Building a Work Wardrobe

I work in a fairly conservative office with a business casual dress code -- heavy on the business, lighter on the casual side. A question I am asked frequently by newcomers to the office and my fellow university students is "how can I build a work wardrobe?" I have navigated the waters of corporate dressing for over 10 years now and I feel like an old veteran in this area of fashion.

The spring and fall in my favourite time to buy work clothing. The previous season's items are on sale and the next season is just coming out so you can scoop up new items before anyone else.

Below are my tried and true tips for building a work wardrobe for those just starting out

1. Start with a list

It's best to take an inventory of everything you currently have in your closet. This is also a good opportunity to dispose of anything that you haven't worn in more than two years or has seen better days (face it, you are never going to have that hole patched in your hoodie. Trash it and move on.) After you have your inventory, you need to create a shopping list of what you are missing. For women, you will probably need a blazer and slacks with sensible pumps, and men may find they are lacking in modern dress shirts and a nicely tailored suit. 

2. Prioritize and budget

Take all the items you think you will need and mark them from most important to least important. Everyone is watching their budgets so this is when you will need to include a clothing allowance into your budget. You may have to spend a few more dollars in the first few weeks but it will get better once you get closer to your final items. Your list from step 1 will save you money in the long run. When you shop with a list you are more likely to get what you really need instead of impulse buying something you might not (Totally guilty here. I can't count the amount of times I head out to buy a blouse and end up with some blue and white pottery instead.) 

3. It doesn't have to be the greatest quality -- At first

via Target

I love buying good quality items but I also know how expensive they are, especially when you are first starting out. When I started working in a corporate environment I bought five pairs of on sale black and grey dress pants at a well known, yet not for their quality, Canadian retailer. Since I only wore them to work I was able to make them last for a few years, yes years, until I finally upgraded to some beautifully made dress pants. I do think quality is the best way to go in the long run but sometimes your budget just won't allow for quality. My favourite budget-friendly store for work clothes are 

Old Navy - For Men: Dress shirts, khakis, crew & V-neck sweaters and belts
                   For Women: Ankle pants, flats (shoes), sheath dresses (they look great with blazers) and costume jewelry. A plain dress is made special with the addition of a chunky necklace!

Target - For Men: Ties, basics like undershirts & dress socks, collared/polo shirts and accessories such as sunglasses, wallets and backpacks. 
              For Women:  Coloured blazers, tote bags, belts, dressy blouses and shoes, both flats and heels. 

4. Stick to a colour scheme

via Banana Republic

To make life easy stick to a colour scheme when buying. This way they can easily be mixed and matched to create all new outfits. Basics such as black, grey and tan will get you started and you can add in your favourite colour to add interest. An example is for a lady to buy grey dress pants, a black blazer and a light pink blouse. For men - black slacks, a heather grey v-neck and a plaid red dress shirt underneath. 

5. You can find deals, you just have to look

Sign up for emails from each store you think you will shop in. I recommend signing up for emails from Old Navy, Banana Republic, RW & Co., Macy's in the States and Hudson's Bay in Canada. You will be notified about sale dates where you save on your entire purchase, one day, one item sales (Banana Republic is famous for their 40% off one item on Wednesdays) and special one day only sales. Recently, Hudson's Bay was having a one day sale on Calvin Klein suits which my husband took advantage of. He now has a fabulous suit for half the price. 

Other great places to check are local consignment shops (I am a big fan and frequent a few in my area), and second hand stores. You never know what treasure you will find until you look! I will admit to finding a few brand name, high quality clothing items at my local Goodwill for peanuts (like the L.L.Bean sweater I recently bought that still had the original tags on it and I only paid $4!!!)

6. And just remember, it's only five days a week

You only need this wardrobe to last you five days. You can get by with minimal articles and mix and match, think three different coloured dress pants and five different shirts/blouses. You can rewear two pairs of pants throughout the week and each week mix which shirt you wear with each pants. Which is why point 4. is so important. It makes things so much easier when you are picking out what to wear each morning. Also, hang your work clothes up as soon as the workday is done. This will help your clothing last longer. 

7. Once you are established, combine your wardrobe with your everyday wardrobe

When you have a solid understanding of how your office operates and your budget allows, work on buying clothes that can be used for both work and off hours. This helps if you know what your style is, are you preppy, casual, boho, etc? Once you know your style you can easily stick to that theme for both work and play clothes to end up with one great wardrobe!

Any questions about building a work wardrobe? Leave them in the comments or contact me at I'd love to hear from you!