My sister, Maura, recently graduated from college. When I went home to visit, I took her shopping for a work wardrobe as a graduation present. Maura was starting from scratch, so we thought it might be nice to share the process with She Spends readers who might be dealing with a similar issue.
The problem: Maura’s pre-existing wardrobe was perfect for class or the summers she spent working at camp, where she typically wore leggings or shorts and a t-shirt. That wardrobe was too casual for her upcoming role as a dietetic intern.
In Maura’s words, “I am always overwhelmed by shopping, but shopping for ‘professional clothes’ is the worst.”
“Everything is more expensive, pants suddenly don't fit, all the dresses are made for people who are six feet tall, and the shirts are all see through,” she added. “I've also never been into fashion so navigating how to put myself together to look professional is just terrifying.”
Here’s how we tackled it.
Step one: Cataloguing
We started by cataloguing what Maura already had in her closet. There were some items she had on hand that could help her transition into workwear more easily.
She had four pairs of pants: grey skinny pants, grey chinos, black skinny pants and black trousers. She had one black blazer as well. She also had some tops and cardigans that could make the transition. These included an emerald green bell sleeve blouse, a cream-colored long sleeve blouse, a purple striped short-sleeve sweater, a dark purple cardigan, a green striped wrap shirt, a navy ruffle shirt, an army green linen button-up, a chambray button-up, and a LOFT blue flowered tunic top. She also had grey Sperry Topsiders, black booties and tan booties.
Once we had catalogued these pieces, it became easier to see the holes in her wardrobe.
Step two: Analysis
Using the list of what Maura already owned, we discussed some of the holes she wanted to fill in her wardrobe, as well as some of the colors and motifs she likes to use when getting dressed. Maura had been cataloging clothing she liked on Pinterest, which is a fantastic tool for folks working to figure out their style.
Maura’s Pinterest board did not have a lot of work-specific looks on it, but it did show her style. When scrolling through, it became clear that Maura liked colors like light pink, army green, cream, blue and burgundy. The tones were muted and soft. It also became clear that Maura liked longer sweaters paired with skirts, jeans or even shorts, despite the fact that she didn’t own any long sweaters.
We also considered the work Maura will be doing, as well as her own dressing preferences when it came to her wardrobe. Because she will be working in a hospital, Maura needed closed-toed shoes. She doesn’t like wearing heels, so we decided to look for a pair of black oxfords, as well as a pair of trendy sneakers. She prefers to be comfortable and to sleep as long as possible in the mornings. She doesn’t wear makeup, and tends to reach for comfort over style.
Based on this, we added a pair of green chinos, nicer short sleeve tops, long sweaters, and a wristlet to replace the one she’s been carrying for awhile to our list.
Step three: Shopping
We began our shopping trip at a Goodwill based in a higher-income neighborhood in western Pennsylvania, where Maura lives. We pulled clothing in light pink, army green, cream, blue and burgundy in several sizes for her to try on.
If you want tips on how to find the best stuff at Goodwill, check out our piece on thrifting here.
In total, we spent $40.70 on eight items. We got a light pink long-sleeve blouse, a striped t-shirt from LOFT, a dark green pullover sweater from Hollister, a burgundy pullover Aerie sweatshirt, a blue marled cable sweater from Gap, a striped short-sleeve wrap dress, a light pink pullover sweater and a grey a-line Monteau dress.
Our next stop was Marshalls, where we took a similar approach to finding clothing.
In total, we spent $75 at the store for five items. We purchased a white short-sleeve floral blouse, a light blue polka-dot camisole, a paper-airplane printed white short-sleeve blouse, a pair of green chinos and a pair of pink jeans.
Step four: Review
By the time we had finished our trip to Marshalls, Maura was exhausted. Once home, we reviewed her haul to determine how well we did, and what wardrobe holes still existed.
In total, we spent $115.70 to purchase 13 new items for Maura’s wardrobe. Combined with the items she already had on hand, the pieces are quite complementary, particularly the two pairs of pants we picked up at Marshalls.
We did not manage to find a wristlet or a pair of black oxfords. At press time, Maura had managed to find a wristlet, which her friend gifted her for graduation. She is still on the hunt for a comfortable pair of oxfords, so if you have suggestions, do let us know.
Step five: Putting it all together
The final step in building a new wardrobe is styling it. Much of Maura’s work wardrobe has been designed so that she can pull on a pair of pants and a top and feel put-together. However, I do have some suggestions for styling beyond that.
A French tuck for some of the blouses she selected would be a nice way to handle the length. They were a bit long on her, and can look smart and neat tucked into her tighter-fitting pants.
Another way Maura could elevate her looks is to layer the Aerie pullover with a collared shirt, like some of the blouses she selected. The two combined look pulled-together while still feeling comfortable.
Finally, Maura could choose to leave army green linen top unbuttoned over her striped LOFT shirt. She could pair the look with her pink pants and tan booties. The layering would be a nod to some of the looks she pinned on Pinterest, while still looking professional.