Ladies, is one of your resolutions to have a more minimal wardrobe for work? I’ve seen a lot of reader conversations about it, and been asked a bunch about it over the years, so I’m finally rounding up my tips: here’s the minimalist’s guide to dressing for work! If you’ve done a closet revamp (or built a work wardrobe from scratch) recently, what are your best tips on having a minimal work wardrobe?
For all the readers starting to think about building a wardrobe for a summer internship or otherwise creating a capsule wardrobe for work, what would you advise them? Do you think a minimal work wardrobe necessarily means having a work uniform or being ok to repeat outfits at work?
1. Pick a consistent base.
Pick a consistent base color for your wardrobe essentials for work like pants, sheath dresses, blazers, jardigans, and more. For a lot of women that means black or gray.
Here are some of our favorite pants for work:
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2. Consider factors like garment care, weather, and ethics.
Pay attention to thinks like:
As you’re building your wardrobe pay attention to how things need to be cared for, and what you’re wiling to do. If you have one piece that is “dry clean only,” it may get waylaid at the bottom of the drycleaning bag and be out of commission for longer than you would like.
Your laundry schedule
In my last “single girl” apartment, the laundry was four flights down and there were only two machines, so I wound up clearing an entire weekend once a month to do laundry.
Later, when we moved into an apartment with a washer and dryer (and had a baby who required constant loads of laundry!), I wondered why I had SO many workout clothes and t-shirts I never wore, and towels I never used. It took me way too long to realize it was because my laundry schedule was totally different in the new apartment!
Seasonality and layers
How many cashmere sweaters do you really need if it rarely goes below 40 where you live? Similarly, consider whether you really need things like linen suits or blazers. A bottom layer like silk long johns may seem like it doesn’t make sense, but because you can wear it with multiple clothes it may be a better investment than several pairs of super warm pants that you only wear once or twice a year.
The goal, of course, is to buy well made clothes that will last a long time. If you notice that your clothes aren’t lasting very long because they start to look old with pilling, discoloring, and more, it’s time to avoid that brand of clothing or fabric choice.
You may want to focus on slow fashion and buying things made with environmentally friendly fabrics, produced in America or other factors
3. For basics, consider buying multiples of what you love.
For example, for socks, tights, underwear, bras, t-shirts, and sleepwear, if you find one you love, just stock up — it reduces your mental load to buy duplicates of your favorite clothes. Do keep in mind the other factors, though, like seasonality, your laundry schedule, and more.
Readers looooove these sweater jackets:
Pictured above, great sweater jackets for the office as of 2023: cream* / navy / black* / burgundy* / cropped black (also this Anthro one, and Kat loves this one*!) (* available in plus sizes)
4. Know your neutrals.
For some women that might be beige; for others it may be cream; for others it may be caramel. Pale blue or pink can often act as a neutral as well. The trick is to know what’s flattering to you, what works with the rest of your minimal wardrobe base, and importantly, what you’ll wear.
5. Pick a limited color palette for accents.
We talked about this with our discussion of capsule wardrobes for work a few years ago, where I illustrated how even if you pick bold colors like red, purple, and royal blue, you can keep a consistent look with a minimal wardrobe. If you want to get fancy, you can pick a favorite multicolored thing you own — maybe it’s a scarf, or a sweater — and pull the colors from that scarf into a color palette.
You can buy a minimum number of pieces but establish a consistent, pulled-together look that transcends style or trend.
Pictured at top (white shirts): Deposit Photos / WorldWide_Stock.
I buy multiples of everything and I don’t know how other people survive if they don’t. All my socks and underwear are the same, all my pants and jeans are the same (just different colours), if I find a top I love I buy it in multiple colours, etc. I’m very loyal to particular styles or brands. It just makes everything so much easier. I grew up with my mother shopping this way so it never occurred to me not to.
My work dress code is very very lax, so I have adopted a winter uniform of a cashmere/silk Banana Republic sweater and jeans or pants. It’s kind of boring I’m put together, comfortable, and warm. I also stick with a palette of black, grey, cream, navy, and occasionally army green or lighter shades of blue.
My work wardrobe got much easier to handle when I shifted it to all dresses. I pick dresses with sleeves so I don’t have to wear a blazer in my more formal workplace. For client meetings, I keep a few blazers in my office that work well with the uniform color palette of my dresses. I have a couple work bags that match with all my dresses. And my shoes similarly match. I wear the same earrings most days and rotate a few different necklaces depending on what I feel like wearing. I like that I no longer have to make decisions in the morning or set out my clothes ahead of time. I just grab whatever is clean and know that it’s going to look good.
Anon @ 2:37
Similar to Anon @ 2:09, I am a big fan of multiples.
Do you change colors for different seasons, or have one wardrobe for all seasons? I am interested in adopting more dresses but am not sure whether to swap textures/ colors/ etc.
I don’t live somewhere with real seasons, but I have two sweater dresses that are reserved for fall and winter. And I have a brighter floral dress that I am more likely to grab in the summer. But generally, I don’t change it up because I don’t have to.
Anon @ 2:37
I don’t change colors for different seasons. I do have maybe 5 wool dresses with longer sleeves that I only wear in the winter.
I do. I live in the Bay Area and work in one of the warmer suburbs. So we don’t get snow or anything but we do have seasonal differences in temperature. Mostly I wear different fabrics for different seasons (wool and cashmere in the winter, cotton and linen in the summer, silk year round) but the lighter fabrics tend to come in lighter colors. I also don’t wear as much black in the summer. Don’t get me wrong, I think black in the summer can be very chic, and I wore it for a long time (I used to have a sharply cut black linen and cotton dress that was so, so stylish) but I am often sick of black by the time it gets warm, and I will be dying to wear navy and light beige and pink.
Yes! Now when for some reason I can’t wear a dress, I’m like “ah! I have to match pants and a shirt?!” whereas with dresses it’s like, “I picked this thing and now I am dressed.” If I want to feel fancy (or if I have a hickey) I have some pretty, multicolored scarves that match pretty much all my dresses (one color palette) and my shoes are grey/silver/black, so they go with all my clothes. Black tights and an LJ in the winter, black or grey blazer when required, done.
In the summer I only wear dresses. It makes life so easy. I used to have a few pairs of “summer” pants but then I always stressed about what tops to wear about them…no more. Dresses spark joy.
+1 to your last sentence. Dresses spark so much joy.
My business formal wardrobe is now 100% sheath dresses with jardigans and blazers. For everyday office wear and casual wear I maintain a limited color palette, but for business formal (travel and off-site meetings, never in the office) I have dresses in a wider variety of colors. The sheath dress silhouette provides enough continuity to maintain a consistent signature look without restricting the color palette, and it’s hard to find sheath dresses that are flattering and fit a limited color palette unless you’re willing to have only black dresses.
I can’t call myself a minimalist, but I do have a closet that works for me for any occasion and I always have something to wear.
I have tops and skirts, mostly, and some pants in all of my base colors – black, charcoal, and a deep brown this time of year. Lots of navy in the summer, and some more muted browns. My basic look is to wear a “column of color” – top and bottom in a matching base color, plus a third piece, usually in a different color but not always. So, today it’s a black skirt and a black top (Eileen Fisher basics in washable wool knit) with a purple wool cardigan that has some structure. I can always look into my closet and grab a top and skirt or top and pants that match, and then the only decision is what color to wear for the third piece.
I also have shoes and tights that go with all of my base colors.
The reason I’m not a minimalist is that I have probably too many options for the third piece – this is my way to indulge in a color or texture that catches my eye – and definitely have multiples of the base pieces.
I also have lots of shoes and scarves. And don’t get me started on jewelry.
So, not a minimalist, but I for sure have a working uniform and always have something to wear that works.
I have very few prints. I feel like that’s where it’s easy to go astray. I have a few printed tops for casual summer outfits but other than those, any print I wear comes from a scarf.
Same. I love color, and an aptitude test showed that color discrimination is a strength, so I wear the rainbow, but not every shade, not at all times of year, and mostly solids. The clothes mix and match, although not with every other item. I wear scarves frequently, and they are usually multicolored.
So when I get dressed and know the weather and formality, I usually choose one item I’d like to wear that day and build around it, because there will be a coordinating shirt / pants/ blazer/ skirt/ sweater/ scarf/ pants/shoes/etc.
I’m the same way – especially if something is on sale, I stock up! Makes getting dressed so much easier when I have to get the kids ready and out the door in the mornings! I’m a lawyer working in a business casual office.
Inspired by this mornings discussion on resumes and objectives, what are the “sections” or “headers” on your resume? And what’s your industry and career stage:
Mid-20s, data scientist
Education, Skills, Professional Experience, Volunteering, Selected Projecta
I’m going to be doing a very long weekend in Rio in March – am looking for recommendations! Am flying down to meet a good friend who has a work trip, so location/timing isn’t moveable (and it’s a cheap flight for me, since I’m in Miami). Thoughts on restaurants/must-dos/places to avoid/best places to stay? Especially for two early 30s women on their own –
I’m doing Project 333 for the second time right now, and I love it. My instagram (@alexistahinci) shows what’s in my current capsule wardrobe: https://www.instagram.com/p/BsDvqjOHV3S/. I’ve basically eliminated brown and most navy from my wardrobe and focus on gray and black as neutrals. Most of my tops can be worn to work or in casual settings. Most of my items this time around are solid colors, with the exception of one houndstooth jacket and one printed scarf. Having a limited wardrobe makes it so much easier to get dressed and I spend virtually no time thinking about what to wear – it frees up a lot of mental energy for other things. So far I haven’t really felt inappropriately dressed for anything. I’ve written some blog posts about Project 333 – here’s my recent recap from the first time I did it: http://alexigraph.com/project-333-recap/