Many OPA actives graduated in May and will begin new careers. With your schooling, you’ve prepared for all contingencies, except, perhaps, the fashion crisis that comes when transitioning from college to career. Your wardrobe choices can make or break a first impression with a potential employer.
Each person’s style is unique, so we’re just offering guidelines here. Some employers also have their own guidelines. What’s considered professional in one job may be too casual at another, so focus on how to build a professional wardrobe with personal style.
Step one: Inventory and analyze your current clothing.
First, look at your closet. Much of your clothing—including skinny jeggings, “norts” and T-shirts—will be too casual for work. Let’s focus on the rest—your “nice” clothing, which includes items such as simple sundresses, structured knits, better blouses and more.
Look for items that have a classic silhouette or nicer look and items you can dress up. Sheath dresses, slacks and skirts in neutral colors can be good “bones” of a wardrobe. Some prints are fine if they have a classic shape. A good rule of thumb is that if you wouldn’t wear your active pin with the outfit, it probably is not office appropriate.
Make three piles of clothing: appropriate, possibly appropriate and not appropriate.
Step two: Do your homework on your current field.
You may have a rough idea of the type of clothing required for your field. Take a note of the “office style” on interviews. Look to your potential boss or your mentor for cues. Alumnae in your career field are also great resources. Ask your career services office for contacts of recent graduates. Pinterest can be a great resource for helping curate your professional style. If all else fails, make a discreet call to HR. They should be more than happy to guide you in the right direction.
Step three: Develop a plan of action.
Now that you know which items you own, think of three neutral colors that would work seamlessly with your wardrobe. Major items you buy should be in these colors, to allow more versatility. Make a list of things you desperately need, would like, and want. Buy items in that order. If it’s within your budget, add a few inexpensive accessories in a fun color.
Budget and buy one piece at a time. Experts say that you should not exceed five percent of your monthly take-home salary—you don’t want to go into debt before your first job. Quality not quantity is key. Seek out the best quality within your budget. A well-made pencil skirt can dress up flimsy tops. Trendy items may not get as much use as “classic” items.
Buy clothing that fits your lifestyle. To avoid dry cleaning, check the care labels before buying. Make sure the clothing fits well or has a little bit of give.
Buy items on sale. Seek out resale outlets such as the Nearly New Shop, where you can find hidden treasures for less money.
Bras, body suits and other unmentionables A great wardrobe is based on great foundations. Even the best dress can become a dud the moment a bra strap pops out. Some of the most ignored items are the most likely to cause a fashion faux pas.
Bras: Get a professional fitting. Apparently, more than 80 percent of women are wearing the wrong bra size. Victoria’s Secret, Soma and most department stores offer free fittings.
Never expose your undergarments at work. This may seem like common sense, but many college students are accustomed to seeing exposed bra straps. Make sure you have skin colored underwear for light or white items. Don’t get caught with a bright white bra that is visible under a thin, dark top. Have a dress that is too sheer? Add a slip or body suit.
Extra credit: My top five favorite items for dressing for work.
Style book is a great app that can help you plan outfits and curate your wardrobe. It will even calculate the cost per wear.
The Hollywood fashion secrets website offers whole line of style-perfecting products. Their stylette kit was a lifesaver during an interview fashion crisis.
Skirt and dress extenders helped me when I found a closet full of dresses that were just too short. These little half-slips come in almost any color and add the length you need.
Scarves add just the right amount of flair to any outfit and conceal anything too low cut.
Cardigans and matching shells in a multitude of colors. From a cold building, to ensuring that shoulders are covered in a sundress, these are indispensable. From skirts to slacks and shorts, these items make the transition from work to play seamlessly.
Mackenzie Garretson (Alpha Delta), Chevron writer