Hey gorgeous! Whether you’re starting a new career and building your office wardrobe, or you’re an experienced professional sprucing up your existing set of business clothes, this complete guide to work wardrobe essentials for women will come to the rescue!
With over 10 years experience spanning corporates, small firms and education sector, I have compiled this inspired by my own wardrobe of different cities, work cultures and different climates. I am including a list of 35 must-haves that are versatile.
We busy working women barely have time to do breakfast, let alone spend hours planning out outfits every morning. Most of the freakin’ time, we just wanna get an extra minute of sleep! This is where planning your work wardrobe becomes important. Not only does it help you create quick outfits, but also “work uniforms” for whenever you’re out of creative ideas a.k.a. the days when you have nothing to wear!
There’s so much to keep in mind when building your office wardrobe. You wanna exude confidence, look professional and yet be comfortable enough to run around the office during meetings or catching last-minute lunches with clients, all the while finishing those mean deadlines!! So the perfect office wardrobe should have all the must-haves for your daily needs.
Let’s tackle it like a project – one part at a time – planning carefully until you have an awesome wardrobe you always wanted!
Revamp Your Corporate Closet with 35 Work Wardrobe Essentials
A. Daily Office Clothes
These form the basics of your work wardrobe and cannot be ignored.
1. A Crisp White Shirt
A full-sleeved white button-up shirt is a must have. In fact, I’m wearing one as I type this! Add a couple of more in solid pastels and/or light-striped ones to your work wardrobe essentials checklist. A sleeveless or half-sleeved button-up is a nice addition, too, especially to be worn on super-hot days or in spring under a formal jacket.
Well-fitting cotton trousers are essentials. It’s a great idea to invest in 2-3 pairs of good quality pants that are creased, fit well and neither too high waisted nor too low, in basic colors like grey, black and navy. They won’t go out of fashion so they’re your daily safe options.
3. Formal Dresses or Pencil Skirts
A couple of well-fitting shift dresses in neutral colors are a good idea to start with. Or knee-length wrap dresses work well as work wardrobe essentials, too. A pencil skirt in cotton and another in wool is a definite must-have.
4. A Business Suit
If you work in corporate environment, business suit or two is needed for all formal events, conferences or even interviews. So at least one or two solid-colored ones are important part of work wardrobe essentials. A formal jacket that matches your trousers is a good alternative. If you have to wear business suits daily, you’ll need skirt suits and variety of pant suits, depending on what you prefer. If you work in a casual work environment, you should still have at least one suit or formal jacket for those interviews or formal occasions.
B. Winter Wear/ Snow Days
If you live in extreme weather or a cold place, you gotta consider how many warm work clothes you need, depending on how long the winter lasts for.
5. Light Cardigans
You’ll need at least 4-6 buttoned cardigans or light, well-fitted sweaters if you have even 2 weeks of winter in your city. A mix of dark colors like black, burgundy, navy with light pastels like sky blue, olive, lavender are a good idea. These can be paired with trousers, worn over a button-up shirt or just by themselves with a skirt.
6. A Formal Jacket
For early fall, a light formal jacket works perfectly. It’s also a must-have for work travel or chilly spring days. I personally have 2 similar looking ones in black, both of which I’ve worn excessively.
7. A Formal Coat
Depending on how the weather gets, you may need a trench, wool or down coat, or all of these! It should be a clean silhouette and in a nice neutral color you can wear any day to match your office outfits!
C. Rainy Days
Rainy days have the power to make even the best put-together work outfits look like rags! But if you plan ahead, you can still look like a dignified professional. Or at least a rained-on professional!
8. Plain Umbrella and/or Trench Coat
If your city gets cold rains, a trench coat is the perf go-to outerwear. It looks chic, smart and is waterproof. If there’s a summer shower, just a plain umbrella is great. You can even choose a unique art-print, or a fun color to make it your signature, like bright blue or burnt orange. Another chic option is a transparent PVC jacket.
9. Plain Rain Boots
If your city gets big puddles, slush or winter showers, rain boots are one of the most important work wardrobe essentials for keeping your socks dry! A pair of plain black rain boots is a must-have, since it’ll go both with business skirts and sweater dresses on those off-weather-days. You can carry a pair of flats and keep ’em in your office for a few days, if required when you reach office and change into them.
If you don’t need to carry your laptop to work everyday, a medium-sized structured handbag is a must. A neutral color is a staple that goes well with every outfit. Or you can have your own signature color. Like I’m always seen with a red bag! Alternatively, a structured sling bag also looks polished and chic. Invest in a good quality one because a nice, clean bag elevates any look. If you need to carry a laptop, a laptop bag, a large tote or a leather backpack are good ideas.
11. Skinny Belt for Dresses/Sweaters
A nude skinny belt is so versatile. I have a couple of skinny belts and I pair them with my sheath formal dresses or cardigans. They also work on sweater dresses.
12. Broad Belt for Trousers
A tucked in button-up shirt gives the most professional look with trousers. So a formal belt is a must to complete the look. If your shirt is tucked in, your belt-loops shouldn’t look empty! Invest in a good quality black belt with an elegant, sleek buckle. It’ll go with trousers in black, grey or even greyish brown. If you like wearing brown pants, brown belts will go well with them.
13. Elegant, Minimalist Jewelry
The best idea is to have a pendant necklace, small studs, sleek earrings or a pearl necklace, or all of these as a part of your work wardrobe essentials. Mixing and matching just these can create many unique outfits. Even a sleek gold or silver chain with a small diamond pendant works well with button-up shirts or suits. You could also add a plain bracelet or a ring if you like taking it further. But ultimately, work outfits are all about minimalism.
14. A Sleek Watch
If you’re a watch wearer, a signature watch would be the perfect accessory to your formal outfits. If not, it’s a great accompaniment to work outfits every once in a while!
15. Black Opaque Tights/ Pantyhose
Some women prefer nude, but black goes with almost all outfits, and even works when you’re a day or two late to shave them! They’re perfect to pair with dresses or skirt suits in the winter. Or even in the summer, if your work environment is a little conservative.
16. Everyday Socks
If you like to wear flats, especially formal shoes like oxfords or brogues, a pair (or many) of plain cotton socks is a necessity. Formal shoes are great for when you don’t want to wear heels, so plain black or charcoal socks are the best bet, especially in cotton.
17. Grey or Black Cashmere Scarf
In the fall or wintertime, scarves are such an important part of an outfit. Unlike hat or gloves, scarves can be worn indoors, too. So it’s important to choose one that can go with your outfits, too and look formal.
18. Plain Flats
Plain ballet flats in neutral colors like black, nude, chocolate or navy are great to have in your list of work wardrobe essentials. If you’re not into ballet flats, invest in a good pair of formal boyfriend shoes like oxfords or derbys.
19. Black Pumps
There are certain formal outfits that just give a better look with heels, and that’s where pumps come in, even if you prefer flats for daily use. A pair of black pumps is a must have not just for working women, but for everyone. They work with nearly everything. A second addition would be nude pumps.
20. Formal Boots
If you live in a cold place, formal boots would be an important addition to work wardrobe essentials list. Go for hardware-free boots, like concealed zipper and without buckles, for an elegant look.Try to match your maximum outfits, like in cocoa or black. Grey, navy and tan are other good colors.
F. Hair Accessories
21. Hair Pins for Flyways
Hair pins or a headband is the kind of accessory one easily ignores, but shouldn’t. On the bad hair days, a ponytail tamed with hair pins can just make a fuss-free hairstyle that’ll create a good impression all day long!
22. Barrette/ Plain Hair Ties
If you have medium or long hair, plain black or brown hair ties, or matching your hair color are a great idea. Go for sleek ones that you can wear two together so that the ponytail doesn’t budge. They also help make simple chignons or buns. Or a plain barrette is a good alternative.
Lingerie, although never seen at the workplace (hopefully), still plays an important role in how the outfit would look. Here’s all you need:
23. Seamless Plain Bra
A lightly padded seamless bra is very important under a button-up shirt. I prefer full-coverage for work, especially under white shirts, since they don’t create “bra-lines”. Get one black, white and nude. Also, a seamless, padded unwired cotton bra is a must-have for the special time of the month when you just wanna be comfortable!
24. Seamless Panties/ Thongs
If your trousers or skirts fit very well at the hips, go for thongs to avoid panty-lines. If you have slightly loose trousers or flared skirts, even regular cheeky panties will work as long as they don’t create heavy panty-lines. Beware of the colors, too, if you’re wearing light-colored trousers.
25. Basic Cami (Black/ White/ Nude)
For the transluscent shirts and low-cut dresses, sweaters and shirts, a basic cami is a must-have for every working girl. Colors like navy, black and white are the most essential. Go for a snug, long one for dresses that helps you get a good shape in the tummy, too. For trousers, go for a shorter one that can be easily tucked in.
26. Nude Pink Lipstick
Makeup really depends on your personal preference. However, a light or nude pink lipstick works perfectly for most occasions, like work parties, interviews or presentations. Avoid hyper-glossy ones and just go for a comfortable formula that matches your lip color so you don’t have to retouch up every hour.
An eyeliner with a thin brush is a must, go for a color that matches your lashes so you can create a barely-there look.
28. Low Coverage Foundation/Tinted Moisturizer
For the no-makeup makeup look, a very light coverage foundation is all you need. Invest in a good formula that doesn’t need touch-ups, and/or also has SPF.
Loading up on mascara is not necessary for work, or even recommended. So go for a lightweight mascara that can be worn only on days your eyes are really tired, and you just need a pick-me-up!
I. Tiny Accessories
30. Plain Phone Cover
Yes, these days, you can’t just carry a phone with a glitzy, glimmery cover. Formal workplaces appreciate zero distractions. So go for a plain cover in a neutral color that looks professional.
31. Plain Handkerchief
So that if you get a cold, your desk isn’t full of embroidered flowers!
32. Sleek Leather Wallet
Ah yes, those trips to next-door coffee shops, when you’re out with colleagues and take out your wallet, make sure you give a professional impression with a beautiful wallet that looks as polished as you!
J. Finishing Touches
33. Light Daytime Perfume
Nobody appreciates a strong scent at the workplace. Keep it very light if you want to wear perfume, and spray on just a small amount!
K. Friday Dressing
34. Non-Faded/ Non-Ripped Well-Fitted Jeans
Even in casual work environments, it’s always good to look slightly polished. So straight-cut jeans that you can wear without second thoughts need to be on your list of work wardrobe essentials. Just pair ’em up with a shirt, tee, sweater or top. Add flats and you’re good to Fri-yay!
35. Plain Polo-Neck Tee-Shirt
Even a tee-shirt can look very polished, if it fits well, and looks clean, well-ironed. Go for a collared one (polo-neck). Pastels work best like sky blue, mint, petal pink and lavender.
So, I hope this list of work wardrobe essentials was helpful. Lemme know how it goes building your office wardrobe. Have any questions? You can post them on Ask Shilpa, and tag me in your work-wear pics on Instagram @shilpaahujadotcom!
Shilpa Ahuja a designer and entrepreneur. She is the editor-in-chief of ShilpaAhuja.com, which she founded with the goal of inspiring confidence in the modern working woman through fashion. Fashion has traditionally been for the rich, white, thin woman. That’s how it evolved over centuries and that’s how it’s been represented in fashion media. But Shilpa believes that with the changing role of women in the society, fashion has changed, too. She believes that fashion is for everyone, regardless of their age, gender, color, body type and background. So she translates runway fashion into easy style advice that one can incorporate into their daily lives. Shilpa’s work has been published in the University of Fashion blog and Jet Airways magazine. She is also an artist, illustrator and cartoonist. She is also the creator of Audrey O., a comic series that represents the lifestyle of millennial women. She enjoys creative writing and world travel. Her art has been exhibited at Harvard Graduate School of Design and the Aroma Hotel, Chandigarh and been published in Chandigarh Times. Originally from Chandigarh, Shilpa also has a professional degree in architecture and has worked in interior project management. She is also the author of the book “Designing a Chinese Cultural Center in India”. Shilpa has a Masters in Design Studies degree from Harvard University. For feedback and questions, please email [email protected]