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3 Tips for Building Your Professional Wardrobe

Hello, Alumni and congratulations to all the recent graduates!  For those of us alumni who have been in the workforce for a few years or even a few decades, you may be interested in what I have to share if you are thinking of a new career path or just want to update your professional wardrobe. These days work attire has been redefined, especially as the professional landscape has evolved with innovations in technology allowing for flexible work options and rising trends in various industries creating new and unconventional employment opportunities. Whether the change in culture means your current, future, or desired work environment has a traditional or relaxed dress code, the following tips are sure to apply to all.

Tip #1: Invest in well-made suiting, footwear, and accessories as the pieces will business-women1last years with careful maintenance. The old adage, “less is more,” should apply here to quantity – never quality. You don’t need dozens of pieces to create variety in your outfits; you can get by with just a couple dozen if you shop carefully for high quality materials and construction. Versatility in fabric and color can take your wardrobe across seasons; for example, consider selecting suiting made of lighter weight fabrics that breathe for the warmer months or climates and for cooler weather ensure these same pieces allow for layering for warmth and protection against the elements. Quality in work attire also requires conscious styling for practicality, so beware of picking items that are too fashion-forward; it may look good in the present moment but could quickly look dated next season.

Tip #2: If the shoe (or suit) fits, wear it. Clothes that make you feel and look great should be worn. Clothes that make you feel and look great are always clothes that fit. Fit means dressing for your size, whether you are tall, petite, plus size, broad shouldered, etc. Your clothing should fit well according to your physical measurements, and since everything you purchase off the rack is not guaranteed to fit perfectly to your body, enlist the services of a tailor. I’ve seen men make beautiful suits look sloppy because the fit was too long in the sleeves and pant legs, and I’ve seen women make the same mistake because the fit was too loose or too tight. If the fit isn’t perfect off the rack and your clothing needs to be altered, a reputable tailor will know how to measure sleeves and pant legs, suggest the best way to alter suiting (i.e., take in sleeves from the shoulder or cuff depending on buttons), and possibly allow for the suiting to be let in and/or out in the future, should you need it. When you do see your tailor, be sure to bring a pair of shoes you will likely wear with the pants; for women this is important if you choose to wear heels as you will want the pants to be tailored to match your height in footwear. Fit is another important consideration for footwear as proper fit equates to comfort, and comfort in footwear contributes to physical health. Use inserts if the shoes are slightly roomy and if the shoes are slightly snug get them stretched. Most department stores and shoe stores can get the shoes stretched for you.

Tip #3: Proper maintenance and care will extend your wardrobe for years. Use proper hangers for your clothes to keep wrinkles from forming between wears and treat stains immediately according to the garment’s label instruction. Pay attention to the label’s wash and care instructions. Dry clean garments every five wears, but use a steamer between wears to get rid of wrinkles in the sleeves and creases in the pant front or seat. (If you don’t have a garment steamer or a steam option in your dryer, you can try hanging your clothes in the bathroom while you take a hot shower.) If you don’t have time or patience to iron or steam out wrinkles, make your life easier by purchasing pieces that are “wrinkle-free” or made of materials with some stretch. Purchase shoes made of natural material like leather as they breathe better. Make sure shoes are polished and maintain soles and heels often to extend the wear and life of your footwear. Again, buying well-made (yes, often “well-made” is synonymous with “expensive”) footwear will prove to be a good investment and getting the shoes regularly maintained will extend wear and life of the shoes. Additionally, don’t wear the same pair of shoes more than one day in a row; like running shoes, let your work shoes breathe at least 24 hours before next wear. If you need to reduce moisture and odor, sprinkle baking soda or dry shampoo into the toe box and soles.

Another good maintenance tip I picked up from a good friend’s father: when shopping for suiting consider purchasing two pairs of pants (or skirts) for each jacket to extend the wear and life of the jacket. Suit jackets won’t get as much wear as the bottoms so when a pair of pants or a skirt is worn and ready to be retired, you’ll have a fresh replacement readily available. This is especially effective if the suiting gets discontinued by the designer after your purchase as finding an exact, if not similar, fabric weight and color may be difficult to match.

These foundational tips will help you to build up or refresh your professional wardrobe and if you are conscious in your shopping and styling you can show some personality in your wardrobe without going over the top. Once you’ve collected a few smart ensembles to get you confidently through the weekdays, you are directing your full focus on your work and your career.

Post by Sue Moon (CLAS ’04)

Read More: College

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    Build a wardrobe of small groupings . – A functional wardrobe is made up of multiple groupings that start out with as few as 7 pieces. These groups will be based on a 2 – 3 color palette, have fabrics that coordinate, and are similar in styling.

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