2021 Update: Check out our latest discussion about workwear workhorses!
Reader S has a question about which wardrobe items become surprise basics for the working woman…
Would love to hear you and readers share which pieces have unexpectedly come into your regular wardrobe rotation. For example, I know that you’ve found purple pumps to be quite versatile. Now that many of us have found the classic basics, what are some pieces that you have found to be surprise basics?
Great question! Personally, I find that there is little way to predict what will be a favorite — it depends on how an item wears, what surprises it holds (how low does that neckline go if you lean forward?), and how it fits after you’ve laundered it at least once. Still — there have been a few unexpected basics in my working wardrobe, including purple pumps, as reader S correctly points out. (Pictured.) Other things that might not be on every woman’s must-have list of items, but are items I’ve never regretted purchasing:
Colored purses. I find that really any color of purse works perfectly with my style — I have white, black, yellow, blue, green, red, purple — even multi-colored bags. I have found that I don’t carry brown bags as often, but that’s me. Personally, I find colored purses to be more versatile than colored shoes — I’ve had some bad experiences with teal-colored shoes (my pale legs looked positively sick) and other lighter-colored shoes (hello, smudges and scrapes). I wear my kelly green purse a surprising amount — it’s a fun, happy color that doesn’t make it into much else in my wardrobe.
Olive-colored pants. I’ve always found this particular color of pants to be surprisingly versatile. I wear them with black tops, gray tops, even purple tops. A few years ago I even had a pair of olive green pants and an olive cardigan that matched almost perfectly, so I wore them together (with, I think, a purple tank beneath) — it’s more fun than wearing all-black, but not quite as matchy-matchy as wearing, say, all red or all gray.
A good watch. Hey, no one wears watches anymore, right? We have our cell-phones and our computers and Outlook alarms to tell us what to do, when. Still: next time you’re at a big networking lunch, take a look around — and you’ll be surprised by how many high-quality watches surround you on other wrists, of both men and women. It makes a statement about personality (are you a Cartier or Rolex person?), and it also has a subconscious trigger that shows reliability and attention to detail. It also has a slight “I’m a member of the club” effect, which can be useful when networking. This shouldn’t be a splurge but, rather, a planned purchase. (I “bought” my watch for my 30th birthday — but it took me a year and a half of researching and deciding before I actually plunked down my credit card.)
A good set of pearls. Or even a good set of fake pearls. But talk about surprisingly versatile — I wear mine to almost every big networking event like a conference, as well as to interviews. Pearls are also great for “stodging” up a hip look — after all, they are white and basic and go with everything. I’ve also used mine to “raise the neckline” of sometimes questionable tops — the bright white of pearls tends to bring the focus up to your face. Mine are around 7.5MM or so, I think, and I prefer the slightly longer 18″ length (but 16″ is also classic). Look for pearls that are as close to round and symmetrical as possible.
I think that’s about everything that might be a “surprise” basic for me — but I’ll keep thinking. Meanwhile, things that have been disappointments include:
- some bags that I bought because I really, really wanted to own something from that designer — and not so much because I liked the bag itself. I have a brown Bulga and a red Kate Spade that I never wear, and they make me sad.
- some “must-have” basics — the white blouse, for example. I’m just not a person who wears white that often, plus I hate ironing. Similarly, you have to know your own body — a boxy Chanel-type jacket is probably never going to look right on my hourglassy figure, and any pant with a tapered ankle just looks out of balance with my hips.
Readers, what are your surprise workwear basics? Which items surprised you by NOT being worn as much as you’d have thought?