One of the little things I absolutely love about college is the wardrobe. It is completely acceptable to wear sweats to class, and although I try to avoid it, it’s fantastic having the option. And then, as someone who loves dressing up in fun and unique tops and skirts, weekends are the best. Throw in a game day outfit here and there, and you’re pretty much set.
Unfortunately, in the real world, these two sets of clothing aren’t going to get you very far. If you walk into your office wearing a Bucky T-shirt and some sweatpants, good luck trying to go back the next day. But just because suits instead of sweats are traditional office attire, that doesn’t mean the clothes you wear to work have to be boring. In this column, I want to give some general guidelines for what is acceptable for the office, but also on keeping your own personal style and enjoying the clothes you get to wear. One of the first aspects of a professional wardrobe is that it is obviously a bit more conservative and classy than you would wear out to the KK on a Thursday night. I’m not saying that you have to get rid of these outfits or pack them away in a box; save them for when you go out for drinks on the weekends with your friends.
First, the ladies. There are a couple of staple pieces that every young professional woman should start to acquire. The first essential is a crisp and clean white blouse. These are so versatile, and they can be paired with almost anything. Luckily, these aren’t hard to find, even at lower prices, which is perfect for the college graduate worried about all their new expenses.
Then, there’s the black skirt — and luckily nowadays, there are even more variations on the traditional pencil skirt (different waist levels, lengths, designs), but having one is always a good idea. A skirt that hits right near the knee, maybe a little above, is where you want to be.
Although there are a few more pieces I think are pretty important, enough about lecturing you on what you need to buy to look presentable in the office. While many people will have similar pieces, there are still ways to retain your personal style while still staying classy and respectable.
One of the easiest ways to do this is with your accessories. Really take advantage of these little additions to make a statement about what you want your style to say about you. From necklaces to earrings to bracelets, shop for jewelry and bags that add some color and creativity to your business attire. Another thing not many people think about that can show your style is the way you do your nails — because it is such a small part of your look, a funky nail color or design won’t be overwhelming, but it can definitely make a statement.
In addition, channel your inner Carrie Bradshaw and find some fabulous shoes. One of the nice things about wearing neutral tops and bottoms is the freedom it gives you in experimenting with colors and types of shoes. I would probably stick to wearing heels, but not necessarily stilettos — I don’t want you to kill your feet day after day, so flats once and a while are just fine. And don’t feel like you need to follow in Carrie’s footsteps (sorry for the pun) and shop at Manolo Blahnik — just find a comfortable and stylish pair at a price you feel like you can afford.
Once you start acquiring those staples and some accessories to jazz your look up a little bit, don’t be afraid to branch out. Start mixing and matching pieces, throw in a dress or pants here and there, and start adjusting for the weather and what you deem appropriate for your own work environment.
Unfortunately there isn’t a whole lot of variety for the guys. A suit and tie is a staple for pretty much every day of the week in most work environments. However, you can still have fun with different colored shirts and an endless selection of patterned ties. For the office, stay away from shirts that are either too dark, like black, or way too bright. These limit your ability to mix and match with different ties. Sticking with lighter colors is a safer bet because a bold shirt and loud tie only work in certain cases; you have a better chance that a tie will work with a lighter colored shirt, such as white, light blue or even light pink or purple. Just make sure if you do choose a colored shirt that your tie includes that same color, or a lighter or darker shade.
Although the professional world may seem quite a ways off, I promise it will come around faster than you expect — if you are seeking out an internship for the summer, you will more than likely have to dress in a professional way as well. Start observing now, and start thinking about what kind of work wardrobe you want to put together — it can be fun if you make it that way.
Emma Austin is a junior majoring in journalism. Send comments, questions and column ideas to email@example.com.