How to Build a Professional Wardrobe: A Beginners Guide

July 25, 2018

This one goes out to my recent graduates, my entry level professionals and my budding entrepreneurs!  Transitioning from student to young professional can be difficult especially when you are trying to figure out your "look".  We are visual creatures and right or wrong, we make assumptions about one another based on appearances.  Sometimes the way you dress can be the difference between getting that job or promotion or being overlooked.  Think about a time when you have had a complaint and asked to speak to management or a supervisor, if someone skulked from around a counter in ripped jeans or a short, tight skirt you might not feel confident that you will resolve the matter.  You might of course, but you have made a snap judgment based on appearances.  My point is we ALL do it.  On the flip side, I find that dressing for the job can be an instant boost of confidence which can lead to a great interview and a better job performance.

Be patient, it takes time to figure out your look and honestly it took all of my twenties to figure out what works best for my emerging style and body.  (You really don't have to have everything figured out ya know! Sheesh, the pressure!)  However there are some "buildable" pieces you must have in your closet to get started that will help you build a multitude of looks quick and easy!  These are called, "staple pieces" in the blogger world.  

Two misconceptions people tend to have about building a professional wardrobe is that it is expensive AND you run the risk of becoming a generic "suit" and lose your individual style in the process.  Nothing could be further from the truth.   I realize money is an object of concern when you are starting out, and trust me you don't have a lot of it to get started.  Some great places to shop when you are starting to build your wardrobe on a budget is New York & Co because their pieces are affordable, stylish and they ALWAYS have sales, coupons and other incentives that can turn a $140 purchase into a $65 purchase!  That is a big deal right?  Plus they now have some great collaborations with celebrities like Eva Mendes and Gabrielle Union that add a layer of dimension and style they didn't have a few years ago.  Some other great sites to keep your eye on are Ann Taylor and J.Crew , specifically their clearance sales!  They were my "go-to" sites when I started out and can I just say that their clothes are built to last.  I have two classic cut, multi-use dresses from J.Crew that are over 10 years old that I still own and wear all the time!  I will share some examples below so keep reading!

Five tried and true pieces every young professional wants in her wardrobe are two classic dress, two or three pairs of trousers that just fit to perfection, two fabulous blazers, stylish but sturdy and practical heels (enter the block heel stage left) and a great structured handbag!

Start with a great pair of trousers!

FIT is everything here.  If you are between sizes rule of thumb; size up.  You really don't want trousers that are too tight and unforgiving, you want a fit that is comfortable, moves with you while creating a straight flattering silhouette.  Play up your strengths and downplay what you consider to be your weaknesses.  Wide-leg trousers just work for my body type, unless you are vertically challenged, they are universally flattering.  I also prefer work trousers that sit ABOVE my belly button.  Here are a few pieces that run between $16-$60 a pair.

Classic Dress 

When you are building your wardrobe it makes sense to pay a little more for a great fitting dress in a classic cut.  I think a sheath dress fits the bill.  You can wear it on its own with a great pair of heels, some minor accessories or a belt and walk out the door instantly chic.  Or you can style it with a blouse underneath to create a totally different look, think pussy bow blouse, for some visual interest or you can throw on a great blazer.  You get the point this is a great build able item that will stand the test of time and save you a lot of time on those mornings that you just don't feel inspired to throw a look together.  Sheath dresses are the unsung hero here people, TRUST!  Now whatever dress you decide to invest in please do not let it hit you mid-thigh.  You do not want to be fussing and pulling on your dress when you are sitting in a meeting with a client or your boss, opt for a longer dress, one that hits you right above your knee.  Here are some curated pieces.


I have been blogging for two years now and if I have told you once, Ive told you a million times, blazers are a MUST!  They are so versatile and they easily add interest to an outfit and make you look instantly "put-together".  Now don't be alarmed a good quality blazer is going to run you over $100 unless you thrift it (which be my guess, you know I love a good thrift find) or you wait for a good end of the year clearance sale, which I am telling you that is EXACTLY how I built my wardrobe.  Whatever you decide get yourself at least three blazers to start with, a black, a tan or a white and a fun print.  These three are going to be your go-to during the week and will even step up your weekend style game.  Again, fit is everything in a blazer so you don't want a blazer that is too tight, or pulls up your shoulders, too short at the wrists or can't button.  Don't be afraid to size up if you are chesty or have bigger arms or a wider back, its ok, there is a blazer out there for you I promise!  Don't settle for less baby!  Here are some affordable picks.


When I graduated college and started on my professional journey I had to trade in my dirty old converse sneakers for a pair or seven of high heels.  I started out with a kitten heel and worked myself up to a higher heel.  It took me some time to gain my balance and learn how to walk with confidence in a pair of heels but I did it and I can easily walk in a pair of 3 1/2 inch high heels all day long.  Lucky for you, you don't have to!  Block heels are an easy hack to give you that extra height without the pain or balancing act of a pair of heels.  They are great "starter" pieces, they are high heel training wheels!


A great handbag goes a long way.  You do have to invest a bit more in a quality handbag but if taken care of they will last you a lifetime or at least a few years.  It is always a good idea to invest in a sturdy leather satchel for work.  Something mid-priced like Dooney and Burke, Kate Spade or Michael Kors are a great option for those of you starting out.  They are classic and really elevate an entire look making the owner look effortlessly stylish and chic, who doesn't want their handbag working for them?  Stick with your neutrals, think "less is more" when it comes to the "bells and whistles" and size!

So there you have it, my beginners guide to "building a professional wardrobe".  I hope you enjoyed this post and find it useful.  Please feel free to share with someone who is struggling to create a professional wardrobe.  

Thanks for reading!

By LifeStyledbyErica 

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