the last two years I've worked for casual dot-com, but I'm
next week I start working at a company with more professional dress code. What
items would you recommend as must-haves for a business wardrobe. I'm hoping
to be able to mix and match to create outfits instead of buying 3 weeks worth
of new clothes.
demise of many dot.com companies have forced the “I-can-make-millions-and-wear-sandals-and
shorts” attitude underground. Numerous companies are tightening
up their casual dress codes and some are even going back to traditional
For the new job and today’s business environment,
these ten principles meet the must-have requirements for a basic
business wardrobe that will start you on a winning path:
- For starters, buy two suits (dark-ish
colors), preferably with a matching skirt, pants, and top for
each. These will be the primary heart or core of your business
wardrobe. The idea is to be able to wear each suit piece as
a separate, not exclusively as a suit. Be sure you like the
fit of each garment or alter them so that they look great alone
(i.e. that the skirt or pants fit you well without wearing
the jacket). You may or may not find these in the “suit” department.
Many dressy sportswear designers offer matching jackets, pants,
and skirts as separate coordinates that can also be worn together
for a suit look.
The trick is that the colors of the two suits should
be compatible. For example, let’s say that the
first suit is a solid-color black or navy suit; the
second suit could be brown, red, olive, taupe, gray,
purple, camel, or green because all of those colors
work well with black or navy. It could be any solid
color that looks good on you and pairs up well with
black or navy. From those eight pieces, you have enormous
mix-and-match ability. The tops and bottoms can be
interchanged with the jackets or without in a variety
of ways. If possible, make sure that both suit fabrics
are of a similar weight (like year-round tropical weight
wool). To maximize the possibilities, be sure to purchase
a knit top or blouse in the same color (or color tone)
as the suit. You can wear them in a monochromatic fashion,
which is always classy or you can switch jackets, etc.
Just generally mix the eight pieces together. Either
navy or black as your pivotal suit, the system still
stretches your wardrobe dollars and wardrobe choices.
Choose your best power-neutral color for the color
of your pivotal suit. Power neutral colors are
black, navy, gray, olive, and brown, with black
or navy being the best choices for business wear
and for mix-ability. This is the color you will
build around. It will save you money and time.
Just don’t mix black and navy together. Choose
just one as the core of your working wardrobe.
- A silk blouse or two, long sleeve; this
step is particularly important if you have chosen knit tops to
coordinate with your suits or did not purchase blouses with the
suits as discussed above. Select solid-colors or a geometric
print that can be worn with both suits described above. With
a long-sleeve blouse, you can wear your suit skirt or pants and
look professional. Wear one of the jackets into the office; then
it can hang on the back of your chair ready to wear if a meeting
arises. Without it, you still look professional.
- A tailored jacket in a color-compatible
pattern to your pivotal
suit, such as a houndstooth check, herringbone, tweed, or
plaid. All of these prints are exceptionally fashionable
and popular this fall. You should have no problem finding
them in the stores. You could consider such a pattern for
your second suit, but you may want to start with more color
options so you do not feel like you are wearing the same
thing over and over. And it is okay to repeatedly wear your
basic garments, even in one week. That’s the beauty
of power neutrals. Be sure to hang them immediately for airing
Vary this jacket style from the suit jacket cuts,
if possible. Such a patterned fabric as described
above would make an excellent third suit, as
you could wear the patterned skirt with the solid-color
pivotal suit jacket and possibly even the second
suit jacket. Certainly the printed jacket goes
well with the solid-color tops and skirts and/or
pants. But at the minimum, this third jacket
is essential to stretching your wardrobe dollars.
Generally, this type of jacket looks great with
- A long skirt in a solid-color knit
or jersey, especially
one that coordinates with the patterned tailored jacket discussed
above would also add variety and flexibility. If you are
under 5’4,” choose a straight long style, not
a full skirt. You could also select a pattern, such as a
plaid, to wear with your pivotal suit jacket, sweater set,
- A sweater set (shell
and cardigan) in your power neutral color or in a totally different
color, but one that looks good with both of the suit skirts
and pants. For example, off white or white would go with almost
everything. If you prefer color, opt for some of the current
fashion colors, such as salmon, turquoise, lime green, etc.
Salmon and lime green both work beautifully with black, brown,
navy, or purple. For business wear, lime green works only when
you pair it with another dark color, such as black, eggplant,
Don’t be afraid to separate the set to gain more
outfits. You can wear the shell part of the set as a separate
under your jackets. The cardigan if in the right color,
can be paired with the other outfits, worn or tied over
a blouse or top.
- A classic white blouse (long sleeve) is
a must. A crisp white stylish blouse is always professional and
it has great versatility. It can go under a suit jacket and look
powerful; it can be worn alone with a skirt or pants and hold
it’s own; it can be worn with a sweater tied around the
shoulders for a smart casual look. Look for a white blouse that
has an interesting collar and an overall stylish flair or cut.
- A turtleneck or mock turtleneck top (long
sleeve). This should be in one of the power-neutral
suit colors for maximum wear-ability. Add other colors as you
can. The turtleneck can be worn alone or layered under the
white blouse (yes, even in a dark color), worn with or without
- Stylish shoes: two pair of pumps
(closed toe and heel) with a 2 to 3” heel, in your best
power-neutral colors, the pivotal suit color, in particular.
Add ankle boots when your budget allows; knee boots if you like
that look, (boots worn with short skirts). Check your company’s
dress code to see if it has any boot limitations. Some companies
do not allow knee boots.
- Jewelry is
important. Accessories can make or break an outfit. Add earrings
at the minimum. Jewelry doesn’t have to be expensive;
it just needs to look expensive to make the right statement
for you. Belts are back in as well.
- Hosiery is regaining popularity
again, especially for business wear. Many companies require hosiery
or socks all the time; be sure to check your dress code.
In my book, Casual Power, I describe in detail how
to maximize your mix and match choices. Chapter 4 also discusses
the magical garments that make up a Capsule Wardrobe. I encourage
you to read it, especially since you are coming from a dot.com
Most people could not go out and buy all the items
I have listed above. Add them as your budget allows and they will
make you money!