Building a Working Wardrobe

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Have you ever considered the amount of time you spend each day picking out an outfit for work? It could be more than you think. Respondents to a 2018 Nordstrom’s survey reporting spending
an average of 8 hours per week in their closet looking for something to wear.

For many of us, the problem is compounded by having too many pieces of clothing to choose from. If you’d like to streamline the task of getting ready for work, fashion experts recommend building a pared-down working wardrobe.

When you build a small but essential working wardrobe, you’re creating a kind of uniform for your professional brand. This uniform will help you skip the process of deciding what to wear each day. Limiting your choices to a small set of basic items will free your mind to think about other things as you get ready for work.

Some of the world’s most productive people have a severely limited wardrobe. Steve Jobs always appeared in a variation of black turtle neck and jeans, while fashion designers such as Vera Wang and Michael Kors limit their fashion choices to black pants and black shirts. Then there’s tech mogul Mark Zuckerberg, who for years appeared in only jeans, gray T-shirts and hoodies. All of these people have built an identity around their professional achievements and don’t have to dress to impress.

We don’t all have jobs where we’re the boss and can do as we please. That’s another good reason for putting together a basic working wardrobe that’s appropriate in all your workplace settings. Begin by assessing company culture. Is there a formal dress code, or an informal code enforced by peer pressure? If managers at your company all dress more formally and you aspire to be a manager, then you definitely should consider putting together a polished professional wardrobe. You may favor more colorful or sporty choices on the weekends, but your working wardrobe can be more functional than fun.

Coabi Kastan is head of styling for Trunk Club, Nordstrom’s online personal stylist service. He suggests building a wardrobe from essential pieces that allow you to put together an outfit without experiencing “wardrobe panic.” For Kastan, these pieces begin with dark denim pants that can be paired with a cashmere sweater, silk blouse and striped shirt. Choosing neutral and coordinating colors will allow you to combine each piece with the other pieces. Add a leather jacket and tailored blazer and a black dress. Essential accessories include sleek flats, beige pumps and a structured leather bag. It’s easy to see how these items can be mixed and matched for different looks, especially if you add a pair of black slacks or leggings and a skirt.

Fast Company magazine suggests a similar list of must-have pieces for working women’s wardrobes. Instead of a purse, the magazine recommends a backpack that carries everything you may need throughout the day, including your laptop or walking shoes. Look for backpacks that convert into a smaller purse or clutch for after-work events. If you’re going to wear leggings or yoga pants at work, buy the type that has a zipper and can pass for pants when worn to the office, but are still comfortable enough for a workout or run.

The question of shoes for a basic work wardrobe all depends on where you work, your personal style and what’s most comfortable. Low pumps are more practical than stilettos and flats are more practical still. In more casual work environments, a pair of fancy sneakers could be the most versatile choice. Men have been wearing sneakers at work for years, so it’s finally time for women to tie on a pair for the office and still feel professional.

Whether it’s the perfect little black dress or a pair of jeans that fit just right, identify a work outfit that makes you feel self-assured and confident. This should be your go-to outfit for interviews, important meetings and days when you want to feel like you’re at the top of your game, even if you’re not.

Another aspect that Kastan of Trunk Club emphasizes is clearing out your closet. Taking advantage of a basic working wardrobe is much more difficult if you have to dig through a cluttered closet to find it. Most of us have clothing that we don’t wear but are holding on to for sentimental reasons or because we think we’ll wear it at some point in the future. The Nordstrom’s survey found that up to one third of clothing in the average closet hasn’t been worn for more than a year. Perhaps simplifying and organizing your existing wardrobe should be the first step when building your working wardrobe. ■

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