Fashion Advice For Recent Corporate Sellouts

How to create a professional work wardrobe out of the awful clothes you bought while you were in college -- or unemployed on your parents’ sofa.
Publish date:
November 20, 2013
shoppables, work, Zara, college, what to wear, anthropologie

Read more from Rachel on xoVain!

I resent the fact that anyone would judge my level of skill or ability based on my appearance. I mean, I’m just as capable in a sensible Ann Taylor shirt-dress as I am in sheer palazzo pants and a sequined crop top. Plus, I’m way more fun in the latter.

But, I also don’t really have a problem with “work appropriate.” I guess I still get pretty excited about the fact that I even have “work” to dress for after spending half a post-grad year slumped across my parents’ sofa while applying for editorial gigs and bingeing on episodes of "Ally McBeal" in a six-month sweatpants fever dream.

This past January, I took an unpaid internship at a magazine and was promoted to Managing Editor within the month. (PRO TIP: Working really, really hard is always cooler than dressing well.)

When I first started working, I remember fumbling through my closet (okay, the pile of clothes on my floor) and asking my boyfriend, “What do grownups even WEAR?”

“Uh, I don’t know. Suits?” Thanks, man.

My wardrobe at that point was a strange dichotomy of grubby flannels, vintage prom dresses and skanky clubwear. Ah, college. Turning my college wardrobe into a work wardrobe on my really strict budget has been a challenge, but I dig it. I think it’s totally possible to shift your current style into something more office appropriate without spending a ton of money.

When I started my job, I had a net worth of negative bazillion, so I didn’t have a lot of cash to spend on clothes that made me look respectable. Everyone should respect everyone always, but I have to go to lots of meetings with old rich people and convince them to write me checks and stuff.

First of all, I’m 23 so no one takes me seriously. I have dimples and an annoyingly lilting voice, so I’m working against odds to convince people to listen to me. You know what helps?


(Fun fact: My high school mascot was “The Blazer.” Catholic school was weird, y’all.)

Yeah, but, duh. Anyone worth her weight in eighties rom coms knows of the blazer’s almighty sway.

When I got my job promotion, my boyfriend bought me a blazer after I’d mentioned a few times how professional they would me look. Isn’t that sweet? I got home and found a super nice Banana Republic blazer waiting for me next to a “Congrats!” card. The dude’s got game.

My go-to meeting outfit is blazer, blouse, pencil skirt, heels. It’s pretty basic stuff, but it’s a classic look that’s flattering on everybody. Like the red lip of business casual.

I never wore pencil skirts in college because they hindered my ability to scarf down $5 burritos between lit classes, but I’ve since sold my soul to corporate America in order to better channel my inner Joan Holloway. Okay, maybe I’m more of a Judy Bernly, but I’d rather hang out with Dolly Parton than Jon Hamm anyway.

Really though, don’t buy anything for work you wouldn’t wear elsewhere. That’s why I love pencil skirts. They transition well from your conservative office zone to drinks with the ladies. (Do people still get drinks with the ladies? I’ve got the adult wardrobe thing down, but I still haven’t figured out how adults make friends.)

This skirt is from Anthropologie and it’s on sale now! I like the lace overlay in the front, and the dark green color is really pretty and autumn-y. The blouse on the left is thrifted and the shoes are from Zara. On the right, the shirt is from Zara (out of stock now) and I found those boots in the closet of an apartment I moved into once. They’re probably haunted. This work look is professional, without feeling stuffy. The blazer/pencil skirt combo is a great way to work all of the blouses and plain tees you wore in college into your workwear.

Here’s a couple more ways to wear the look, with a few items you probably already own, like a pullover or a striped shirt. Oh, you don’t have a striped shirt? Come over. I’ll give you one from my mountainous pile of stripes.

If blazers aren’t really your style, they aren’t the only way to start dressing more profesh. Go the route of Summer in that 500 Days movie. Though, office romance seems like a drag, right? I’ve never tried it. However, making out in the copy room would be more fun than all the other things I do in the copy room (i.e. make copies, sigh loudly, accidentally break the copy machine, slowly walk away).

A simple collared dress can go a long way towards impressing dudes and, more importantly, bosses.

Take inspiration from Blair Waldorf or any Zooey Deschanel character and rock the collared tops, cardigans, tights and flats. The look is organized, charming, fun and all the other words in the “Summary” section of my LinkedIn page.

Need some inspiration?

If you have a “thing” that you wear a lot, don’t give it up. If you find yourself buying lots of Peter Pan collared shirts or leopard print, work that into your wardrobe. Having a “thing” is actually genius, because you will subliminally teach people to associate that thing with you, and the more often people think of you, the better. People don’t take Zooey D seriously enough, but she’s turned quirk into an empire. You can’t read a single article about bangs without at least one ZD name check. Girl’s got the whimsy game on lock.

I have a “thing” and it’s lace dresses. 9 out of the 10 times I walk past a lace dress, I buy it. It’s like I have an out of body experience every time I see lace. My theory is that I’m possessed by the ghost of a Brontë sister, or another sassy Victorian broad. It’s fine. I do own a ton of lace dresses though, and while lace can definitely be quite fancy, I wear it to work all the time.

I’ll give you three guesses as to how, but the first two don’t count. If you guessed “a blazer,” you win a sense of accomplishment and validation for your cherished reading comprehension skills!

Wearing colors to work is a good idea because it makes you seem approachable. Typically, this is the last thing I want to be, but I haven’t earned my right to Miranda Priestley behavior yet. I’m still pre-makeover Andy sheepishly smiling in a Target sweater and sensible flats. For now.

Whether your “thing” is lace, leather, denim, scarves or statement necklaces, you can find a way to work those pieces you already have too many of into your office wardrobe.

It’s important to retain your personal style while you’re on that work grind. If you reinvent yourself completely, and end up hating your job, you don’t want to hate the person you’ve created as well. Keep the parts of yourself you like around.

Some days at work are so tough, wearing something I really like is the only thing that keeps me sane. Well, that and YouTube videos of animals doing things people are supposed to do. And coffee. Oh, and heavy doses of prescription medication. But the clothes are what we’re talking about today.

Turning your college wardrobe into your work wardrobe is difficult, but fun! And you worked hard to get through college and get that job, so treat yourself to a blazer. But treat yourself to a Roth IRA as well. Don’t break the bank just to look good while you make bank.

If you’ve recently entered the working world as well, CONGRATS! What did you do to make your wardrobe more professional? If you’ve been doing this a while, I’d love some more advice! Show me your work outfits!