Guide to Building a Post-College Wardrobe

When I unpacked from school, I went through all of my clothes and conducted a major overhaul. There was so much hanging in my closet that I hadn’t worn in years, or that I knew I’d probably never have an opportunity to wear again. Not only has my style changed (and hopefully matured) over the past few years, but moving forward there’s a lot less casual and going out opportunities, and a lot more office settings. Out went all my old high school cheerleading shirts (why are those so hard to let go of??) and  my cheap Forever 12 “going out” skirts and tops. What I’m left with now are pieces that fit into casual weekends, nice nights out downtown or at restaurants, and a pretty sturdy collection of work clothes.

No job I will ever hold (hopefully) will require me to wear a suit everyday. I have one suit for interviews that my mom and I got at JC Penney and I loathe it. I hate the way it feels and I especially hate how frumpy it makes me look. But it’s a necessity. Regardless, my work wardrobe consists of outfits that fit into an office a few notches down from business professional. Dress pants and nice tops, sweaters and dresses are what I’ve collected, but many public relations jobs are even more casual than that.

The key to starting a work wardrobe is finding things you can mix and match and wear a lot without looking like you’re repeating outfits every day (which honestly doesn’t matter unless you work in a fashionable environment because I’m pretty sure no one has really noticed what I’ve worn to work). It’s also important to note that it shouldn’t be expensive. A lot of inepensive stores, like Old Navy and Forever 21, have great items that are super affordable.

professional wardrobe essentials

I started with bottoms. I think if you’re wearing nice pants or a skirt you already look dressier and more professional than if you wore a dressy top with jeans. I’m petite (barely 5 feet tall) so my favorite places are LOFT and Banana Republic, both of which have an amazing selection of professional attire in a petite size range. They also both have outlets and great sales, so my pants and skirts didn’t end up being outrageously expensive, and if you buy pieces that are classic enough, they last for years. I also have a pair of J. Crew Pixie Pants that I bought on Cyber Monday last year, and those come in petite, too. My office right now is a lot more casual than others, so I can get away with them, but in other situations you might need to be careful. A great substitute are the Minnie (or Winnie, at the Factory) pants, which are less like leggings and more like work-pants.

I have a ton of skirts as well. I love the J. Crew City Mini, but they are really expensive for what they are, unless you manage to snag one on sale, which I have. I also have a ton of skirts from Forever 21, one of which looks exactly like the City Mini, but was a fraction of the cost. Skirts are great for summer because they breathe but still look super professional, as long as they’re not too short.

Tops are easier. Old Navy, Forever 21, LOFT, Banana Republic, J. Crew Factory and JC Penney all have great (and affordable) options. I have a decent selection of nice tank tops I really like to wear under a sweater, in addition to way too many button ups that I wear every day in the fall and winter. I love J. Crew Factory’s button ups, but Old Navy has some that I’ve loved a ton, too.

I also have a thing for cardigans, since they’re easy to throw over just about anyoutfit when it gets chilly. The J. Crew ones are nice, but the three-quarter sleeves don’t sit well with me sometimes. I actually really love the ones from JC Penney, and they’re loads cheaper, but give off the same look. LOFT also has great sweaters, which I like wearing over a button up with the collar poking out in the fall and winter time.

Blazers have always been a challenge for me. I have a short torso and short arms, so petites are a must. I have had one gray blazer from the Banana Republic outlet since freshman year of college that I wore all the time and it still fits and works. I got it at an after-Christmas sale, too, so I know it was extremely affordable. I have a few other favorites, one being a fleece blazer from Target that I roll the sleeves on, which is essentially a sweatshirt that I can wear in an office, and it’s fantastic.

Dresses are also a challenge. Unless I have my mom hem them, the only dresses I have that I love and fit perfect are from LOFT. They have the cutest petite dresses that are an office-approprite length that look good just about any time of the year.

Finally: shoes. I’m pretty basic in the shoes department, especially for work. I have a pair of plain black flats from Target, and nude ones from J. Crew Factory that are almost at their breaking point, and I mostly rotate between the two, depending on my outfit. Sometimes in the summer I’ll also throw a pair of wedges into the mix, but open toe shoes are sometimes a touchy subject in the workplace. In the winter, I wear riding boots with skirts and sometimes pixie pants, but I still tend to rely on flats. My mom insists now that I need a pair of “sensible heels,” but I’ve yet to settle on a pair, mostly because I don’t see myself wearing heels to work regularly.

I feel like I’ve pretty much summed it up. It took me a few years to get my wardrobe to where it is, but now I have more than enough outfits on rotate for all of my working needs. I also have an (almost) embarassingly huge collection of necklaces, watches and bracelets that I use to liven up a more simple outfit. The key there is to not go overboard and keep it classy.

And if you wonder what I wear when I work at Athleta, it’s basically my pajamas.

6 thoughts on “Guide to Building a Post-College Wardrobe

  1. Kate says:

    Now that I’m old and have been in the “real world’ for a few years, I’ve noticed a few things about work wardrobes. First of all, it’s hard to buy a wardrobe when you don’t know what your office is going to be like…my office is WAY casual, so I have a gazillion silk tops that I feel overdressed in at work. But what I wear to work would be incredibly inappropriate if I worked in a different office, even one in the same building. I’ve just started buying things that I can wear to work (and get dirty or whatever) but will also work for play, or mixing “nice” with casual (i.e. silk blouse, jeans, flats).

    And I strongly recommend investing in a “power suit”…sounds so dumb, but if you have a suit that you feel awesome in, you feel more comfortable in it and more like yourself. I bought one at J Crew that was pricey, but I LOVE wearing it. I feel strong and confident and fashionable and not like I’m dressing up and pretending to be an adult.

    Fingers crossed for you!!

    • kodorczyk says:

      Work clothes are totally subjective. The places I’ve worked in Rochester are a ton more professional than the places I worked in New York; at my internships I could wear jeans or leggings and it was totally okay, and if I wanted I could wear a skirt or casual dress. Here, it’s more what I described in my post. I think it’s important to have flexible pieces. Plus, a lot of the clothes I wear to work (esp. button ups) I also wear casually on my days off.

      and thank you! im working hard to try and find something!

  2. Kelsey M. says:

    I just stumbled across your blog via your comment on Mackenzie Horan’s blog. I noticed we had the same name and knew I had to check you out (:

    I love this post since I recently did an overhaul of my wardrobe. I just switched jobs and my previous job allowed me to wear basically whatever I wanted (think jean shorts, leggings, a uniform top). Now I’m working in a more business causal setting and I needed to stock up on professional pieces. I found AMAZING deals at Ann Taylor before 4th of July and ended up getting a ton of different pieces all for really cheap. I would definitely recommend keeping an eye out for sales like that since I know the pieces I bought are of great quality and will last me a long time.

    – Kelsey

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