The typical University of Miami student wardrobe consists of the following pieces: a favorite pair of jeans, a few overpriced “going-out” tops, 1001 “U” T-shirts and sweatpants-lots of sweatpants. Fine for an 8 a.m. biology class, but not quite appropriate for a summer internship, or better yet, your new dream job.
According to the website fashionforrealwomen.com, anything is possible when you have strong skills coupled with the right attire; but, a dress code mishap can stall that possibility.
A new dream wardrobe might not fit your current wallet. However, while looking like a million bucks might earn you a million bucks, it doesn’t have to cost a million bucks. With a little creativity, you can take your college clothing to the professional level.
First figure out what’s worth doling out dough for and what’s not and then invest in quality pieces, like a great pair of black dress pants and a blazer. Depending on the profession, it may not be necessary to buy a full suit. Instead go for separates that work well together and apart in order to multiply your options, (try Hugo Boss ‘Tulia’ Wool Trousers $275, Nordstrom.com and Wool Crepe Annie Blazer $218, jcrew.com). These basic pieces will get so much use, you won’t want to skimp on quality and you’ll get your money’s worth.
A few more investment-worthy pieces include a black skirt and a white button-down shirt. A white button-down might not seem like something to break out the credit card for, but better to ensure the material’s not too thin, and that you’ve bought a brand that can withstand a couple wears without needing trip to the dry cleaner (also very costly). Look for pieces like the Cynthia Steffe Zipper Skirt, $175, and Banana Republic Tailored Shirt, $58.
Once you’ve got the basics in order, it’s time to spruce up the simple with a bit of your own style. Here’s where it’s better to save, not spend. Go for extras here like vests, knit tops and belts. And fun flair to spice up the essentials-cropped formal pants, shirtdresses, ruffled or puckered accents and bright colors. Or for guys, try some different cuffs or add a little pinstripe.
Best bets for a winning price without losing much quality include Merona or Isaac Mizrahi for Target, The Limited and Express. Most pieces from these stores will run you between $20 and $50-meaning for the same price as designer stores you can go home with twice or three times as many items.
Use what you have
Not everything in your professional wardrobe has to be new; pick and choose the best from what you already own. Give it new life by adding it to your freshly-purchased pieces. For example, wear a silky South Beach top or a “going-out” button down under a blazer and it has turned sophisticated. Show your co-workers that you’re fun, funky and serious all at the same time by placing a faded tee over a collared shirt. Finally, remain credible on casual Fridays by breaking out those favorite jeans paired with pumps and a conservative top.
However, follow this advice from The Business Review, “When dressing casually or purchasing casual pieces, employees should remember their existing office wardrobe. Most business apparel can be interchanged with casual wear to obtain the most versatility in wardrobe.”
A few reminders: go easy on the accessories-they can be distracting and are more appropriate for a night on the town than a day at the office. Instead invest in a high-quality watch or pearl-stud earrings. Stick to one necklace and a select few bracelets at one time. Also, while comfortable footwear is important, not even the shiniest flip flops are office attire-save those for happy hour, or better yet, weekend getaways to the beach.
Dani McNally can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.