Dressed for Success, and You Can Too

Not to rub it in, but this week I completed my business school wardrobe. Sure, my bank account is still wheezing a little from the exertion, but what have I been saving for all these years if not to make myself look good as I earn my MBA? (Please don’t comment on what was wrong with that statement.)

Honestly, it was about time. I’ve never spent a lot of money on clothes and my workplace is the jeans-and-sweaters sort, so most of my college style is still going strong. Going to business school is not just a career change – it’s a lifestyle change. I needed to have enough items in my closet to see me through any interview, presentation or networking event, but also stay within a reasonable budget. I’ll shop at Neiman’s when I’m rich.

The trick is not to run out and buy an entire new wardrobe, but to look at what you currently own and buy only the pieces you need. Some, like your suit, should be quality, while others can be inexpensive. However, a few well-fitting items will get you farther than many unflattering ones, regardless of price. Also make sure that everything you buy is comfortable or it will get relegated to the back of the closet.

So without any further ado, here are my recommendations for how to complete your perfect business school wardrobe:

1. Shop your closet. Try on all of your clothing and shoes and get rid of anything that doesn’t fit well, is uncomfortable, or you don’t love.

2. Make a list of what you think you need and see what you already own. My list included two suits, but I already owned a black blazer and a pair of black dress pants that could serve as Suit #1.

4. The suit makes the (wo)man. Your suit is the most important piece of your wardrobe, and the one that I would suggest spending the most money on. Look for well-fitting, neutral colored suits. Ladies have a little more flexibility here – I bought one suit which I can mix and match with different trousers, jackets, or a pencil skirt. Try Nordstrom or a quality dresswear boutique.

4. Invest in good shoes. Look for comfort, quality and versatility over style – for me that meant black heels, black flats, and black boots. Your shoes don’t have to be expensive as long as they fit you well. Try DSW, Zappos, or your favorite department store. I’ve even had luck at Kohl’s.

5. Blame it on your jeans. (Get it?) Stock up on dark-wash jeans that will see you through both casual and dressier events.

6. Fill in the gaps. What’s the weakest part of your wardrobe? I was a bit heavy in the t-shirt and hoodie department, so I focused on picking up some nice, versitile tops and sweaters that can be paired with jeans or dressed up with slacks. This part of the shopping trip can add up fast, so try Macy’s, Gap, JCPenney, Kohl’s, Target, and Sears for inexpensive basics. You can also look for sales at stores like Banana Republic, Nordstrom Rack and LOFT, but even after discounting they will tend to be more expensive.

7. Back to basics. Don’t forget to stock up on socks and underwear.

8. Cover it up. Get yourself a nice coat that is appropriate for the region you will be in. For Southern California all I needed was a light trench coat which I picked up at Sears for under $50, but you may need a winter coat as well. Keep the colors neutral.

9. Bag it up. Get yourself a couple of sturdy bags for class and interviews. I’ve got a backpack that will fit a laptop, plus a nicer bag for interviews that will hold a portfolio, water, snacks, wallet and phone.

10. Relax and have a cocktail because you’re soooo ready for school.

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