Sure, business school is still six months away, but it’s never too early to start shopping. Out with the t-shirts and in with the blazers! I’m ready for a new, more professional (looking) me.
I turned to our good friend Google for ideas, but unfortunately there are not many resources for ladies looking to update their business wardrobe (or create one from nothing). Male students are having very lively debates over navy versus charcoal suits, the proper height of dress socks, and acceptable shades of blue for button-down shirts (French blue is out, light blue is in). There are a few articles written by women, but they are noticeably lacking in specificity. Telling you to go buy “a knee-length dress” or “dressy boots” is like Napoleon telling his army to march on “that one European city.” Come on, ladies, let’s get the conversation started!
I’ve got it particularly bad because not only do I live on the laid-back West Coast, but I work in an industry where hoodies and sneakers are acceptable office attire. So I studied women on the street for fashion ideas, but gave up after counting more pairs of UGGs than should be legal. Then I started trolling department stores for ideas and came away even more confused. Turns out there’s casual, dressy casual, smart casual, business casual, business formal, and super rockstar business formal. I may have invented that last one. In any case, I decided to start with the suit. Can’t go wrong there, right? Dark suit, white button-down, black heels – done.
Well, I marched myself into Nordstrom and placed myself in the capable hands of a very exuberant saleswoman. “Get me a suit and a white button-down!” I declared.
The woman gave me a knowing smile and waved her hand over a rack. It was then that I noticed a significant lack of button-down shirts in general. “You know, this would be really flattering with a navy suit,” she said, holding up a sleeveless fuchsia leopard-print blouse. Oh dear.
Turns out that it’s impossible to tell women what to buy because fashions change so quickly. To achieve business casual, all a man has to do is remove his suit jacket. Women have to ask themselves all sorts of ethereal questions like, skirt or pants? Sweater or blazer? Flats or heels? These, folks, are the questions that keep me up at night.
After some consideration I decided to say hell to the fashion industry and create my own wardrobe wish list with this mantra in mind: conservative, versatile, and flattering. I don’t have $5,000 to spend on a new wardrobe so this will require some stalking of sales and prowling of discount outlets, but I am nothing if not a determined shopper! The plan is to be able to mix and match for networking events, interviews, presentations, and going out for drinks after class. Let me know what you think.
- 4 pairs of dark wash jeans – A few boot cut, a few skinny leg. I can dress them up with heels and a blazer or down with flats and a sweater.
- 2 dark-colored suits (jackets and pants can be worn separately)
- 1 black pencil skirt
- 4 dressier tops (to be worn with jeans or skirt)
- 4 professional tops (to be worn with suit)
- 3 camisoles
- 2 neutral-colored cardigans
- Medium-height black heels
- Ankle boots
- Comfortable flats (Yes, I just used my own cliche. Roll with it.)
- Waist-length black pea coat
- Professional bag that will hold laptop, books, and papers for class
- Undergarments (I’ll leave these to your imagination)
I’m not saying I have to go out and buy all of these things at once. In fact, I will probably freak out at the expense and decide that some of the items already in my closet will do just fine. But it sure is fun to reinvent yourself now and then.
What would be in your business school wardrobe?