Life as a working woman is full of little challenges. Can you master the small-talk-with-your-boss challenge? The packing-a-healthy-lunch-three-days-a-week challenge? What about the not-gossiping-too-much-at-happy-hour challenge, or the staying-hydrated-at-your-desk challenge?
And of course, any lady who’s found her way into an office job knows that the wardrobe challenge is one of the most difficult to master. You may have your weekend brunch outfit game on lock, but for whatever reason, corporate wardrobes always seem a little trickier, because you’re walking such a fine line between professionalism and personality. You want to look sharp, but not stiff. You want to have style, but not a crazyamount of style. What’s an Ann Taylor LOFT-wearing lady to do?
If you’re ready to take the next step into corporate wardrobe bliss, here are some great starter pieces.
A blazer that makes you feel cool. You’ll see a lot of articles urging you to invest in “the perfect black wool blazer,” but if you’re not a black wool blazer kind of person, chances are you’ll never wear it—you’ll feel too fussy and formal. But the professionalism of a blazer cannot be denied, so find one that makes you feel like a slightly more legit version of yourself, whether it’s in linen or cotton, with rolled-up sleeves or a narrow lapel—or any other iteration of the shape.
A few menswear-inspired button-downs. A slightly oversized button-down with the sleeves rolled back makes you look like you know what you’re doing, but shows that you’re not too pretentious to roll up your sleeves and get things done. Grab one in white, one in light blue, and one in preppy stripes.
A silk blouse. For the days when you don’t want to dress like one of the boys, a soft, flowing silk blouse is both ultra-feminine and classically professional. Grab one in blush or peach as a soft alternative to neutrals.
A bright cardigan you can leave at work. Two reasons: you need some color in your life, and office air conditioning is no joke.
A skirt that makes you feel pulled-together. There is no perfect office skirt shape, so stop worrying about pencil vs. high-waisted vs. A-line. Just look for a classy, well-made skirt in a shape that you feel great in. If you’re bored with neutrals, get one in a versatile burgundy or a light gray-blue. Anything can be a neutral if you believe hard enough!
A versatile, knee-length day dress. Think Claire Underwood. Done.
Wide-legged and/or cigarette-cut pants. Two years ago, Bloomberg Business called black work pants “boring and sad,” and the sentiment still rings true. Throw away those Express poly-blend “slacks” and opt for a more interesting cut, like a slim, cropped cigarette pant that shows off your ankles (scandalous!), or a powerful wide-legged trouser that’ll give you the swagger of Katherine Hepburn.
Comfortable heels. In a recent poll on the ideal office heels , 70% of women said that comfort was the number 1 attribute they looked for in their work heels. You need heels to look pulled-together at the office, but you’d like to avoid hobbling around all day. Perhaps something that matches with everything—with a slip-resistant outsole and built-in pressure distribution technology ? Just a thought.
Preppy oxfords. For the days when you decide to forgo the heels, a crisp pair of oxfords will keep you looking professional—and a pair with a little block heel will still clack nicely against the floor, you know, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Pointy flats. Cheap round-toe flats run the risk of looking dated, childish, or just a little blah . Adding a sharp toe to the common flat is the energetic upgrade that a stylish go-getter like you needs.
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* U.S. conversions are listed next to a country or region's nearest size equivalent. * Items may not be offered in all sizes. Measurements in Inches and CM refer to foot heel-to-toe length.