Have you ever thought about how easy men have it when it comes to dressing for work?  I mean come on…they buy a couple suits, a few shirts and ties, a pair of dress shoes and TA-DA wardrobe done!

Meanwhile, we have skirts and dresses and suits with pants of all lengths, then there are the sweaters and blouses and twin sets, and don’t forget the scarves and belts and jewelry!!  Did I mention all the shoes and purses?!?!

Okay, so the upside is that we do have plenty of opportunities to look fabulous and professional all at the same time.  This can be a little tricky for some of us though.  Sometimes the more options we have can make it harder to make a good decision.

Let’s be honest, when you feel like you look nice, you feel good about yourself.  It gives you a little extra boost of confidence, makes you look a tiny bit more awake and alert, and it can sometimes give you an edge.  Whether you are going for a new job interview or just showing up at work every day in your current role, that little extra attention says to others that you care and you are willing to put the effort in to stand out as a professional.

Now I would be sitting there scratching my head thinking that my work should demonstrate my ability and dedication, right?  In a perfect world that would be true but let’s be honest, what is the very first thing that people will observe when meeting you?  Sure, they may have read your resume or heard about the work you have been doing around the office, but when you walk into that office or cubicle or coffee shop the very first observation is visual.  First impression made.

Can you adjust a first impression?  Sometimes with time and effort, but in my experience on both sides of the table, it is difficult to forget if you start with a negative.  We all want to be taken seriously in the workplace, right?  This applies to the junior intern fresh out of college right up to the senior executive who has devoted decades of effort to learning and growing.


As women, we have come a long way in the workplace, but we still often deal with people who need a little extra convincing that we have what it takes.  Dressing like you are ready to hit the club scene on a Friday night or like you are headed home for Monday night on the couch with pizza and football is going to stand out, but not in a positive way.

I tended bar for years when I was younger and I’ll admit that how much money I made was directly linked to three things; the length of my skirts, the height of my heels and the low or tightness of my shirts.  Sure, it was flattering for a while…until it wasn’t.  I discovered that I liked people being impressed by me for what was in my head and my work ethic.

Luckily for a professional job, you agree to a salary or hourly wage when you start so you are guaranteed to get that paycheck so long as you come to work and do your best.  Are there abuses of this where people get promotions or bonuses for other reasons yes, but that is a discussion for another post. 😉

But suits are expensive you say…

Yes, they are!!  But did you know there are lots of ways to get nice stuff without spending your entire paycheck every week on clothes?  HA! That means money for pizza!  Sorry, it’s getting close to lunchtime. 🙂

Stretching the Workplace Wardrobe Budget

It would be nice to have several suits each with their own matching shirts and shoes and accessories so that you could wear something new every day.  Just think then though…you would have to wash and dry clean all those items!  So having less saves you money and time like, double.

Goodwill and Salvation Army are a great resource when you are just starting off.  Don’t wrinkle your nose yet, let me explain.  If you live in a big city there are likely several branches of these stores to choose from.  Take a Saturday and go check a few out.  I suggest going to the ones that are near affluent areas or right in the heart of the city.  These are often full of name brand suits and professional clothing donated by executive women in the area.

When I first started working as an intern at the U.S. Senate, it was an unpaid position.  I didn’t own a suit when I found out I got the interview and I found one at the local Goodwill.  I did most of my shopping for work clothes there and found names like Tahara, Calvin Klein, and Talbots.

Department stores such as Macy’s, Nordstrom Rack, and JC Penney are other great places to look and they frequently have sales or coupons you can use.  JC Penney has a line of wash and wear suits by Worthington that are great if you have a job that requires travel.  The suits are sold as separates, which means they are perfect if your top and bottom are not the same sizes, and they are very difficult to wrinkle.

Other options, if you are earning more money, are places like the Limited, Banana Republic and Ann Taylor, all of which will alter clothes purchased from them.  Early on I didn’t bother with alterations but honestly one of the best fashion pieces of advice I ever received was to buy well-structured clothes that fit.

Don’t buy for the body you had or plan to have, buy for the one you have right now and dress it well.  If you are planning to lose weight then just buy a few things for now in your size and then buy more when you reach your goal.  Poorly fitting clothes look sloppy and unprofessional and if you are going to spend the money, you want to look fabulous!

Workplace Wardrobe Capsule 

What is a wardrobe capsule?  The idea is, you pick a color and assemble a group or “capsule” of clothes that all mix and match in that family.  You can make it a small capsule of outfits for 3 days or larger for say 7 or even 10 depending on the number of pieces.

Let’s assume your favorite pair of dress shoes are black so we’ll build a capsule around those:

  • Black dress slacks
  • Black suit jacket
  • Gray pencil skirt
  • Maroon dress
  • Gray sweater
  • Pink sweater
  • 3 blouses (pink, yellow, blue)
  • Black belt

So, from those 10 items, you could mix and max virtually any of them to get outfits for the whole week.

  • Monday – Black slacks, pink blouse, black suit jacket
  • Tuesday – Maroon dress and gray sweater
  • Wednesday – Gray skirt, yellow blouse and black suit jacket
  • Thursday – Black slacks and gray sweater
  • Friday – gray skirt, blue blouse, black suit jacket

This is just an example.  If you prefer sweaters to shirts you can buy more sweaters.  You can also add a scarf in there that ties the colors together to mix things up as well as some accessories.  The whole idea is that you only need a few of the more expensive items such as slacks, skirts, and blazers and can mix and match with the less expensive pieces such as blouses and sweaters.

This works great if you are going on a work trip to minimize how much you need to pack…throw in a pair of nice jeans and you can pretty much just wear them with any of the tops to go out to dinner after work.

There are so many different ways to do this according to your style both for work and pleasure.  Pinterest has tons and tons of ideas with pictures if you are more visual like me.  You can visit my board at Professional Workplace Capsules where you will find some of my favorite pins.

Capsule wardrobes are awesome for several reasons:

  • Lowers the stress on your wallet
  • Simplifies your wardrobe
  • Supports the traveling professional
  • Provides multiple ways to wear your outfits

The Extra Mile

Suits and shoes are all great but don’t forget the little things like hair, makeup, or nails.  I’m not saying you have to go for weekly manicures, but DO make sure that you give the nails a little love.  Keep them neatly filed and use a little lotion especially in the winter.  Have you ever shaken hands with someone with try scratchy hands?  YUCK! 🙂

You don’t have to be a wizard with the curling iron or ask your hairdresser neighbor to blow you out each morning.  A ponytail does nicely with some pretty earrings.  If your hair is short then clean and combed works just fine.  And hey if you are one of those ladies that has figured out that whole messy meets classy up-do…send me a note.  I would love to know how you do that!  I usually just end up with the messy with no class, unfortunately.  Hmmm…do you think it’s the hairspray?

Make-up at the office…less is more.  Anyone remember Mimi from the Drew Carey show?  Okay then, ‘nuff said!

We are all beautiful in our own ways, so keep it simple and you will make a wonderful first impression, but then I know you are a going to knock ‘em dead with those extraordinary skills you have.  After all, if you are here reading this, I know you are no ordinary girl.


Pin It on Pinterest