You need these. All of them. Now.
Why are these items important? They are the bare bones, the foundation, the starting point for any well-dressed working woman’s wardrobe. Having these pieces will ensure your preparedness for an important interview, an after-hours work event, a speaking engagement, or an ordinary day at work.
Check out the staple pieces below and click the links under the photos to look at a few items we recommend. Your staple items are going to be worn frequently, so it’s worth spending a little extra so you’ll have quality items that will last a while. In any case, there are links below to clothes at different price points.
I’m wearing three staple pieces in the photo at the bottom of this post: a little black dress, trench coat, and black pumps.
I cannot stress the importance of the little black dress (in this case, the little black work dress, not the little black party dress. They are not the same). Obviously, this dress doesn’t necessarily—actually, shouldn’t—be little. At least not in the work context. But ‘little black dress’ certainly does have a nice ring to it.
The little black dress is a necessity because of its versatility and ease. Running late? Throw your hair in a quick bun and put on your LBD. Going to work and a networking event afterwards? Wear your LBD with a blazer that you can take off later. Need to drive a long way before arriving at your destination? Wrinkles are less obvious in black clothes. LBD.
Pay attention to tailoring: the professional LBD should fit differently than your casual or party LBD. It should gently drape your body, not squeeze it to death.
Dress: White House Black Market ($160)
Dress: The Limited (currently on sale for under $50)
2. Trench (summer)/camel coat (winter)
I talked about the importance of the camel coat in a recent article about the 5 Winter Essentials. Obviously, a camel coat would be a little hot during the summertime. Enter, the trench coat. It’s easy to throw on as a lightweight overcoat, it matches with an infinite amount of outfits, and wearing it is a great way to achieve a complete look.
Trench coat: ASOS ($95)
Trench coat: Burberry ($1,695)
3. Black/nude pumps
I prefer beige or nude heels to black ones, but I have at least three pairs of both. I love a good statement shoe, but you’re going to need something you can pair with work outfits on a regular basis. We’ll talk more in depth about heel height in a different article, but most say that a good rule of thumb for work is 3 inches or less. I can’t say that I abide by that rule (lol), but I do steer clear of platform heels or anything above 4 inches. Whichever height you choose, make sure that you can walk in your heels — quickly. You don’t want to be slowing everyone down while walking to lunch just because you wanted to look fashionable (been there… it’s not fun).
If you aren’t a fan of heels at work, flats are great, too. Make sure to have a versatile pair of nude or black ones that match with a wide range of outfits.
Good rule of thumb for choosing a staple shoe: avoid shoes with lots of embellishment or detail. You’ll limit the number of outfits that you can wear a pair of shoes with if they’re black but have a gold bar across the front or lots of fringe or other decorative accents. Instead, choose a high-quality, plain shoe like this that will last a while and match with a large percentage of your closet.
Pumps: Stuart Weitzman ($385)
Pumps: BCBG (under $55)
4. THE SUIT… or a nice blazer and pencil skirt
I’m an attorney. I live in suits. I understand that not everyone has a strict dress code in the workplace, but even if you generally wear business casual to work, at some point in time in your life you’re going to need to wear a suit. Maybe to a job interview. Perhaps if you’re giving a presentation to a few higher-ups or executives. How about to a networking function? Having a suit that you can always look to when you need it is important.
Alternatively, if you are dead-set against wearing a suit, a blazer and a pencil skirt or slacks are great separates to have as well.
When you’re looking for a suit, try a plain black one, dark grey, or navy. Same for a blazer. I’d recommend sticking to black for a pencil skirt (which is going to be easier to find anyways), but I’m not against a grey or a navy one either.
Blazer: Ann Taylor ($189)
Skirt: Ann Taylor ($98)
Blazer: BOSS ($595)
Slacks: BOSS ($275)
5. Blouse or button down
Easily paired with a skirt or slacks, a neutral blouse or button down is a must. I have one in both black and white. I love having frilly statement pieces with lots of color and detail, but those aren’t for everyday wear and it’s expensive to accrue a bunch of standout pieces. You know what isn’t as expensive? Having a white or black blouse that you can pair with many outfits.
I hate, hate, hate sheer white blouses that you can see through. Who wants to have to wear an undershirt so that people won’t see your bra? Ugh. I’ll admit, it’s difficult to find a blouse that isn’t so sheer you’re telling everyone your business. Take some time to find a good blouse or button down that will last you a while. It’ll be time well-spent.
Blouse: ASOS ($40)
Blouse: Banana Republic ($78)
Blouse: Banana Republic ($49.50)
6. Jewelry basics
I don’t like over-accessorizing in the office. Coco Chanel best explained my philosophy in this area: “When accessorizing, always take off the last thing you put on.” Lots of bracelets are loud — literally and figuratively — and distracting. So are huge necklaces (use your best judgment here, though. A good chunky necklace can really add to an outfit).
Three jewelry basics that will complement a wide range of outfits: a gold or silver watch (or a watch with a black or brown band), a simple pearl necklace and earrings, and a simple gold or silver necklace and stud earring set.
Obviously, you can and should deviate from this as much as you would like, but it’s nice to have some basics that you can fall back on when nothing in your accessory box seems to match.
Watch: Kate Spade ($195)
Necklace: H&M ($12.99)
Necklace: Tiffany ($135)
7. Work bag
I have a few, but the ones I use the most are a plain nude one and a plain black one. You don’t need to drop thousands of dollars on a bag, but you should have one that is durable and large enough to carry a laptop or documents that you’re shuffling from home to work.
TJMaxx has some great finds from name brands that make good quality purses and bags. I’d check there first if you’re on a budget (or even if you’re not on a budget. Some of their purses are really cute). I have a large Coach bag that I throw EVERYTHING in: computer, shoes, umbrella, love life, little brothers, EVERYTHING.
Bag: Badgley Mischka ($100)
Bag: Coach ($995)
8. Neutral sweater
When I get to work, one of the first things I do is take off my blazer and put on a sweater. It keeps me warm and allows me freedom of movement at my desk. I hate sitting in an uncomfortable blazer all day and many offices are notoriously cold. I suggest keeping a sweater hanging on the back of your door (or your chair if you have a cubicle).
If you already have a sweater, great! Make sure it hasn’t suffered major pilling and doesn’t look tattered. You’re wearing it to work. It’s not the old sweats that you pull out when you’re cleaning your house or lounging on the weekends. It’s a work sweater and it should be presentable.
Sweater: Eileen Fisher ($159)
Sweater: Express (under $25)
9. Nice jeans
I have my fair share of tight jeans with rips and holes in them. But these don’t come with me to the office. Ever. Instead, I have a pair that I can wear for casual days. These are sans rips, holes, bleach spots, and stains. They are my office jeans and you should have a pair, too.
Jeans: rag & bone ($210)
Jeans: Topshop ($95)
When shopping, remember that these are your no-frill, high-quality staple items. These are the basics, so don’t worry about getting something incredibly unique or different. That comes later. Happy shopping!