Dress to Impress – Women

The Professional Woman’s Capsule Wardrobe Collection

Your wardrobe is essential to your professional appearance and career success. For the young woman starting a new job, however, compiling a professional wardrobe can be daunting. Thus, a “capsule” wardrobe, a set of clothing items and accessories that work together and can be mixed and matched, can be cost effective while providing variety, flexibility and sophistication. Once you start receiving those paychecks, you can add pieces here and there to complete or expand your collection.

Your closet is a good place to start by determining which items you already own that are appropriate for your new or prospective job. Then, shop for additional pieces to construct your capsule, avoiding impulse buys and choosing quality over quantity.

Begin by assembling your interview ensemble:

  • Two-Piece Power Skirt Suit – This will be the foundation and most important piece of your capsule wardrobe.  A proper fit is extremely important to ensure that your suit flatters your shape and feels comfortable; so don’t skimp on alterations. Select a dark color, such as black, navy or charcoal gray.  (Note: unless you find a spectacular suit in brown, use this color for your business casual pieces, as brown generally is not considered to be a powerful color). Choose a worsted wool gabardine or other good quality fabric. The hemline should fall just below the knee and should not ride up too high on the thigh when you are seated.
  • Shirt / Blouse – For a smooth fit and elegant, authoritative look, select white 90% cotton, 10% spandex long-sleeved button-down collared shirt or a white silk blouse. For a softer but still commanding look, a silk blouse in a fashionable solid color will compliment the elegantly classic style of your suit.  Leading the colors for this spring is soft mint green, followed by other pastels. Red is also “in” and should be part of your wardrobe, but go easy with this color for the interview.
  • Handbag / Briefcase – Your handbag should be large enough to carry an 8 ½ X 11 folder or portfolio, makeup, keys, wallet, etc., but not overwhelming, especially if you are petite. If you carry a briefcase, consider a small purse as an accompaniment. Both should be well constructed of good-quality leather or a high-quality faux leather. Black is a safe color, but you may opt for a bolder color provided it’s tasteful. Alternatively, your profession might dictate using a sample case or art portfolio in lieu of a briefcase. Finally, a tote bag is acceptable for casual use, but not to take to an interview, client visit or business meeting.
  • Black Leather Pumps – Select shoes with no higher than two-and-a-half-inch heels made of regular (or patent) leather. They should coordinate with but need not match your purse or briefcase. Select closed toe only; save the open-and peep-toe and sandals and sling-backs for the weekend. Make sure they’re polished to a high shine.
  • Pantyhose should fit well and match your skin tone. And, here’s the straight talk on pantyhose: if you want to be taken seriously in business, wear them. Despite the climate or weather, pantyhose are a must for the professional woman. There are beautifully sheer and comfortable styles on the market, so get a supply and keep a spare pair in your desk drawer.
  • Jewelry / Accessories – A good-looking, reliable watch is essential.  Additional jewelry should be quiet and tasteful, including earrings, a delicate necklace, bracelet, or small, elegant brooch pin on your suit lapel.  Avoid too many piercings in your ears. A colorful silk scarf, expertly tied, may be added, but only if it works perfectly with your outfit. The rule of thumb is no more than eight pieces of jewelry including your watch; earrings count as two pieces.

To complete your capsule wardrobe, following are suggestions regarding additional items that are suitable for most office jobs:

  1. Pant Suit – In addition to your basic skirt suit, a well-cut pant suit is essential. You’ll wear both suits to high-level meetings, networking events, client calls and on other important occasions.
  2. Jacket or Blazer – 
    • Select a basic jacket in a solid color, tweed check or herringbone in black, blue, gray or camel tones, lined, to be worn with a skirt or slacks.
    • A corduroy or other casual jacket in camel, dark blue or brown for dress-down is a good choice for business casual days. Don’t forget any necessary alterations.
  3. Slacks – 
    • Pick out two pair of lined, well-made, good-quality pants in solid dark colors (black, charcoal or navy) to coordinate with your jacket.
    • Select slacks (not jeans or cargos) to pair with your casual blazer.
  4. Skirt – Choose a lined pencil, A-line or pleated skirt in black, charcoal or navy to coordinate with your jacket. A side or back split or kick pleat can add flair, but the skirt should be long enough so that it won’t ride up too high when you sit.
  5. Tops – Select flattering and complimentary styles to go with your suit and jacket, such as:
    • An additional cotton long-sleeved collared shirt, perhaps in a subtle pin-stripe or other pattern to wear with your suit.
    • Two dressier silk, blend or good-quality synthetic blouses, short- or long-sleeved in soft or bold colors.
    • Two short-sleeved slip-over tailored tops or shells in soft or bold colors to wear under jackets.
    • One or two casual tailored tops to wear on dress-down days.
  6. The Little Black (or Dark) Dress – This is a wardrobe staple that should be in a style that can be worn both in the office and to a dressier evening event. Your dress should be made from a high-quality natural or synthetic fabric, cut well, lined and flattering to your shape. If black is not becoming on you, try navy, slate blue or charcoal gray.
  7. Shoes Following are suggested style and colors:
    • Tan or camel leather with medium heels. If you want some flair, try a two-toned spectator pump.
    • Casual shoes in a neutral color or ballet flats in red, bronze or other color to wear on dress-down days.
    • Sneakers to wear to and from the office to save wear and tear your feet as well as your dressier, more expensive shoes. Black leather sneakers are a good choice as they look more like shoes.
  8. Purse For a networking event, choose a small bag that holds all your essentials and is light enough to hang easily on your left shoulder while you mingle, hold a drink in your left hand and shake hands with your right.

Because the way you dress is a key element to your job search and career success, rather than requesting a new iPad for a graduation gift, you might consider asking for wardrobe pieces that will help to build your capsule collection. Once you’ve landed that first job, you can buy an iPad on your own!

Until next time,


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