Lately I’ve been thinking about building a professional wardrobe.
I’ve been doing a fair bit of research on the subject, and while I have stumbled upon a few good articles, most of the conversations are geared toward people who are already professionals, who are going to work every day in an office or a hospital or a courtroom and are surrounded by peers with the same types of job.
For folks like me, still firmly in the realm of the PRE-professional, recommendations to stock my closet with skirt suits and sensible pumps aren’t going to cut it. Yes, I’m all in favor of dressing for the job you want, not for the job you have, but I need to be able to accomplish this on a limited budget and with an eye toward the future.
In order to get the most mileage out of my clothing – and to dress sharply while staying within budget – I’ve devised my own plan.
The idea is to create a capsule wardrobe that exists independently of my everyday, casual clothing, but from which I can pull items for any number of professional occasions that come my way. Some examples include lunches and coffee dates with local RDs; job-shadowing days; professional association chapter meetings; volunteer opportunities; and conferences. Several of these occasions have already occurred, leaving me scrambling for something to wear when I really want to be thinking about follow-up questions and forging relationships.
As much as I relish beautiful clothing, I really have better things to do than shop or worry about my wardrobe. I have the feeling that you might, too. That is not to say that these pursuits are shallow or unworthy of thought; in fact, I think the opposite is true. But it is my hope that by slowly accumulating a pre-professional capsule wardrobe, I can clothe myself with confidence (literally and figuratively) and think about other things. I can reach into my closet and pull out my lucky uniform for a certain occasion, and find it waiting there for me, clean and pressed and wishing me all the best, as I go forth and conquer.
The beginning is simple: start with what you have.
I happened to have a few unworn pieces in my closet that acted as the foundation of my pre-professional capsule: two black knee-length suiting skirts, a casual-yet-crisp cotton blazer, and a sleeveless oxford shirt.
The next step involves planning. I started by trying on my pieces and taking note of what else I might need, then plotting it all out on paper. I knew I needed shoes appropriate for job-shadowing at hospitals, and that more than one blouse was necessary. For chilly, air-conditioned buildings, a cardigan would be handy. A pair of trousers would round everything out nicely as long as they coordinated with the tops and shoes on my shopping list. A simple, sophisticated dress would be incredibly versatile for conferences and meetings. And so on the list it all went.
I slowly began shopping, starting first with a few reputable secondhand sources that offered quality brands in familiar sizing. I purchased another sleeveless oxford shirt and two cardigans. Then, I took a few hours at the mall to find a pair of chic and comfortable flats to coordinate with my skirts; for these I gladly paid full price. Then I saved my pennies and bit the bullet on one nice dress and one beautiful pair of trousers. I opted for simple, classic, conservative pieces that will stand the test of time, that can be easily mixed and matched, and will ensure that future employers remember me instead of my clothing.
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” – Leonardo Da Vinci
I can pair a blouse with my trousers and flats for volunteering at the children’s hospital. I can coordinate a shirt, cardigan, pencil skirt and flats with a nice necklace for lunch with a mentor. I can add some personality to my versatile, blank-canvas dress so that I am sure to stand out at an upcoming conference.
This isn’t the end, but for now it is enough. I know I’ll need a pair of pumps for more formal occasions, a suit for interviews, and a new bag/tote eventually. I am happy to report, however, that my pre-professional capsule wardrobe currently offers a variety of combinations suitable for a variety of situations, leaving me feeling equipped for anything that comes my way.
My pre-professional capsule wardrobe contains the following pieces:
1 pair of trousers – cropped, black
2 skirts – pencil and A-line, black
1 dress – A-line, black
2 cardigans – patterned, lilac
2 blouses – sleeveless oxfords, white and patterned
1 pair of shoes – black patent almond-toe flats
1 blazer – beige stretch cotton
Now I’d love to get some feedback from readers. Have you curated a professional wardrobe for yourself? If you’re a working professional, what are your most useful items of clothing?
For further reading on the subject, I've listed some of my favorite resources below:
And for more on capsule wardrobes, specifically, here are my favorites:
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