ultreyamama asked: Hi Jaclyn! I am returning to work full time after 3 years off of traveling, freelancing and maternity leave. I'm sure you can imagine the state of my wardrobe. I need some great quality basics to get me back into the 9-5 groove. The office dress code allows for jeans and more casual wear. I am 5'11 and have always struggled finding blouses and bottoms that work for me. I also really struggle with building a versatile wardrobe with pieces that can be recombined effectively. Any pointers?
Love this question!
My ultimate versatile wardrobe tip is to decide ahead of time whether you’d prefer:
- Neutral clothes with occasional pops of color as accents or…
- Clothes in various complimentary colors and use neutral accessories to tie them together.
I follow the first method. I buy mostly neutral clothes and shy away from prints (unless they are stripes which don’t exactly count as a print) and then use prints/color very occasionally in items like scarves, coats, shoes, etc.
If that sounds like it will work for you too, start keeping an eye out for minimal basics in colors like black (OBVIOUSLY), white, off-white, taupe, gray, camel and navy. The same thing goes for denim: blue denim, black denim, white denim. Look for trousers or ponte pants in black or gray.
Let’s break this down a little more:
- Denim: Jeans have come a long way and you don’t have to buy expensive jeans for them to look tailored and high quality. Since you’re tall, I’ll recommend some of my favorite spots. Don’t overlook AE just because you might have bought a hoodie there in high school or college or whenever. They have really fantastic denim at crazy-low prices. Their high-rise jeggings (like this, $35) are so comfortable and keep everything tucked up and in. They also come in long inseams and that is great. I’ve had great luck with Gap and Old Navy jeans of late. Don’t bother looking in the store—they often don’t carry the tall inseams and you’ll probably want them. The Gap 1969 line is especially good and these—a medium wash for $70—could be worn with almost anything. For black jeans, try Old Navy’s The Rockstar for $35. They’re a little stretchy and quite long if you buy them in the tall inseam.
- Trousers/Ponte Pants: Since you work in a casual office, I think you can put conservative work trousers on hold for a bit and just look for straight or skinny ponte pants. J.Crew’s tall Pixie pant ($98) is a fantastic investment piece for you. You’ll wear them all the time. If $98 gives you an ulcer, check out Target’s ponte options. I have a few and am so happy with them. This pair is just $28! Watch for sales from LOFT too. Lots of ponte options, like these tall ponte pants for $45.
- Blouses/Tops: I usually keep things pretty standard on the bottom (basic denim, black pants, whatever) but experiment with more trendy pieces on top. (By more trendy, I mean I wore peplum this year so take that with a grain of salt.) ZARA has some really fantastic blouses if you can look past all the nonsense crop tops. The prices are great too. This v-neck top ($60) is perfect for wearing with jeans or ponte pants and ballet flats or pumps. This oversize poplin blouse ($60) is long enough to be tucked in or worn as-is with a jacket or sweater. J.Crew Factory is a fantastic source for inexpensive, pretty tops and blouses too. This striped ponte peplum blouse ($44.50) would look great with a black or camel jacket. Their Charley sweaters are the Factory version of J.Crew Tippis. This neon one ($43) in pink would be a pretty color to spice up your denim or basic black pants/pencil skirt. Watch for J.Crew sales too. This matte crepe tee ($70) is the PERFECT basic short-sleeved work blouse. This silk sweatshirt top in ivory ($130) is something you could wear over and over again. It would dress up jeans or look chic with gray pants. Basically look for neutral colored tops in fabrics that you can dress up or down (silk, wool, poplin, crepe or viscose/another synthetic that mimics those fabrics). If you’re like me, it can be hard finding blouses with sleeves that are long enough (J.Crew is a chronic offender) so buy tall versions if you can, or simply get tops that have 3/4th length sleeves or sleeves that can be rolled.
- Dresses/Skirts: To be honest, if your office is casual, you probably won’t be wearing pencil skirts very often so maybe get one or two (black and gray or black and a light-colored linen blend) just in case. Dresses are a better option and they’re easier for getting ready in the morning too. With skirts you have to figure out a top that will go with it and then make sure it tucks in properly (if it’s supposed to tuck in) and then you have to find shoes that work with the whole thing and maybe add a cardigan or a jacket so it looks finished and frankly, no. That’s too much work for me. The right dress is a complete outfit—just add shoes. Since you’re in a casual office, I assume you don’t want to wear too stuffy a dress so I’d look for jersey dresses in neutral colors. This gray one from Topshop ($58) is midi-length and could be worn with sandals for a more casual look or pumps if you want to dress up more. This midi-length black dress is just $50! You could style it a million ways: with a moto jacket, with a scarf, with wedges in the summer, with ankle boots. Tons of ways to wear it. This crepe shift dress from Wayf is just $58—so cute. A shirt dress is another great idea for you. It’s right between casual and dressy. Boden’s shirtdress ($128) is so pretty. I like their ponte dress too ($128).
Once you have a few of these key items, you can mix and match them really easily. A few colorful scarves—maybe cobalt, yellow, coral?—will look amazing set off against a neutral outfit. Because the clothes are so versatile, you can almost wear any shoe you want in any color you feel like. Flats, wedges, pumps, ankle boots—they can be worn interchangeably with almost everything I’ve listed here. The best thing about the items above are that they’re perfect for cross-season dressing. Add tights or leggings/boots for winter with the dresses. Throw a cardigan over the striped peplum tank in the fall. Wear jeans with flats or sandals during the summer and with tall boots or ankle boots in the winter. Simple clothes = less time to get ready and less time adjusting to seasonal wardrobe changes. Another great thing is that you can repeat items more often and no one is the wiser. You can’t wear a loud, obvious printed blouse to the office 3 times in one week (well, you could, but you know what I mean), but you could absolutely wear a basic jersey shift dress 3 out of 5 days. Wear it one day with a jacket and ankle boots. Wear it another day with a belt, a long necklace and pumps. Wear it another day with a scarf and wedges.
I’d suggest going in your closet and taking a look at what you know does not work for you and getting rid of it so that you can make a list and fill in the gaps with things that can be worn with multiple other items. It’s worth spending a bit more money on minimal items that you’ll wear over and over again, but you don’t HAVE to spend tons of money to find things that are flattering and good quality. Just be willing to do lots of returns! (Especially if you’re shopping online.)
Also check out these other similar posts I’ve done:
- Spring closet cleaning
- Wearing your entire closet
- Slug work wardrobe
- Building a work wardrobe from scratch
- I also tag my posts with work attire when it’s applicable and I try to only post minimal, versatile, practical items!
I hope this helps. :) Have fun shopping!