How to Build a Work Wardrobe at… Nordstrom

how to build a work wardrobe

2017 Update: Curious about when the next big Nordstrom sale is? The big Nordstrom Half-Yearly Sale JUST started (Dec. 25, 2017-Jan. 2, 2018). Sign up for our newsletter to get our picks for workwear and beyond!

The below content is about the 2017 Nordstrom Half-Yearly Sale (summer edition).

As I mentioned this morning, Triple Points are available at Nordstrom from today through May 7 — and the store has a TON of classic wardrobe essentials if you’re looking for advice on how to build a work wardrobe for summer or freshen up an older wardrobe. A lot of these pieces in our Workwear Hall of Fame, but I thought I’d feature them here — as always, note that Nordstrom has long been a reader favorite because of their excellent customer service, long return policy, and all the reviews and ratings.

(You can earn Triple Points through the Nordstrom credit card, of course (you can check out our review on becoming a member here) or, in a newish policy, just by signing up for a Rewards card. For every 2,000 points you earn by spending at Nordstrom, Hautelook, or Nordstrom Rack, you’ll get a $20 Note to spend on anything you want.)

(Psst: I’m thinking of turning this into a series, in part because I vastly prefer to shop from/return purchases to one store rather than 15 zillion little store purchases — plus it’s been ages since we talked about how to build a capsule wardrobe for work, how to build a wardrobe for your summer internship, or how to revamp your work wardrobe.  What other stores would be at the top of your list if you wanted to build a work wardrobe? Perhaps ShopBop, Boden, Bloomingdale’s, J.Crew, J.Crew Factory, or Target? Talbots?)

See everything we picked out below — and please note that there are multiple “pages” of the little widget, so you may have to click the arrows to see everything.

how to build your work wardrobe | how to build a work wardrobe | how to build my work wardrobe

How to Build a Work Wardrobe at Nordstrom

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  1. Jewelry Insurance? :

    Hoping you wise ladies can help walk me through the process of designing and insuring a piece of expensive jewelry (in this case an engagement ring, but I would think the process applies more widely).

    My SO and I were fortunate enough to inherit a family diamond and we’ll be working with a jeweler to have it set. We have no paperwork on the diamond, so it makes me nervous to leave it with the jeweler in case it’s lost or intentionally swapped out. (We’ll obviously work with someone reputable, but I’d still like to be cautious.)

    I’ve made an appointment to have the diamond itself appraised before it’s set, but was told that it’s uncommon for any paperwork to be generated or for insurance to be sought prior to having the stone set.

    Does anyone have experience with this? Should I be asking for paperwork prior to leaving the stone with the jeweler to be set, or is this a case where I should just trust the jeweler (assuming I’m working with someone reputable)?

    • Have the stone appraised, then add it to a jewelry rider on your renter’s or homeowners insurance. Ask for part of the appraisal to include a map of the stone’s flaws/facets.

      • Thanks! Had not occurred to me to add it to my homeowners/renters insurance.

        • I think I did everything on my bank’s app. It’s a separate policy from homeowner’s at my bank but easily created with the appraisal info. And definitely have that done before you leave it overnight with the jeweler, or even let it out of your sight behind a counter. It may sound paranoid, but I had a friend whose diamond was switched out when it was taken back for a cleaning at a jeweler she had never been to before.

  2. Yay Kat! I can’t beleive we both LOVE Nordstrom’s so much! Mabye it is b/c we BOTH are lawyers and BOTH went to law school in DC, and both wound up workeing at law firms in NY City! Rosa really beleives we are “soul sisters”, b/c Rosa is my real sister, but even she does not have as much in common as I do with you, Kat! And mabye Kate too, tho you never told us if Kate went to law school also. So I recomend NORDSTROMs to the ENTIRE hive. If you go there, you will find a great selection and reasonable enough priceing! YAY!!!!!

  3. Anonymous :

    Love this new feature! Would be great if you would include more details on the items in the post so we don’t have to open a new page to see every one.

  4. Mama on the access road :

    I’m approaching working again after eight years as a full-time mom. I’m really looking forward to it, but want to make sure I’m ready and that my kid doesn’t have a bumpy ride as I transition. I anticipate moving for a new job, to someplace with four seasons, including a real winter. I’d like to be set to go when I hit the end of the on-ramp, not stop to shop when I should be merging with coworkers. I also want to avoid being trapped in by full prices. I don’t anticipate needing full banker/courtroom suits every day or wearing jeans/yoga pants and T-shirts, but since I don’t have a job yet (and am applying in N/W Europe and the NE USA), I don’t know exactly what the dress code will be.

    I’m trying to pick up versatile pieces at sales, Lyst, the Rack, etc. So far I’m getting dresses, particularly sheath dresses and blazers, structured cardigans, and other “sleeves” to wear with the dresses. I think I should start getting pants as well. I’ve gotten a lot of black, some black & tan, and cobalt or red pops of color.

    I’m not a big fan of jewelry, scarves, or other accessories. I do like boots, booties, and oxfords/loafers. I’m no longer young, but want to project enthusiasm and energy. I’d appreciate advice on building up a wardrobe for the job you don’t have yet/ building a wardrobe that can flex to accommodate different dress codes.

    • I’d….. wait? Until you know what kind of job you will have. Sounds like you have spent a lot of $$ already on clothes you haven’t even tried out in the work place yet.

      If $$ is no option…. well, honestly I would still wait! But it sounds like you are learning towards the formalism side so I would think about the basics….. One good interview suit. Maybe buy one, and if it has the options of jacket/pants/skirt/sheath dress, consider more pieces in a classic interview appropriate color.

      • Mama on the access road :

        Money is a huge issue!! I can pay $10 for a pair of J Crew pants or $18 for a dress at Talbots. I’m hesitant to wait, because on top of moving and getting my child set up in new surroundings and adapting at work, I would have to take time to find new clothes, which would be hard. If I waited, how could I get really low prices fast enough? The J Crew pants were recent, the dress before Christmas.

        I’ve spent under $200 so far

    • Mama on the access road :

      Commenting on my own post, because I’d like to steer back to my original question.

      Given the usual trade-off between time and money, and seeing as I can sometimes take a little time off from my care-giving role to shop online, I’ve been buying things at extreme discounts. When I start work, I’ll have limited time, and a month or more til the first paycheck, and need to show up at work in something.

      If I knew I could quickly and easily get Tahari skirts for $16 (I actually returned that one) when I started working, that’s what I’d count on, but will I really be able to do that? If so, then awesome!

      If not, then what work wear pieces do you find can move easily from one environment to another? I will go back and look at suggestions made to people moving from one dress code to another, on the pieces from the old shop they can use in the new one, would appreciate other suggestions too.

      • I think getting items at a discount is the right way to go. I’m prepping moving from active duty – uniform every day, to a civilian job soon and have been buying the clothes I want on ebay as much as possible. If you’re buying items at ~$20 then you’ll be able to build a versatile wardrobe at a great budget. I am a dress person, so I’ve been buying a ton of sheaths. If that works for you, I think it’s a great staple that can be changed easily with cardigans or jackets. If you’re a shirt and pants type then I would recommend buying a favorite shirts in multiple colors and tones and a few staple pants/skirts.

    • Women who have children and who work are also full-time mothers.

  5. Pro-tip, but said kindly: Don’t refer to yourself as having been a “full-time mom” when you get back to the office. It’s insulting to working mothers who don’t stop being mothers when they walk out the door. You were a SAHM.

    I did the MMLaFleur pop-up in Chicago today. I got the Winfrey shirt in black, the Woolf (longer) jardigan in taupe and the Ingrid dress in black. My stylist was very nice, but I was a bit annoyed bc I’d written a whole email to them about 2 weeks ago specifying my size, pieces interested in, color palettes, parts of my body I wanted to emphasize/de-emphasize, lifestyle considerations, etc. MMLF promised they’d send it to the stylist and it never happened, so nothing I wanted was on hand and the stylist had to start from scratch. The dressing area was just a screen in a common changing room and it was teeny-tiny, not a lot of privacy. But I did like the majority of clothes I tried on. Did anyone else go to the Chicago pop-up?

    • Part-Time Mom :

      Omg. She was/is a full time mom! That’s completely legit. This is not an insult to those of us also going into an office every day; it’s one person’s way of describing what she’s been doing all day every day. More power to you, full-time-mom-jumping-back-in-to-work.

      • Wildkitten :

        Aren’t all moms “full time moms”? I’m 31, long out of the home, and my mama is still a full time mom.

        • Mama on the access road :

          Thanks, anon at 7:47! No insults intended.

          During the six years I worked 60 hrs per week with a small child, there were times I worked at home with my kiddo at my feet, but also times that I would be in my office or interacting with professional colleagues. My role at that moment was not maternal (although I’d switch in an instant if I got a phone call about my kiddo, or when I was pumping). Of course I didn’t stop being a mother when I was focusing on something else. But these days, there isn’t a “something else” I focus on.

      • Mama on the access road :

        Thanks, Part-Time Mom! I’m looking forward to having professional activity (beyond trying to stay current by reading) be part of my daily routine again.

        I think I’ll use the words “hiatus” and “(unpaid) family leave time” in interviews and with new colleagues. Do those push anyone’s buttons?

        • Anonymous :

          Hmm, haven’t thought about it too much, but I would probably put it in as simple, less likely to be loaded terms as possible, and bonus points if you can tell a story that this is your master plan. E.g., “I have been staying home full time raising my children but always intended to go back to [x] field in [x] capacity once [they reached school age].” I feel like your proposed terms sound a bit formal–almost like you’re hiding something? But I would try to avoid stock terms like “SAHM” or “full-time mom” because these obviously are loaded.

    • How about we stop word policing and look at her intent, which was to clarify what she was doing pre-returning to work and not comment in any way shape or form about others own roles as mothers? Jesus.

      • Words matter. Full-time mom is one of those “code words” that slam working moms, as if we’re only doing it part time. It’s not out of bounds to warn her that she might get intense reactions to that term.

        That said, I personally take the opposite stance. Yes, I’m a working mom, but I really am NOT a full-time mom. I am always “on” and the second shift is hella real, but my 24 hour day includes quite a bit of time where I’m not in mom-mode. SAHMs don’t have that same pattern. Personally, I see the distinction and think it’s a fair one that in no way relates to the busy-ness or worth of either “side”, but recognize that others definitely do not see my way.

    • Never too many shoes... :

      Sharon, that was literally the first thing that I thought too but you beat me to saying it. Every mother is a full-time mother regardless of whether or not she has a career outside the home. It was a completely reasonable comment and delivered quite gently as well.

      As for you, OP, while I understand the benefit of planning ahead, it is really difficult to build a wardrobe for a job that you do not yet have, especially given your parameters as there is no way to know what the office culture will be like or what the sartorial expectations might include. That being said, sheath dresses with a topper (either cardigan or blazer) are hardly ever inappropriate but I would not go much further than that until you have a better sense of what is happening, apart from one killer interview suit.

      • Yes, every mother is always a mother, but OP did a lot more parenting/care duties than mothers who work outside the home. Fixing, feeding and cleaning a million meals and snacks, putting the kids for naps, changing more diapers, playing dolls and trucks ad nauseum…so maybe “full-time” mom isn’t the most precise terminology, but she is doing *more* mothering than the mom who works….in fact, an extra full-time job’s worth.

        • Mama on the access road :

          I do appreciate hearing the reaction here, rather than having someone I’m trying to impress at an interview or new job get angry over something I didn’t intend. When I was working (“full time”, even though there were hours every day when I wasn’t pursuing that career), I thought of it exactly as 9:09 describes. In my case, “mothering” is a very general description for both taking care of a slightly special-needs elementary/middle school child and elder care.

        • Never too many shoes... :

          As someone said above, words matter and your choice of words illustrates exactly that. I reject the idea that the OP (or any SAHM) does more “mothering” that a woman who works outside the home.

          She does more caregiving, but I do not think that those two words are synonymous and being cavalier with terminology is what gets us in trouble.

          • Mama on the access road :

            I recall the first few months working when I had an infant at home, particularly after his father left us and the first daycare had proven inappropriate. I never felt like I could put down the baby all the way and focus fully on work, even with a good sitter. Once he had a fantastic sitter (she didn’t just take him when she was sick, she held him for his entire 2-hour nap when he was sick, because he couldn’t sleep otherwise), I was relieved not to have to carry that any more. It really did affect the quality of my work, and feeling like I constantly had to pay attention to him, even when he was miles away and I was speaking in front of 90 people, was the hardest part of parenting for me to adjust to, particularly since I knew I was it, there was no one else there. What I hear you saying is that some women never put that down. That does sound really hard, and I would not want those people to feel that not having that division in my day was somehow an insult to them. What do you think of the two phrases I mentioned to “Part Time Mom” (her words)?

          • Ok, then we disagree. I think that caregiving done by a mother is “mothering”. Quantity time matters as much as quality time with kids, and just being with a kid presents all sorts of opportunities for teaching, guiding, caring, etc. Plus, kids are especially exhausting when you are the parent, responsible for their well-being and formation, and being with them full-time goes beyond just textbook caregiving.

        • Never too many shoes... :

          Careful Anon, your bias is showing – “Quantity time matters as much as quality time with kids” is just code for “you may think that a working mother is just as good as one who stays at home but she is definitely lesser than and don’t you forget it”.

      • Mama on the access road :

        A killer interview suit should be obvious, but oddly enough, I hadn’t considered it. Do you know when there are good sales on suits or if Nordstrom’s includes them in their summer sale?

        • Never too many shoes... :

          I am in Canada, so I never have the lead on those kinds of deep, deep discounts on things but hopefully one of the other women here can help!

    • nasty woman :

      “I stayed at home full time.”


      • Mama on the access road :

        That works for me!

        What do you think of calling it family leave time? I don’t want to suggest that it was somehow granted by an employer, but otherwise it is the most accurate descriptor I can think of: I’ve left my career (temporarily) to be with family. Later in conversation, I think I’ll just say “my hiatus” or “while I was away”, which I hope will sidestep the whole thing and not call attention to any out-of-work role of mine.

        • Baconpancakes :

          Not a parent, but I really like precise language (you never really stop being an English major), so how about “During my hiatus” and if pressed, “I took time to focus on my family,” which is the language basically every man who quits a job or leans out seems to use.

          Re clothing, I agree that you probably shouldn’t spend a lot of money shopping right now. Things that are pretty much always appropriate, can be mixed up for multiple levels of formality, and will get you through two weeks: two sheath dresses, a pair of pants, a pencil skirt, a silky blouse, a crisp blouse, a lightweight cardigan/jardigan, two shells, and a lightweight short-sleeve sweater. One sheath dress, the pants, and the pencil skirt can be separates of a suit. Personally, I add blazers to the mix, because if I’m in a casual office I wear blazers with jeans, and otherwise wear them over everything, but I skew formal even in casual situations to make up for my personality, coloring, and body shape.

          • Mama on the access road :

            I’ve noticed before that your comments are insightful and kind, just like this one. Thanks!

            I don’t have any pencil skirts (don’t look good on my body), but have these, which may be too casual. They hit just above my knees.

          • This is excellent advice. I have been told I have a kindergarten teacher/sunday school teacher sweetness to my personality. Not a positive thing for an Executive Admin. So I have to project authority and blazers do it for me as well

      • I actually just hired somebody who was coming back after almost 3 years out of a very high stress workforce. My office is not nearly as high stress and many in my office/company have children and families that they balance. Her saying “I was home full-time with my family” worked very well in her interviews: it conveyed what she needed to convey and, combined with the volunteer work that she was able to talk about, she really sealed the deal. There are some very minor reentry things to take care of, but she is a great fit already.

  6. Great idea for a series! If you do expand it to cover other stores, I would love to see a post on Boden and Talbots. I’m more plus-sized than not, and I know and love these two and their sales cycles. ;-) J Crew and Banana Republic would also be interesting, even though their sizing doesn’t work for me, because their pieces can feel very crisp and modern while still appropriate for a professional environment.

  7. Anonymous :

    Yes! Please do the summer internship wardobe! I’m moving quite far from home for mine and luggage limits will be putting a damper on my work wardrobe

    • For the summer intern, or entry-level wardrobe, could you do a budget version – say a very basic entry-level work capsule for under $250? When I was starting out, I had zero money and zero ideas of what was work-appropriate. It felt really risky to spend $100 on a single outfit when I didn’t even really know my work-style yet or whether it would even be appropriate for my particular department. Maybe stores like Kohls, Old Navy, Gap, Target? If you had to, you could treat typical mall-stores as one place, so like Gap/ Old Navy/ Forever 21/ H&M/ etc, but again keep it budget-friendly.

      • Mama on the access road :

        That sounds like my budget! Right now I’m keeping my eye on the Houndstooth Going Places dress and the Buckle dress in 4-season wool at JCrew. At over $60, they are way out of my price range, (and I should probably be looking for pants now anyway).

    • Anonymous :

      Seconding this request! As a fellow student, it’s hard for me to stomach spending more than about $500 max to create all of the outfits (including shoes, purses, and accessories) I’ll need this summer. What should I focus on? Thanks!

    • Simple black pants (not too form-fitting and full-length), black flats, black purse, a few black tank tops (again, ones that offer some coverage — no spaghetti straps) and a couple of cardigans and a blazer in a contrasting color will cover most situations. Your wealthier colleagues in your age cohort may think your clothes are boring, but the people who are going to hire or recommend you will only care that you look “appropriate.” (But my experience is in law — if you’re in fashion or advertising, maybe you need more variety.)

  8. Baconpancakes :

    Yesterday’s suit made me start lusting after a white blazer again, after giving it up as a lost cause two years ago and settling on a pink ponte blazer that has served me quite well.

    I’ve had bad luck with cotton blazers looking extremely wrinkled quickly, so I’m leaning towards an ivory linen blazer since it’s already rumpled and supposed to look like it. Thoughts?

    • Late so you may not see this but I had a blush linen blazer a couple years ago and I got rid of it because I hated the rumpled look. I bought a white (ponte I think) blazer from BCBG a few years ago and it was the perfect material because it doesn’t get wrinkled. There are things out there! Keep searching if you don’t like the wrinkled look.

  9. Great idea. How about a series post featuring a responsibly made brand(s) like Everlane or Grana?

  10. Im not a student but real budget items from mass retailers would be great. Target, old navy, even walmart. For some of us job hunting (esp us plus size gals) even 250 is a burden.

  11. This feature would be more helpful if each thumbnail specified whether the item is available in petite and/or plus sizes. I kept clicking through only to find that it’s not available in my size.

    Also, maybe some tips on how to combine these things?

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