A reader and recent college grad sent me an email and asked what to wear to work on a budget. Miss DJ writes,
I love your site! I would love if you could help me out! I just graduated from college and am looking for some fab office attire, but I am not sure what is appropriate for a young black woman to wear! I’m also short on cash (right now) since I just graduated. Can you give some advice on ways to look stylish?
Also, stockings/nylons: mandatory or optional? I’ve noticed that many women forgo them (and I have been for a while), but is this appropriate?
Thanks so much!
So, I’mma kick this one here for me and Miss DJ….(if you are old enough, I know that you are thinking of the tune in your head!)
Firstly, thanks for asking! I love spreading the knowledge that truly makes my brain hurt when I withhold it…
For a female fabulite, you need to have a few staples in your closet. In order to build your wardrobe, you need the following items.
1.Two (2) pairs of slacks (that’s pants for you newbie professionals): both full cut in a dark colors like navy blue or black. You can also add neutral colors like camel, tan, and light grey. Remember, different stores have different fits. Although my rear looks great in a pair of Marc Jacob trousers, various fits from the Gap make me look like I have just a long flat back with legs. Make sure the slacks are made of a firm fabric and have a few with looser fabric: bi-stretch gabardine and wool-rayon blends (ask the salesperson for help on this one girls)
2. Three (3) skirts: A-line, pencil, and straight. They must be good fabric (superfine or ultralight wool-rayon blend). Find the length that works right for you, either just above or below the knee. Try the skirt on in the store. Warning: stay away from mid-calf lengths for the workplace. They cut your legs in awkward proportions and can create the tree trunk effect. Unless you want to be the great oak at the office, let the mid-calf skirts go. Like the pants, get a few darker colored ones and some neutral colors.
3. At least one (1) white button down blouse and T-shirts/camisoles/tank tops in various colors (white, black, some bold colors, and neutral colors). Even if you have to wear the same blouse with each suit, a white blouse/button down will definitely do the job. If your co-workers ask you why you don’t change your shirt daily, just tell them that you are saving towards your retirement fund….just make sure the shirt is clean and pressed.
4. Two (2) jackets: one that is tailored (see below) so that you can dress up any outfit and a sporty one that you can use to dress down any outfit (leather jacket, seersucker jacket, tweed coat, etc).
5. Three coats: a trench coat, a seasonal knee-length coat , and a dressy winter overcoat. Granted if you live in Miami or LA, you will need really light fabrics based on the hella hot temps. But, I have seen people wearing leather coats in 90 degree weather in Miami in December. I guess they have to wear them somewhere since they purchased them….but why? I just don’t get that one…..
6. Dresses: as many as your little heart can afford! i really, really, really suggests dresses as a requirement for all females. They are the universally appropriate and great in most occasions (mud wrestling excluded). Just make sure that the dress creates the proper silhouette for your body shape, i.e. not too tight, not too big, no log rolls or rib bones showing, and on and on…..
If you are in doubt, take it off and try on another one……
7. The proper foundation garments, i.e. undies! This should have been first—your foundation garments create your silhouette underneath your clothing and must either be suited for your shape or mold your shape. Get properly measured for bras. Get girdles or support garments if need be–Spanx is the best invention ever introduced to mankind. If your underwear doesn’t fit well or fit properly, we will all know….and talk about you…but we won’t tell you….
Buy the best quality garments that you could afford, i.e. Tar-jay, Express, Gap, Banana Republic, Ann Taylor, Nine West, Saks, BCBG, Neimans, Tori Burch, Gucci, etc.
As you develop your wardrobe, add color and accessories for an added flair.
Here are some great ensembles from Banana Republic. They even took the liberty of creating a “Stylist’s Picks” section that allows you to select and purchase a variety of office looks. I love these looks because they can be easily be translated into evening wear for happy hours and cocktails functions. The entire collection of looks can be found here, but you find the looks that I like below:
Find the total look here for $378.00 (minus satchel and shoes)
Find the total look here for $136.00 (minus the boots and bag)
Find the total look here for $274.00 (minus the shoes and purse)
Find the total look here for $262.00 (minus the shoes)
Shoes are the easiest part of the outfit. Make sure you have black and dark brown pumps or low heels to jump start your collection. Experiment with heel height and color as you broaden and grow your wardrobe.
The verdict on hosiery: I am completely anti-hosiery. They are hot and make no difference in the appearance of my legs. If you keeps your legs relatively smooth and clean (translation: shave your hairy legs!), no hosiery is necessary. However, if your office requires them, wear ones that are lightweight and closest to your nude shade as possible. Try DKNY, Calvin Klein, and Bloomingdales (you saved money on your outfits–now spend some money on your hose). Heck, you can ever wear thigh highs or knee highs with the right outfit. Who has to know? It will be your dirty little secret…..
In order to be stylish, your wardrobe has to fit your style. Think about what you like to do, your professional influences, your fashion influences, and your lifestyle–and then align that with your profession. For example, if you are a naturally creative person who loves color but works in highly professional work environment, enliven your staples with bold colors and creative patterns. If you are a sexy diva who works in the same place, you can tailor you clothes to highlight your assets while still being work appropriate.
You have to determine your own style before you can become stylish. The easiest way to do this without hiring an image consultant or a stylist is to select a style icon. If you love Jada Pinkett-Smith’s style, find pictures of her and create a portfolio that you carry along with while you are shopping for guidance. You may be like me and have several icons that you mix and match depending on the occasion (mine are Victoria Beckham, Tracee Ellis Ross, Nia Long, Gabrielle Union, Halle Berry, Ellen Barkin, and Kelly Ripa–what a mix!) Whether you have one or many, this may be the first step in creating your own style. There are many affordable options that mimic the designer duds that the stars wear.
Accessories will make an outfit *pop*. Use the latest fashion trends if you can’t figure out how to accessorize. A wide belt can gave shape and color to an otherwise normal looking dress. Bold colors can brighten up an outfit. The classic red heels with gray or black suit with a red bag always makes a statement. Find funky accessories that are fun for you and complement your style: earrings, necklaces, bracelets. Steal Style also has a great post about Corporate Wear 101.
Extra tip: develop a trademark item that signifies your style. Anna Wintour has those huge oversized sunglasses, Halle is known for her sexy formal dresses, and Patricia Fields (wardrobe stylist for Sex & the City) is known for her eclectic style. If you can’t figure out your style, this trademark item can be your starting point.
So, as you can see, you can look like an office professional with a little style on any budget. If you want even better deals and more stylish selections, try bargain outlets like Filene’s Basement, Loehmann’s, Annie Sez, Marshalls, and T.J. Maxx. I have a problem with visual inconsistency (hence the career as an image consultant), so I have difficulty perusing outlet racks…but if you like it, I love it! Keep it strictly stylish!