How to…Build a Business Appropriate Wardrobe: Part 1

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College is such an exciting (and scary) time, as we are all figuring out what to do with our lives.  No matter what you’re going into, whether it is finance on Wall Street, fashion in Milan, or the peace corps, chances are you will have to be professional at some point in your job searching process.  I am currently pledging a business fraternity (Delta Sigma Pi), and we have talked a lot about business appropriate attire, and I thought I would pass on this information to you guys.  In part one of this article, I will discuss business professional attire.  Part 2 will deal with business casual attire, and Part 3 will give some ideas for business appropriate hair and makeup.

Fundamentals

Most of us living on a college budget cannot remotely afford to just go out and buy a whole new business wardrobe, but if you get just one piece at a time, it is not so bad.  Here are the pieces I suggest you accumulate over time for a versatile working wardrobe:

Key Pieces

  • 1 suit(s)
  • 1-2 pairs of dress pants or pencil skirts
  • 3-4 blouses (2 conservative, 1-2 a little wilder)
  • 1 professional dress
  • 1-2 blazers

Accessories

  • skinny belt (1/2 inch width)
  • headband/hair clips
  • 2 pairs of work heels (Flats are okay too, but heels are more professional, and make you feel confident!)
  • pantyhose
  • a conservative bag

The more confident you are going into your interview or job, the better off you’ll be, and there are few better ways to boost confidence than to like the way you look.  Try to keep everything you buy very classic instead of trendy, especially the suit.  

The suit is going to be the biggest investment you’ll make, so you don’t want them to be “out” in a few years, after you spent good money on them.  I would advice you buy quality pieces (i.e. not Charlotte Russe/Forever21), as your working wardrobe can last you years!  Y

ou can find nice, quality business clothes at many stores; my favorites include Ann Taylor, The Limited, United Colors of Benetton, Victoria’s Secret and Express.  Be careful at Express and Victoria’s Secret though, as some of their styles are very trendy/sexy and not conservative enough.  You can find great bargain pieces at H&M, Macy’s, Dillard’s, and Belk as well.  

I would also advise that you try these things on before you buy them, as tailoring and fit is important.  Here are some suggestions for each pieces.  I can personally recommend the brown blazer (if you have a brown skirt, or brown pants), the black pumps and the white blouse.  They are wonderful.  If you are uncomfortable in heels, conservative flats will work as well.  Also, if you are not a fan of thigh high stockings, regular pantyhose are fine too!

Pants ($50), Suit ($130), Skirt ($60), Super Steal! ($65)

Pink Blouse ($50), Blazer ($78), Dress ($60), White Blouse ($28)

Belt ($38), Headband ($7), Hair Clips & Bobby Pins ($3 each)

Thigh Highs ($9),  Black Pumps ($60), Nude Pumps ($80), Black Tote ($35)

Guidelines for Business Professional Wear

  1. ALWAYS wear pantyhose with a skirt when you need to dress business professionally.
  2. When sitting, skirts and dresses should only come up your leg “a dollar’s length.”
  3. Shoes need to be closed-toe.
  4. Keep your hair out of your face.
  5. Fashionable is okay, but if any piece of your outfit resembles lingerie, it is probably bad news.
  6. Keep your makeup clean and to a minimum.
  7. For business professional, ALWAYS wear a blazer with a dress.

DON’T…

  1. Wear clothes that are way too tight.
  2. Wear really wild prints or ridiculous colors.
  3. Show any cleavage.
  4. Wear sexy pumps.
  5. Wear lots of jewelry.  Instead, keep it simple and elegant.
  6. Put on strong perfume.

What Do You Think?

What do you think?  Do you have any questions?  Do you guys have any advice for staying stylish while dressing conservatively?  Let us know by leaving a comment!

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Melissa Lantzer Written by
Category: Careers, Fashion, School, Success
11 Comments
  1. Charlotte Charlotte says:

    i have JUST written an article on business casual attire for my stuent newpaper and i wish i’d read this first!!
    great article to save for the future!!

    Charlote xxx

  2. Irina Irina says:

    Definitely bookmarking this one :) The don’t wear strong perfume is a great tip, lots of people don’t think of that one.

  3. [...] How to build a business wardrobe [...]

  4. [...] How to build a business wardrobe [...]

  5. [...] How to build a business wardrobe [...]

  6. Sari Sari says:

    Super helpful post! Thanks :)

  7. Rin Rin says:

    I have done two internships (and will be doing a third in January) in my future field and I think a lot of these rules are outdated. At least at the level I will be working, a suit is too formal and not practical. Closed two shoes? Not in the warmer months! Peep-toes are perfectly acceptable. A blazer with a dress? Only if the dress didn’t cover my arms, which I probably wouldn’t wear anyway. Hair out of your face? Yes, it should be out of your face, but that doesn’t mean you can’t wear your hair down.

    I guess it depends on the field you will be working in. But as long as you are covered up, not too tight, and not too trendy or out-there, most places seem to be less rigid than they used to be.

  8. Melissa Lantzer Melissa says:

    Thank you for all the comments!

    Rin – My internship last summer was a little more casual too, but I am going into investment banking, and these rules definitely still apply in that industry. Pantyhose, heels and suits are worn at all times on Wall Street. It is always safer to dress more conservatively for your interview, and once you get the job, you can gauge what the corporate culture is like and what dress code is acceptable at your particular company. Some of your outfits are very business casual (i.e. no blazer with a dress). This particular post is on business professional attire. My next post will be on business casual attire – there is a difference! I agree though, it definitely depends on the industry, but it is not outdated. It is very much in use in the financial world. Thanks for your feedback!

  9. [...] information to you guys.  In part two of this article, I will discuss business casual attire.  Part 1 dealt with business professional attire, and Part 3 will give some ideas for business appropriate [...]

  10. Amy Amy says:

    You missed JC Penney’s! And Dress Barn. They’re both good places to shop for professional clothes. Dress Barn especially has good fit and quality and the styles stick around forever.

  11. Luke Luke says:

    Definitely bookmarking this one The don’t wear strong perfume is a great tip, lots of people don’t think of that one.

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