I recently received an offer to work in a firm that has a business dress code. I’ve been working for the last few years in a business casual environment, and I’m not sure how to adjust my wardrobe accordingly. Any suggestions for a few key pieces to give my wardrobe the extra oomph?
We’ve talked before about how to transition your wardrobe from a conservative office to a very business casual office, but we haven’t talked about the reverse. I’m curious to hear what readers say here… these are the individual pieces that feel the most “formal” to me (and accordingly, felt the least appropriate when I went from BigLaw to a casual nonprofit a few years ago).
- Classic pumps. Particularly: an almond or pointy toe, thin heels, at least 2-3″ high. (I’ve pictured the Stuart Weitzman Whoopsie shoe above (on sale at Zappos — was $350 now $199 in black and beige), but take a look at our most recent black pumps roundup to get ideas in other price points. The Guide to Comfortable Heels may also be of help here.
- Pearls. If you don’t already wear a strand of simple pearls, you may be doubtful — but I promise, they’ll be a worthwhile piece to add to your wardrobe, even in a faux set (like this Kate Spade strand at Nordstrom for $128). A dress in a fun print or color can be “muted” with a pair of pearls and a blazer, and pearls go well with almost every blouse. They have the added advantage of being so near your face that when you’re talking to someone else the immediate impression you give is one of a conservative professional.
- Ask yourself if you can add a blazer and/or a camisole. For every outfit that you’re wearing, ask yourself: could I use a camisole here? How about a blazer? When in doubt, raise your neckline, and add structure to your outfit with a blazer. (For example, this Adale blazer by Ted Baker ($295 at Nordstrom) looks like a great black blazer to wear over everything. (Also: here’s our most recent camisole roundup.)
- Think in terms of structured pieces. Pencil skirts, fitted sheath dresses, crisp button-front blouses… they can all go a long way towards dressing up your former wardrobe. Similarly, see if you can add structure to looser pieces (e.g., instead of wearing a waterfall cardigan by itself, can you belt it?).
- Finally, we’ve had a lot of discussions about what pieces may be questionable at more conservative offices — as always these aren’t definitely off limits, but the best advice is to learn your office before you wear them. Here’s the what not to wear to work list for winter, as well as what not to wear to work for summer list.
Readers, what do you think of as the “most” conservative pieces to add to a working wardrobe? Have any of you transitioned from a business casual office to a conservative office — what were your biggest challenges (wardrobe or otherwise)?