easier to add statement pieces that you won’t be wearing repetitively, like you would with black slacks.  Once you have an assortment of foundation pieces, it will be easier to mix and match things that you already have.  For example, a sweater you may usually wear to class with jeans could be a perfect match with simple, solid-colored neutral pants. Basic items such as a button-down shirt, blazer, neutral pumps and a watch can be found at budget-friendly stores to build the foundation of a professional wardrobe.

  • Crisp Button-Down.  Go find that perfect button-down that will give you the confidence to lead a meeting.  It doesn’t have to be the stereotypical white. Investing in a iron-free, Brooks Brothers shirt will save you valuable time when you realize there’s no time to iron in the morning.
  • Tailored Blazer.  Since you’re at AU, the chance that you own a blazer is likely high. Take the blazer you already own to the tailor. It will look like a whole new piece. A tailored blazer makes all the difference in pulling together a professional look.
  • Nude Pumps.  Nude pumps are the most adaptable. Nude pumps solve the problem of accidentally mixing a black pump with navy pants. These pumps will be your go-to when running out the door to catch the bus. ?    
  • Classic Watch.  Not the watch with the colored bands and rhinestones.  Opt for either a neutral letter or a metal band with an easy-to-read face. Depending on where you’re working, you may not even be able to have your phone at your desk, so checking the time with a good, old-fashioned watch will be helpful. Plus, a watch can always dress up an outfit. Nordstrom Rack is a great place to find designer watches for a lot less.

For males, a good suit is a must.  This is something that would be an appropriate and useful graduation gift.  If that’s not in the cards, I suggest taking a stroll through Goodwill. There are four Goodwills in northern Virginia and one in Washington. The closest location is on South Dakota Ave., but I suggest the location in Arlington, where I’ve even found great furniture for do-it-yourself projects. Yes, I know what you’re thinking; the suits will look worn and be outdated. Well, if you have patience, you will be rewarded. There are some great gems hidden in the midst of last season’s collections.

Since we live in northwest Washington, the clothes Goodwill carries are right on par with the people that live in this area.  This goes for ladies too.  I once found a black Oscar de la Renta blazer from Goodwill for $5.00. I took it to the dry cleaners, had it tailored and then had the buttons replaced. It looks brand new, and even with the customizing it still cost less than buying a new blazer.

Blazers give both males and females another option for layering professional looks.  Layering outfits is always helpful for the humid Washington summer mornings and cold days inside your office. Wearing a blouse or button-down with a sweater will allow for easy layering. If it is too hot to wear a blazer or sweater on the bus or Metro, leave one that’s a neutral color — like navy or gray — at your desk so that it will match with anything you decide to wear.

Once you’ve worked long enough at a company – or even as a temp – you’ll be able to get a feeling of what dress code is appropriate at your office and what you feel most comfortable in.

Choosing the right staples to start off this new chapter in your life will make waking up a little easier. Good luck to all the graduating seniors!