There’s a saying, less is more, and what I’ve come to find over the years of refining my wardrobe, is that this is resoundingly true when it comes to style. I may have chosen to give up the capsule wardrobe, but quality over quantity is still at the forefront of mind, particularly when it comes to building a work wardrobe. So today, I wanted to talk through what I call the 12 item work wardrobe; that is, the 12 pieces that combined, make up a versatile and interchangeable collection of outfits for the office (and don’t eat into your budget for more whimsical style additions!).
In addition to talking through each of the 12 items (and why I think you need them for your work wardrobe), I’m also going to pull together 5 outfit examples of how I style these pieces together for the office.
THE SHELL TOP; A luxe silk tank or shell top has been a foundation piece for my work wardrobe for years, in part due to its practicality (perfect for Aussie summers) and in part due to how elegant it looks tucked into a pair of trousers or a pencil skirt, with a blazer thrown over the top. I like to keep things interesting with a little bit of pattern given my closet is fairly neutral, so a nice vertical black and white stripe helps to break up my block colour. As with some of the other items I’m going to mention, this is a great one to do double duty for an evening outfit, or pared back with some denim shorts on the weekend.
A DRESSED UP BLOUSE; Ever since snapping up this white and black polka dot top from Sussan, I’ve been all about the dressed up blouse. This is something that has a little bit of personality, and can inject a bit of fun into your look, which still retaining a polished look and feel. I usually tend to go for a whimsical yet understated print (polka dots are always a winner), and a ruffled sleeve adds that layer of intrigue and whimsy that I’m usually after. Other options could be a mock necked pleated top (this one from Country Road is gorgeous) or an ornately decorated lace blouse (this is a beauty).
THE BUTTON DOWN SHIRT; One of the standard wardrobe classics, a simple button down shirt is a must when it comes to building your work wardrobe. It’s entirely effortless (pair it with pants or a skirt and you’re good to go), and if you go for an oversized cotton shirt, this can also work well for a relaxed weekend outfit. Personally I tend to prefer a cotton shirt just as it’s incredibly low maintenance, but if you’re after something that is a little more elegant or that will ramp your outfit up a notch, then go for silk (Everlane is great and I also love Equipment for their silk shirts).
A SLIM FITTING SWEATER OR CARDIGAN; If you’re a regular visitor on my YouTube Channel, then you’re probably already sick of hearing me talk about Everlane’s cashmere sweater, but it’s such a good staple to have for work and for play. I’ll throw this on with a skirt, or as a layering piece over a shirt during the colder months – essentially, it’s become an indispensable part of my work wardrobe. A fitted style is best, particularly if you’re after a more tailored look, but if you’d prefer a cardigan, this particular style from J Crew is perfect as it can be worn open, or buttoned up like a sweater.
A WELL CUT BLAZER; If there’s one work wardrobe staple that’s worth investing in, it’s a good quality blazer. About six years ago now I bit the bullet on a rather spendy purchase, a classic single breasted black blazer from Helmut Lang, and I haven’t looked back. In an age where trends seem to come and go in a matter of months, this has been one of those timeless wardrobe investments that has held up over the years, and is yet to look ‘tired’. While you don’t have to spend quite as much as I did on a blazer, it’s worth considering the cost-per-wear of what is a quintessential piece for the office.
A KNEE LENGTH DRESS; One of the things I love most about having a dress in my closet, is the fact that it’s an entire outfit in itself – just add accessories. I might work in a more creative industry these days where the dress code is quite relaxed (read: denim all day every day if you really wanted), but I feel like you can’t get past having a chic sheath dress, even if it’s just to wear for important client meetings or events. To keep it looking smart, tailoring is key, and I think knee length is usually a safe bet – you never know where your career will take you, and this allows the piece to have serious longevity in your wardrobe. J Crew is usually a good place to start if you’re looking for something that is tailored and well made, otherwise I’m also quite smitten with this heather grey knit option from Forever New.
A KNEE LENGTH SKIRT; Like a white shirt in your work wardrobe, a classic skirt is not going to be groundbreaking, but it’s such a good staple to have at your disposal. Whenever it comes to making a few new additions to my closet, future proofing my wardrobe tends to be front of mind. I want to go for something that I’m still going to love in the years to come, that’s generally relatively simple (though this doesn’t mean it can’t be fun!), and that will work for a multitude of situations – or workplaces. My current favourite is a little more fashion forward than I’d usually go for, but I feel like it balances out the simplicity of the rest of my choices.
THE SLIM FITTING TROUSER; Stumbling across the right pair of suit trousers for you can be a little like finding the perfect pair of jeans – an absolute punish, but rewarding when you find the ones. Personally, I like a trouser that has a little bit of room, with a slightly cropped length and a tapered leg that nips in at the ankle. It took me quite a few years to find the right style that work for my body shape, but I’m a huge fan of the smart ankle pants from Uniqlo; not only are they affordable, but they’re easy to care for, and look a lot more expensive than they actually are. These have been a total gamechanger for my work wardrobe – in addition to becoming a key piece for my weekend wardrobe too. Rather than just relying on skirts or dresses, having a pair of trousers that you feel great in really opens up the window of opportunity when it comes to having a versatile work wardrobe. Plus, it feels a little Parisian to wear a pair of trousers with a blouse tucked in, and a killer pair of heels, non?
A SMART JACKET OR COAT; Your wardrobe’s core colour palette will be a huge factor in what styles you opt for, but I think a smart light jacket such as a classic trench for spring and autumn, or a pared back wool coat are the perfect finishing touch to your outfit. It’s going to be one of the first things that your colleagues see as you step into the office for the day, and the last thing they see you wearing as you leave, and you know what they say about first impressions… I’m always one for a neutral colour palette as it tends to be more classic, so my options of choice are usually to go for anything in beige/camel, navy, grey or black – anything that I can tie back into my core wardrobe and will also want to reach for during the weekend too.
THE EVERY DAY HEEL; Again, this is another one of those classic pieces which are generally worth just having in your wardrobe. The type of heel that you go for is going to come down to the dress code where you work, but after years of teetering around on 10cm high heels, the mid heel has become a firm favourite of mine. I love a good classic black pump as is nude (the day heel from Everlane is my shoe of choice), but if you really want to inject a bit of personality, you can have some fun with this, whether it’s a subtle bow detail like my poppy heels from Isabel Marant, or a marbled patent finish.
THE DRESSED UP FLAT; Even if you’re a heels every day kind of girl, I’d recommend also having a pair of dressed up flats that you can reach for, even if it’s just to give your feet a break every once in a while. A chic ballet flat is always a go-to; it’s feminine, classic and generally looks good with most silhouettes, alternatively a modern loafer is a good go to if your style leans a little more on the androgynous side (or if you’re just a fan of masculine tailoring in general!).
THE TOTE BAG; If years of working in both corporate and creative work settings have taught me anything, it’s that the only bag you really need for work is a smart looking tote, preferably something with a little bit of structure to it. I want to have space to carry all my essentials, in addition to my lunch, and still have room to take my laptop home if I need to. It’s also a classic option and will keep your whole outfit looking professional. My preferred bag of choice is the soft tote from Linjer, though if you want to go a little higher end, the lux tote from Prada is another classic option.
FIVE CLASSIC OUTFIT COMBINATIONS
What I love about this tightly edited selection of 12 items is that they’re incredibly versatile, and can have the potential to build on top of each other to create a number of different looks. In addition to having some layering options (like throwing a shirt or blouse underneath the sheath dress), having some strong separates gives you a lot of options – something I love a lot about mismatched suiting. So to start you off, here are five classic work wardrobe outfit combinations that you could reach for, starting with…
OPTION #1 – Dress + Trench + Heels
A classic combination if there ever was one, and I just love how the grey tone of the dress softens up any structure in the jacket. As I mentioned before, a dress is essentially a whole outfit in itself, all you need to do is add accessories.
OPTION #2 – Fitted Sweater + Skirt + Flats
I like the juxtaposition of pairing this longer length skirt with a pair of flats, rather than opting for the easy choice, AKA the pointed black pump. This is one of those effortlessly easy outfits that would be perfect for a more relaxed day in the office.
OPTION #3 – Shirt + Trousers + Blazer + Heels
This has always been one of those go to’s for me; a bit of an office uniform if you will. It’s simple, but it’s undeniably chic, especially when paired with a bold red lip.
OPTION #4 – Shell Top + Skirt + Blazer + Heels
I like the fact that there are some stripes to break up all the solid colour, yet it’s still very sleek given the darker colour palette.
OPTION #5 – Blouse + Trousers + Trench + Flats
The spotted blouse with the ruffled sleeves makes a real statement with this outfit, and pairing it with a nice pointed toe flats helps to offset the look and give it a bit of balance.
So there you have it; the 12 item work wardrobe. I’d love to know, what are some of your workwear essentials? x