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Building a Modern Work Wardrobe

Working an office 9-to-5 again has been an adjustment. Not only in terms of scheduling, but also in terms of my wardrobe. It has been a long time since I had to dress professionally every. single. day. Teaching a couple times a week and writing my dissertation from home allowed for a pretty casual wardrobe. With this new job, however, I quickly realized that my wardrobe was going to need a lot more professional and workwear pieces.

But here is the thing with workwear, it can feel incredibly stodgy and uncomfortable. I want to look professional, but I still want to look young and modern. The struggle is how to inject my interest in fashion and personal style into a work wardrobe that is functional and practical. I am just not a slacks and cardigan kind of girl. There is nothing wrong with slacks and a cardigan, it just isn’t me. I want to feel like I can still express myself and have fun with clothing (because I genuinely enjoy fashion and getting dressed) even in my new professional setting.

Now here is the other issue, professional clothing, especially for women, doesn’t come cheap. Having just moved and decorated my apartment, I new I had to be prudent and pick and choose what to invest in as I grew my professional wardrobe. Finally, as I invest in workwear, I didn’t want to create two separate closets – one for work and one for play. I wanted to find pieces that were stylish and comfortable enough to work when I am traveling or even on the weekends.

With all of this in mind, here are the guidelines I came up with for myself and some of the items I have purchased:

A great double breasted blazer, A-line skirt, or silk button down will go along way in a professional wardrobe, especially if you invest in high-quality timeless pieces. When I first saw this gorgeous grey blazer at Club Monaco, I had a bit of sticker shock. But, I new this blazer would never go out of style and complete so many looks. When Club Monaco did a 30% off event, I snatched it up! I pretty much wear it every week.

Whether it’s ruffles, velvet, or military, you have to be careful when adding trends into your work wardrobe. Not that you need to shy away from trends, you just need to interpret them carefully. For example, look for items that merge traditional fabrics or cuts with a trendy element, like this ruffle skirt or these amazing pants with military inspired button details. Both are traditional pieces with just the right hint of trend that keeps your look young and chic. I think it is also important to always pair a trendier piece with a basic.

This isn’t just a rule for work wardrobes, it’s a great rule for any wardrobe. Becuase as much as I love dresses, separates will also give your closet more flexibility and options. The key, however, to making separates work for you is to makes sure that all the individual items you buy can work together and be mixed and matched. The easiest way to do this is to focus on a color palette. I also test every purchase by making myself create three different looks from my wardrobe with whatever new item I have purchased. If I cannot make three looks with it, I must return it.

For some reason I still feel like I am playing dress up in an adult’s closet when I wear a full suit. It just isn’t me. Again, there is nothing wrong with a suit, I just have never felt like myself in one. But you can still look professional and put together without having to wear a suit set. I recently stumbled on this adorable matching cropped military jacket and button down skirt at the Loft. It’s a modern and trendier interpretation of a suit. Plus, both pieces can be worn with separately. I love matching sets like this becuase you can get three looks for the price of one!

So far, I feel like I have really found what I am looking for and I am very happy with my new professional wardrobe. I have found that I keep returning to the same stores — Ann Taylor and Loft (although I go through cycles of loving and hating everything, I am currently loving everything), Aqua at Bloomingdales, Zara (I have found some good affordable blouses here), Club Monaco (no one does classic workwear better), and J.Crew.

I have rounded up my purchases so far below and I have added a workwear category under style in the top menu bar.

I am also curious where you shop for stylish workwear. Please comment with your favs!