Workhorses for Your Working Wardrobe

working wardrobe workhorses

2017 Update: We still stand by our thoughts on workhorses for your working wardrobe, but if you’re building a wardrobe for work for the first time you may want to check out The Ultimate Guide to Business Casual for Women and our Wardrobe Essentials for Work.

Ladies, what are the workhorses in your working wardrobe? Are there any surprises in there — things that you reach for a ton more than you thought you would when you bought them? On the flip side, which were the wardrobe disappointments — the things you thought you’d wear a ton but found aren’t that versatile? (Are there any suiting pieces in the mix on either side, either bought as separates or as a suit set?)

When we last discussed surprise basics for workwear, I called out my love of colorful purses, olive-colored pants, a good watch, and nice pearls as things that I was surprised to find myself wearing a ton. (I’ve had good luck with dark olive pants, like the ones pictured, as well as lighter olives with more brown in them. I’d wear the pictured pants with neutrals like black, white, navy, gray (as well as with cobalt); pastels like peach/pink, lavender, or French blue; dark eggplant, or even limited pops of red or orange.) I’ve also written of other things that are outside the usual “must have” lists, including very light gray pants instead of summer whites, velvet blazers for festive in-office holiday luncheshuggie earrings, light blue blazers, and purple pumps. It also came up a bit with our discussion of light blue suits, with lots of readers noting that they often wear a pair of colorful blue trousers or a colorful blue blazer (but not together).

(Pictured above: shoes / pants / earrings)

In our last discussion, some of the items the readers noted they loved included:

  • fake pearls
  • red shoes (pictured above, on sale today)
  • stud earrings (love these modern ones, pictured above — available in silver, gold, and rose gold!)
  • belts
  • colorful coats and blazers

On the disappointment side of things, everyone noted they never wore button-down shirts. This is on my mind because I just saw some fashion rule about thirds: buy a third as much clothing as you used to buy, but pay 3x as much per piece. This way, the reasoning goes, you’ll always look like a million bucks. Yet that strategy has failed for me, and some of my worst “wardrobe disappointments” came from me trying to do just that — level up my wardrobe by replacing a cheap piece with a “nice” piece. The boots I bought for $17 at DSW were somehow perfect and I wore them everywhere — but when I finally tried to level up and spent $300 on a similar pair of calf leather boots from a little NY boutique, the boots just sat in my closet, unworn. (The toes were too pointy, and I somehow seemed prone to stubbing my toe while wearing the boots — and the heel felt wobblier.) #Shoppingfail. Similarly, the one bag I’ve really splurged on — my LV Alma — I actually never wear because I find it uncomfortable to carry it by the handle, yet don’t like the look of it with the shoulder strap.

So let’s hear it, ladies — what in your closet do you find yourself reaching for, again and again, and pairing in different ways? What did you buy thinking it would be a wardrobe workhorse, and instead it just sits there, never worn? 

Workhorses for Your Work Wardrobe Pin


  1. The only button-down shirt I ever wear is chambray. It looks nice with black or olive pants.

    Most worn items: Longchamp nylon tote; J Crew Cece flats in black, nude, cognac, and bright colours; stud earrings; Gap black ankle pants; shirt dresses; open-front cardigans in black, grey and white.

    For reference, my office is very casual business casual. I’m wearing a t-shirt dress and flats today, one of my coworkers is in gym shorts, and nobody cares.

  2. My “surprise” workhorse is maroon/burgundy pants. They go with everything. I’ve had one pair or another in rotation since 2004 or 2005, and I’m always on the hunt for the next pair.

    I generally reach for interesting colored shoes as well. I’ve given up on buying brown shoes because I never wear the ones I have. The last two summers have been all about my silver ballet flats – they make black clothing seem more summery, and they go with so much. I don’t like ballet flats in the winter – any suggestions for a more cold-weather silver shoe? I’ve seen brogues but those don’t really work for me.

    • What brand are your flats?

      I have a pair of dark silver/pewter Cole Haan ballet flats that are starting to look pretty beat up. They’re probably 7 or 8 years old and I wear them all. the. time. I’d like to replace them but haven’t seen a similar color from Cole Haan in ages.

      • Target, of all places. I was pregnant last summer and my feet were so swollen that I had to buy a few pairs of shoes that didn’t cover the top of my foot. So I bought four pairs of their ballet flats thinking they’d get me through the summer but I’m still wearing them and they still look good.

        Pewter might be a better bet for winter, I should start thinking about that.

    • Surprisingly, I got a TON of use out of a pair of gray booties last winter. Great with dresses and tights, ankle pants and even jeans. For reference, I work in a business casual office in Northern California, so winter isn’t brutally cold and inhale some flexibility in office attire.

    • I get so much wear out of Oxblood pants from the Limited. They’ve held up surprisingly well for years!

  3. Wildkitten :

    Workhorse: Flats
    Shoes I spent 3x/13 on and don’t wear: Heels.

    Workhorse: open front black cardigans
    3x/3: Earrings I can’t sleep in.

    • pugsnbourbon :

      +1 to open front cardigans in black and, for me, gray. I’ve gotten decent mileage out of cheapie ones from JCPenney and Target, but I’m looking to upgrade a little this fall.

      • I just got a shorter length charcoal gray cardigan from LOFT that looks nice. That might be a good place to look for cardigans.

  4. My surprise workhorse: a pair of light burgundy / purple suede heels. I grabbed them at Nordstrom one day on a whim – they have a 2.5 inch heel, round toes, and a wide t-strap. They have kind of a vintage-y feel to them – I get lots of comments about them being cute. And they’re super comfy! And they often add a perfect pop of color to otherwise neutral outfits.

    My surprise failure: I have a whole closet full of black tops because I always think “oh, they’ll go with everything!” but because I wear black pants nearly every day, the black tops just sit there. I realize I could either just wear all black or buy some different pants… and yet neither of those things happen.

    • Yes, I’ve found the same thing with black tops. I can wear jeans to work so my black tops do get some use, but I prefer black on the bottom.

    • Marshmallow :

      Black tops look great with a jewel tone on the bottom, but all-black can be chic. Just as long as the fabrics are different enough. Yesterday I wore a black shell with black ankle pants, a big gold necklace, and patterned flats. Threw on some aggressively mirrored sunglasses for my commute and felt very Big Apple.

      • Wildkitten :

        Yeah one of my projects for turning 30 was to decide my uniform and I decided all black is my uniform.

        • Me too! It’s so easy to get dressed when everything is just black. Every once in a while I’ll wear navy or gray to shake it up.

    • I really love black tops with lightish gray bottoms for some reason. Add a color in something else (usually burgundy shoes), and I feel really put together. So, look for one gray skirt or pants, and you’ll be golden.

      • Agreed. I wear black tops with gray quite a bit. I like the idea of adding a colorful shoe; I haven’t been brave enough to do that at work.

        • Do it! Colored shoes are the best!

          Start with a more muted color – I have a pair of burgundy Michael Kors that really go with so much, and, while I wouldn’t wear them to an interview, I would say are really unlikely to raise eyebrows in even a very prim office.

    • Anonymous :

      I love black tops & black pants with a cream jacket. When I wear this combo I always get compliments.

  5. Workhorses:

    – Trim-fitting open front cardigans – these are my toppers when it’s too hot for a blazer. I have 2 from Nic & Zoe, and 2 Eileen Fisher, plus a cheap Express one that I need to replace with an upgrade.
    – Red shoes! Love, love, love red shoes when I’m wearing no color or limited color (which is most of the time).
    – Leopard shoes – same function as the red, go with different outfits.
    – Sculptural silver pendant – Most “statement” necklaces overwhelm me a bit, but I have a medium/large pendant with some dimension that works with so many outfits. It was a gift when I left my first healthcare position, and I’m still wearing it (today, even!) 8 years later.

    Wardrobe disappointments:

    – This may sound crazy to many of you, but sleeveless sheath dresses which are not part of a suit. I know there are many women who view these as workhorses, but I always have trouble finding a jacket or cardigan that works with the color, weight/texture, and proportion of the dress. So I now remind myself when dress shopping that it needs sleeves or a matching jacket, or I’m throwing it back.

    Dressier end of business casual/casual end of business formal office, for reference.

  6. Marshmallow :

    — Daily uniform, no surprises: Black pumps or flats, sheath dresses, ankle pants
    — Forest green pants. They look great with black shirts and accessories.
    — Black ponte dresses from Target. $18!
    — MM LaFleur dresses. The fit is great and they have a lovely range of jewel tones.
    — Silk shells and cashmere sweaters from Everlane
    — Lululemon “City Trek Trousers.” They are best for casual days but they’re so comfy I have multiple pairs.
    — Blazers, especially my Rachel Roy ponte blazer. Comfy but looks sharp.
    — Geometric goldtone jewelry, black diamond stud earrings
    — Smartwatch (I have the Isaac Mizrahi HP one). I feel totally naked without it.

    Surprise duds:
    — Pencil skirts. I own so many beautiful wool pencil skirts from a splurge when I was new to practice, and I just don’t wear them. Keeping a shirt tucked in is so annoying. I also think they don’t work with flats.
    — Button-down shirts. I splurged on two nice ones from The Shirt and while they fit my bust great, I’m annoyed by (again) having to keep them tucked in, ironing, etc. I only wear them when I absolutely must.
    — Bright or patterned items. I used to have such a preppy style in my previous career and in law school, but all my emerald green, pink, or floral items just felt juvenile in NYC Biglaw. I don’t need to look cute or interesting, just put together.
    — Cardigans. I don’t know what it is, but my extensive collection of Jackie cardigans just doesn’t seem to fit my wardrobe anymore. I wear a blazer or big, lightweight scarf if I get cold at the office.

    • +1 to hatred of button-up shirts (and yet I keep 3 in my closet just in case).

      • BabyAssociate :

        +2 hatred of button-down shirts. The tucking, ironing, and boob gap is just such a pain.

        • This might not work for more formal offices, but I’ve started knotting the very bottom of the button down so it becomes a tie-waist look (can just fold the extra fabric under in the back). I’ve worn this with pencil skirts (so annoying to have the shirt line show through) and with white jeans on casual days. Looked really sharp with a lemon yellow skirt, chambray button down, and chunky necklace on a casual Friday.

    • Anonymous :

      I also have a lot of Jackie cardigans and pencil skirts gathering dust in my closet. I will sometimes wear one of the Jackies with wide-legged linen pants, but with regular pants or a pencil skirt they feel dated.

      I have been pairing the cotton pencil skirts with flowing tops from Pleione, but I still can’t figure out how to style the wool ones for winter. I used to wear them with fitted cashmere pullover sweaters (mostly v-neck), tights, and boots. Last winter that ensemble felt frumpy, especially because I have to wear a thin long-sleeved t-shirt under the sweaters because I am horribly allergic to cashmere. This winter I am thinking of trying a slouchy sweater and ankle boots. Other suggestions, anyone?

      And +3 on hatred of button-down shirts. They just look too messy.

      • Marshmallow :

        Yeah, I have tried those same combinations with limited success. All mine are wool. They might work with sheer black tights and ankle boots in the winter, I’ll have to give that a try. The biggest sticking point for me is that I hate wearing them with a shirt that needs to be tucked in (even a cami under a sweater) because they tend to spin on me and then the shirt spins too. Maybe a demi-cami and fitted sweater would be a better combination.

    • I want ALL the pencil skirts!! My office is biz cas so I wear them with a blousy/flowy button down, a cardigan buttoned over a white tank, or a fitted sweater over a white tank. I also wear them with flats sometimes. *shrugs*

  7. I see shoes as a commodity, so I buy a new black pair every six months or so and try not to spend more than $100/pair (and I will buy in another option, like tan suede / leopard / burgundy at the same time). It keeps me with an A+ pair and several A- through B- pairs to rotate through.

    Surprise: $50 Dirty Monkey black patent non-leather wedges from Zappos. Would rebuy on next order just to have a spair pair.

    Fail: all-leather highly recommended $300 pair of shoes. They weren’t perfect for my feet (= at the end of the day, my foot was bleeding, which has never happened before).

    Meh: Hermes scarves. Lovely. And afraid I will ruin. They stay in the box a lot. When they come out, I take them off if I am eating at my desk (it’s like a guy tucking in his tie). Otherwise, I limit foods to the non-stainy, non-gloppy, and tan.

    Great: scarves from Uniqlo! Cheap, pretty, wear with abandon.

    Meh: BR Sloan pants. I like them. They are comfortable. But they make me look even more pear-shaped. BR curvy-cut suiting pants are divine though!

    Love: bottoms from Athleta. They have really worked well with my pear shape. I try to try on in the store — my Athleta style seems to vary by size and sometimes by color. They do a good olive pant.

    • I don’t have an Hermes scarf (I wish) but I have several friends who do, and they don’t wear them either. Too afraid of ruining them!

      • Anonymous :

        I only wear my giant scarf… I always feel too flight attendant in the 36×36

        • Anonymous :

          OP here. I am really digging the maxi-twilly shape. That I can work with. And my budget says non to the larger shawls / wraps / things.

      • anon-oh-no :

        I have 4 and wear them all. the. time. FWIW, I had just 1 (my favorite, oddly enough) for years and years and it just sat in my closet. Then I spent some time figuring out how to wear it, and now I love it. purchased another one at a silent auction, one on a trip to Paris, and my husband brought another one back from a trip to Europe. also have a Pucci and Ferragamo in the same size/shape in the rotation.

        Easiest way to wear: fold in half triangle-way, then tie the ends and wear like an infinity scarf.

        • Hermes scarf :

          I am framing my beautiful Hermes scarf.

          I just can’t pull of wearing it, and while the print is gorgeous (with a beautiful music/violin theme, and I am a violinist) I realized the colors don’t work well for my wardrobe. But the work for my apartment….

          • I wear mine as a belt. I do this with a lot of my silk scarves. I like the idea of framing one too though.

  8. Would anyone hesitate to wear a suit with a collarless blazer to oral argument in federal appellate court? Is it better to be as classic as possible?

    • Marshmallow :

      I’m junior so take what I say with a grain of salt, but I think if the suit is otherwise classic that’s fine. I just observed a day of arguments in the First Circuit and saw several attorneys in less “classic” suits, such as linen or with contrasting color details.

    • Betterandbetter :

      Federal paralegal and not an attorney but I’ve actually observed arguments in a couple of different circuits and I think it depends on where it is. I saw a DC appellate attorney argue before the 2nd circuit in a non standard colored (pinkish and textured) suit and it looked ODD but the same suit in DC or PA would have stood out less.

      Personally, I would err on the side of as classic as possible though I am not sure how far from classic I would think collarless blazer was assuming fabric and color were really standard. Apellate arguments are stressful for any number of reasons (you are timed, it’s high stakes usually, you are on camera, there is usually press in the room). You want to wear what makes you feel the most confident. If you feel awesome in your collarless blazer suit then I think you can consider wearing it even if it isn’t the most conservative- if it would cause you anxiety to think a panelist judge may disapprove then it isn’t worth it.

    • I would not wear a collarless blazer. When I have been to fed appellate court, it has been all very conservative dark suits on both women and men.

    • Anonymous :

      I wouldn’t. Fed appellate court you want to be as conservative/classic as possible.

      • Anonymous :

        Thanks all. It’s dark and otherwise conservative but I take your point (and the fact that I’m hesitant is probably reason enough not to wear it) – it just happens to currently be my best-fitting suit.

        • anon-oh-no :

          I will disagree with others — if its still fairly conservative but for the collarless aspect of it, and it fits you best, you are likely going to be most comfortable in it and therefore be most confident.

          • Yep, I agree with anon-oh-no.

          • anon clerk :

            I agree, too. Current federal appellate clerk here (in the South) and we see out-of-the-box suits (color/fabric) sometimes. Personally I would always wear something dark (navy, black, gray) and in a formal fabric, but I think collarless is fine. If it fit you well, I think it would stand out in a good way (to me, no way my judge would even notice).

          • Anonymous :

            Agree with anon-oh-no. I’ve argued in the Ninth Circuit and (as a law clerk) watched arguments in the Sixth Circuit. A classic suit is going to be fine, collarless or not. It sounds like a perfectly appropriate suit. I wouldn’t think twice about wearing it.

        • Wear it. Fit is more important than anything.

        • I have argued a number of appeals in federal and state courts. A collarless suit jacket is fine if the suit is classic and in a traditional dark color (black, navy, grey) and the rest of the outfit is conservative. I would pair with a jewelneck blouse in white, cream or ivory, appropriate dark closed toe pumps (black, navy, grey or burgundy, depending on the suit), and pearls for a classic understated look. I would add a nice pearl brooch or a silk scarf worn under the jacket with the edge peeking out (something Hermes or similar in subdued colors) for a little something more to frame my face. Don’t forget to wear hose (and bring a spare pair in your lit bag just in case)!

    • Maddie Ross :

      I totally would and have. I have a lovely black suit with a collarless blazer and it matches beautifully with a white silk top and pearls. IMO, it’s one of my most classic looks. And I also like it because it’s conservative, but reads more feminine than my traditional suits.

    • Anonymous :

      My best suit has a collarless jacket. I really don’t understand why that would make it less formal. Chanel suits don’t have collars!

  9. Anonymous :

    Work horses:
    Hugo boss dresses/skirts/pants
    Akris blazers and dresses
    Stuart weitzman poco heels
    Vince pants, silk tops, and non-blazer jackets/cardigans
    Vince Camuto shells
    Mm lafleur tops
    Nieman Marcus cashmere sweaters
    Tumi tote

    Hermes scarves (wore them a ton when I lived abroad… Not so much in US)
    All button down cotton tops (a pain to travel with)

    • Anonymous :

      I have an Akris jacket that I do not wear very much. I thought I would wear it all the time when I bought it (fortunately, it was an eBay purchase). It fits fine, but only goes with my sleeveless black sheath dress or with black or dark denim pants.

      OK to tie a Hermes twilly on a handbag? I cannot think of anything else to do with it. It was a splurge but a bit of an impulse buy.

      • Funny you say that because I have an Akris jacket that is the same way…although mine is a tweed “country jacket” looking one so you can really only wear it in the fall/winter and it pretty much only goes with jeans so casual Friday only. I still love it though :)

      • Anonymous :

        It is extremely common to tie a twilly onto the handles of a handbag.

      • Anonymous :

        I like to wear twillys as bracelets.

  10. Ankle pants :

    Suggestions for flattering ankle pants for a straight figure, preferably cotton? All the styles I have tried are cut for curvy people.

    • Which have you found for curvy figures? BR Sloan seems to work for everyone but pears.

    • Anonymous :

      BR Sloan works for me. I used to also really like Mango pants, when I was pretty skinny and had a very straight figure.

    • I am absolutely straight shaped, no curves whatsoever, and always get many compliments on my Express Columnist pants. They fit beautifully!

    • I’m a fan of the Drew ankle pants at The Limited. Cotton, you can wash them in the washing machine and if I get them out of the dryer right away, I don’t have to iron them.

  11. I am super boring.

    JCrew sheath dresses (black or blue)
    Patent Flats in summer (black or beige)
    Skagen watch
    Blazer in fall/winter (black or gray)
    Flat boots in fall/winter (black)
    Black tights in fall/winter

    Pencil Skirts

    • BabyAssociate :

      Love my Skagen watch! A few years ago a splurged on a pair of flat, black leather boots with no zipper. Too casual for work, but I love them.

    • Leslie Knope :

      What blazers work with your J Crew sheath dresses?

  12. Apologies for the TJ… I’ve been asked to start to assist with Contracts for our company (I am not a lawyer but a para). Do you guys have any suggestions for where to start to learn about the basics?

    I do help with the contract negotiation but need to brush up on the legal side of things.

    Thank you

    • See if you can borrow / have someone’s Bar-Bri outline for the bar exam. It will cover the basics: offer, acceptance, consideration, etc.

      • BabyAssociate :

        +1 this is a great idea. Doesn’t necessarily need to be barbri, any prep course outline will have a solid overview.

      • Thank you – really helpful!

    • lucy stone :

      I love the Adams on Contract Drafting Blog.

    • Get a used copy of “Contract Drafting” by Tina Stark. It is the bible. Seriously.

      If you post an email, I can send you a pdf copy of the barbri 1L K’s outline.

  13. Anonymous :

    I remember buying a nice white button-down shirt after college because I always saw it in those basic staple item articles in women’s magazines and I wore it maybe once. What I do wear the most are comfy wrinkle-free dresses, Betabrand black straight office yoga pants, and my MM LaFleur jardigan.

    • I’ve seen those Betabrand pants advertised before and I’m curious about them, because I love the comfort of yoga pants. Do they look enough like real dress pants to wear to the office? My office environment is the casual end of business casual.

      • I have two pairs, bought a couple of years apart and both the fit and the fabric are _completely_ different, even though I ordered the same size and cut. I wear both to my business casual office.

        One pair is a thicker, tighter, more yogapant type fabric and cut. I still feel I can get away with them though.

        The other (newer) pair is more like slacks made out of a slight stretch-fabric and looks more towards the business end of business casual. I also had to have the waist taken in on this pair, whereas I didn’t on the other pair.

        I do like them, but was definitely annoyed by the large inconsistency between the two pairs. I’m also hesitant to buy any more because of it.

  14. Workhorses:

    – Target cardigans
    – Target flats (7 or 8 pairs)
    – Target pointed toe D’orsay heels (4 pairs)
    – Target sheath dresses
    – JCrew Minnies
    – JCrew pencil skirts
    – random other brand sheath dresses
    – assortment of blazers
    – FLEECE TIGHTS in the winter


    – Button downs
    – suits (not really duds so much as I have no need for them anymore and haven’t gotten any of the pieces altered so they fit me properly)

  15. Duds: Leather bags. Too heavy.

    Win: Pleather/nylon bags/totes. Always look great, take a beating, appropriate for suit and/or field conditions, and are light enough to lug a ton of things. Also, backpacks.

  16. Workhorses:
    Black ponte ankle pants (for more formal days) and dark wash denim skinny jeans (for more casual days – my office has a relaxed dress code)
    Any colorless button down 3/4 sleeve blouse – If it has a collar, I hate it and will avoid at all costs, but for some reason I find myself reaching for my collarless shirts nonstop
    Nude and black patent leather Cole Haan pumps
    The T Tahari Cali sheath dresses for more formal days

  17. Work Horses:
    — machine washable, lined, shift dresses in cool colors with elbow or 3/4 length sleeves (to cover the pretty tattoos)
    — fancy spillproof travel mug

    — anything that isn’t a dress with sleeves. I don’t want to think about more than one item of clothing when I’m getting dressed in the morning!
    — leather bags, also. so heavy!

  18. What are your workhorse (brands/types)


    Cardigans that go with pants


    • Mrs. Jones :

      yesterday (I think) Work Edit by Cap Hill Style had a post on belts that might help you.

    • I love skinny belts in different colors and patterns from Jcrew and Jcrew factory. I buy them when they’re on sale – so $15 each or so – and they really help freshen up my outfits.

    • Anonymous :

      Hermes belt. It’s double sided and I have a black/tan, which works with everything.

    • Wildkitten :

      If you work in a job where you have to go through a metal detector to get to work a jelt belt is clutch.

  19. Workhorses:
    Theory pantsuits
    Cole Haan wedges/heels
    Neutral, large, lightweight scarves (I travel often, these are a must!)
    Sheath dresses (Reiss, Black Halo, Theory, Goat)
    Various assortment of jackets/jardigans – always something with structure
    Thin leather belt for waist-defining purposes

    Cardigans – too floppy for my style
    Round toe flats
    Ankle pants – always feel too casual for me
    Boatneck anything – elegant but my bra straps are always trying to peek out

  20. I absolutely love this thread!

    I mostly work from home or in a smart casual office.

    – Wrap and faux wrap dresses
    – Sheath dresses
    – Fit and flare dresses
    – Cole Haan slingbacks
    – Brown leather slim calf boots
    – Loft utility blouses

    – Like everyone else said…button-down tops.
    – Most “slacks” – when I want to look nice in the office, I wear a dress
    – Tops that are too voluminous AND not reasonable to tuck or half-tuck because of their construction

  21. Workhorses:

    Black St. John knit pencil skirt
    Cream Elie Tahari blazer
    Black Ferragamo d’orsay pumps
    Cole Haan Air Tali wedges
    Black Theory blazer
    BR Sloan pants
    Blush Coach satchel
    Black Ferragamo tote
    Purple Ferragamo bowling bag

    Cardigans (they feel too soft and not powerful enough for me)
    Pants other than ankle pants
    Midi skirts
    DVF wrap dresses. I like all other DVF, but the standard wraps just never turn out to be what I want to wear that day.

  22. It’s funny that everyone lists button down shirts as their duds. I never wore mine until I came back to work after maternity leave and now that I pump at work, I love to wear them the most. Basically my new uniform.

    • I’ll add a surprise staple: a pair of pale pink suede heels from Boden. I basically wear them in place of ‘nude’ heels May-October. Feels more interesting but goes with everything (including pasty legs).

      • Anonymous :

        I really like this idea. I just need to find a pair that has the right contrast with my legs.

  23. Maddie Ross :

    It’s funny, a lot of the things that people are listing as “duds” are things that I would have listed as workhorses 8-10 years ago in my work wardrobe, but just aren’t now. So I wonder if it’s more of a change in styles and that these lists don’t get updated enough? For instance, I would totally have considered cardigans in general, specifically my J.crew Jackie cardigans, white button downs, and my no-iron BB button downs.

    • Yes! 2010-2013ish, I wore BR non-iron button downs and Jackie cardigans all the time- often with black trousers. Now, I’d feel frumpy and lumpy in that outfit.

      • Anonymous :

        It probably depends a lot on cuts. Black trousers that are stylish and updated won’t look frumpy.

  24. Workhorses:
    -Classiques Entier ponte dresses – all colors
    -Ann Taylor kitten heels – tortoise, black suede, dark green leather, black leather
    -Shinola Watch (on a bracelet, mother of pearl dial)
    -MM LaFleur diamond stud earrings (from when they were making them with lab-created diamonds)
    -Cole Haan Elsie ballet flats – black, nude, and rose gold
    -Black Gap perfect cropped skinny pants
    -Any work-appropriate collarless, buttonless shell or blouse in white, cream, ivory, bonus points for some texture or some contrast trim- often from Ann Taylor or the Loft, JCrew, Factory, BR, TJ Maxx, etc
    -Collarless tweedy jackets or motoish jackets
    -Dark skinny jeans
    -Super simple black classic riding boots, polished
    -MM Lafleur Etsuko Dresses
    -DKNY black tights
    -The original Skirt, without the new center seam
    -The daughter of the presidential candidate who shall not be named- the annulio flats (pointy, 1/4 heel)

    -Cardigans (so dated and frumpy to me)
    -Decorative belts on clothing that doesnt call for a belt
    -Wrap Dresses
    -A-Line work skirts, or skirts with a flounce or kick at the bottom
    -Most fit-and-flare dresses (I’m tall, and the waist always hits me too high to be flattering)
    -Button down shirts
    -Heated brushes for hair straightening

    FWIW, I’m DC based but working for a bay area tech company

  25. New Tampanian :

    Work horses:

    – Tahari ASL sheath dresses (from RueLaLa)
    – Limited sheath dresses
    – Classiques Entier Ponte sheath dresses (do you see a pattern here?)
    – Nine west Garisono pumps (black, nude, navy, brown all live in my office)
    – Michael Kors watch
    – Fossil leather laptop/tote bag that I got as a birthday gift years ago
    – Mossimo yoga pants for laying around


    – Any shoes that I’ve spent more than $60 on
    – Button up shirts – worst
    – pencil skirts (I hate them on me right now)
    – Any pants that are not workout/yoga pants

  26. Anonymous :

    I got a pair of Sam Edelman western style black suede booties last fall and I’ve worn them non-stop all through this summer. They work for casual and business casual and look great with all styles of jeans. Although, I made the mistake of not weather proofing them…

  27. I just wanted to say “thank you” to everyone who posted here! this was an incredibly helpful conversation to read, as i am starting to focus more on quality pieces for work. it is nice to be able to read lessons that others have learned while shopping over the years, on what works and what doesn’t work. Thanks also to Kat for the topic. I too am starting to feel that pencil skirts with heels look dated, and I would like to move my work wardrobe in a different direction. This conversation was very helpful in terms of thinking about other options.

  28. Business Casual DC-Area Office, always overly warm.

    Land’s End ponte-knit A-line dresses
    LL Bean ballet flats – they have arch support, particularly in metallic (silver/pewter)
    Ponte knit dresses with v-necks and elbow length sleeves
    black slim cut pants (winter)/ankle pants (summer) – washable (express is my go-to, but size up!)
    colorful ankle pants – royal blue and coral are current favorites
    shift dresses
    ankle booties for winter with shift dresses and tights
    Machine washable dresses, preferably with sleeves
    riding boots (fall/winter) – worn without tights, prevent overheating in the office

    Button down shirts
    Pencil skirts (sitting at a desk 12+ hours + (sleep>exercise) = unflattering weight gain)
    Sheath dresses (same problem, and short-waisted)
    Dry-clean only anything other than a blazer (no time for that)
    Blazers without pockets
    Heels (even the low ones – they just don’t get worn)
    Cashmere sweaters (dry-cleaning, and the office is too warm)

  29. Workhorses (focused on ones that are surprisingly in rotation all the time):
    Colorful bottoms – ankle pants, pencil skirts and skinny jeans for Fridays when I don’t have meetings; I have a pair of dark blue-green ones from Target that are my favorite (sadly, they weren’t made to last the 6 years I have had them)
    Black and white printed blouses/shells – these go with everything and are perfect for colorful bottoms
    Blush blazer – goes beautifully with gray and navy and black
    Knit blazers – so comfortable and I can wear even to meetings with execs (I work for large health system)
    Leopard (fall and winter) and snakeskin (spring and summer) pumps – pair well with neutral dresses, suits, etc.
    J Crew Pixie pants – though these would seem too casual but their fabric makes them so easy to wear to work with longer tops and jackets
    Metallic flats (gold and silver) – so cute with a basic outfit
    Pleione pleat-back tops – can wear with skirts, pants and jeans; solid colored ones are perfect to pair with printed skirts and pants; can get super-cheap on sale at Nordstrom and Nordstrom Rack
    Black suede booties with black tights – make my legs look a mile long!

    Favorite investments:
    Kendra Scott lariat necklace
    Le Pliage tote
    Sally 2 Peep-toe wedge from Tory Burch
    Leather pencil skirt/ (p)leather leggings
    Cashmere sweaters
    Jeans from Joe’s, AG and J Brand
    No 2. pencil skirts from J Crew
    North Face Thermoball vest and jacket – not for work, but worth every penny
    J Crew wool coat with Thinsulate

    Costly duds:
    Agree with button-downs (unless they are lightweight under a sweater in cold weather) – hate ironing and button gaps (sweater covers both); I sized up on 2 BB ones to accommodate my chest and had them taken in elsewhere – still hate them years later
    Jimmy Choo black heels – they are gorgeous but I prefer the MK Flex for more comfort
    Leather work bag – too many dividers and too heavy for travel; bought a Le Pliage secondhand and LOVE it
    Pants that require a heel – I used to exclusively wear this look; now I am always reaching for a skinnier pant and flats

  30. I’m surprised about the not using button-downs notes–I get a lot of use out of mine. I also scratch my head about when people ponder nursing/pumping friendly work clothes–I found button downs perfect for this!