Let’s play “what’s wrong with this picture?” If you can tell right away, you probably know a thing or two about how to dress professionally. If you aren’t sure – it’s okay. Allow me to explain.
I have seen this exact outfit on too many well-meaning young women trying to dress professionally for a nice college event or their first job. Especially if you are petite like me, the only professional wear you’ve been exposed to is the “dressy” section of the juniors department. And that can lead to what you see in the picture, the #1 mistake college women make in their professional wardrobe:
Wearing club wear as professional wear.
So when it comes time to start trading in your shorts and sweatshirts for professional life, where do you start?
I sure didn’t know! Once I realized my “dressy” clothes wouldn’t cut it and that since I didn’t work in the fashion industry, dressing like L.C. on The Hills probably wasn’t going to work. I came to the realization that I didn’t really have any concept of how young professional women were supposed to dress.
So, I read a book about all of the rules for dressing professionally. I bought a suit and collared shirts and wore my hair in a bun. I pushed all my fun casual college clothes to the back of my closet and alternated between a grey suit and a black suit every day.
And I felt like I was dying inside.
The rules of dressing professionally can be very helpful when it comes to setting boundaries, understanding culture, and being respected. However, if you’re an overachiever like me sometimes you take rules too far and forget what is really important.
Thankfully, I realized that suits weren’t me. And I missed wearing all of my casual college clothes and wasn’t ready to give them all up to Plato’s Closet.
I merged the rules of professional dress I had learned from that book with my own personal style and hit upon four staple items that allowed me to make almost every shirt I wore in college fit into a professional look:
• Navy Blazer
• Mid-length Navy Skirt
• Neutral pumps
• Pearl earrings
(note: You can get a blazer and skirt in any colors you want, but I particularly love navy because it mimics jeans and allows me to get full use of my shirts. Neutral pumps — in addition to going with everything — can also make your legs look longer).
So what happens when you get these 4 magical items? All of a sudden you can be creative with your tops and blouses and still look incredibly professional.
In the first outfit shown above I am wearing a spaghetti strap shirt from American Eagle that I used to wear with shorts and flip flops. Add a blazer, skirt, neutral pumps, and pearls and all of a sudden it becomes a great blouse to wear to work. And with pearls you can add a statement piece of jewelry without it seeming like too much (e.g. the large turquoise ring I have on in this outfit).
These four staple pieces can even make a T-shirt seem professional. Matched with a big silver cuff and my magic pieces this Target t-shirt actually works for the office.
In the last outfit, the blazer is buttoned up and paired with my favorite shell ring from Hawaii, making even a ribbed coral tank from Hollister looks ready for the boardroom.
Transitioning from college life to work life can be really difficult. It was for me. And while clothing is the least of your worries, it can add to the stress of trying to fit into a new environment and trying to figure out who you are and what your life is going to be.
So as soon as you can, invest in a blazer, a mid-length skirt, neutral pumps, and a pair of pearls and ease your college wardrobe into your work life the right way.
And save the tight black skirts and your hoop earrings for nights out with your friends ;)
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