Coco Chanel once said that fashion fades, and only style remains. That may be true, but, according to The Graduate Recruitment Bureau, we only have seven seconds to make a first impression—and our clothes are a part of that equation.
If your work wardrobe could use an upgrade, there’s no better time to do it than spring, a season of new beginnings. Whether you’re a new graduate or a workforce veteran, read on to find fashion staples every woman should have in her closet.
So crisp, so cool: the white shirt screams—okay, whispers—Parisian chic, or at the very least, that you’re an adult. A bit of a chameleon, the white shirt layers well with others or can be worn on its own and dressed up with a few choice accessories: think statement necklace or a silk scarf tied at the neck. Since white can fade fast, we recommend buying your white shirt on the cheap, and in multiples, and replacing as needed. Pictured: Zara combined shirt, $39.50, zara.com
Sharp, smart, and eternally feminine, a pencil skirt can help make the most of wardrobe separates. The key, here, is proportion: stay away from too-tight tops and anything shapeless in order to maintain a fluid line. The best part? A pencil skirt looks equally good with flats or heels. Pictured: Banana Republic lightweight wool pencil skirt, $89.50, bananarepublic.com
Want to look boardroom-ready in seconds? Top your ensemble with a blazer. The brand doesn’t matter much—even lower-priced stores like H&M have decent suiting selections—but the cut does. If needed, buy a size larger than what you normally wear and have your tailor customize the fit. Alternatively, a cardigan can look just as chic, especially when topped with a belt. Pictured: J.Crew Thompson blazer, $178, jcrew.com
Think a tee is too casual for the office? Think again. A basic tee, long- or short-sleeved, will take you far when paired appropriately: under a blazer; dressed up with a scarf; or even layered over a crisp white shirt as a pseudo-sweater. When it comes to knits, quality counts; cheaper blends will fade, pill and shrink, so choose wisely and invest in one that’s made to last. Pictured: L.L.Bean Signature cotton/modal tee, $34, llbean.com
Tailored dark denim
Denim toes the dress code line: conservative spaces tend to restrict it to “casual Fridays,’’ while creative environments often welcome it any day of the week. Either way, one thing’s for sure: you need to pick a pair that are up to snuff. Choose a dark wash over lighter shades, and trouser- or slim-cuts over tapered and flared styles. Also, skip bedazzling and other ornate details. Trust us on this. Pictured: Loft modern skinny ankle zip jeans, $69.50, loft.com
A wrap dress is universally flattering to every figure, and it’s an item you’ll want to keep in your wardrobe for years to come. That said, we recommend investing in the best wrap dress you can afford—Diane von Furstenberg does them particularly well — and follow the care instructions accordingly. Try silk, a four-season fabric that wears well year-round. Pictured: Diane von Furstenberg New Jeanne 2 jersey wrap dress, $325, nordstrom.com
Love to layer, baby. A lightweight scarf is a breezy, effortless addition that can be worn in a variety of ways. Wear it for added coziness or as an accessory—it’s really up to you. Pictured: Club Monaco geometric jacquard scarf, $89.50, clubmonaco.com
When it comes to covering up, it’s hard to go wrong with a classic trench in a double-breasted silhouette. These days, you can find one on just about any budget. Make sure to give yourself room for extra layers (because let’s face it: Boston’s “springtime’’ often means sweaters), and, if needed, have the hem and sleeves tailored for a proportional fit. Cinching the belt shapes a waist in seconds, too. Pictured: London Fog Heidi classic double-breasted trench coat, $99.99 londonfog.com
Step aside, UGG boots and (yikes) flip flops: a good commuter shoe can be both functional and fashionable. A low-cut canvas or suede sneaker complements pants and denim without looking frumpy, while stow-and-go ballet flats work with just about everything. And yeah, we get it: New England weather is famous for its unpredictability. Say ‘Yes’ to wellies on wet days—just be sure to slip them off as soon as you arrive at your destination. Pictured: Corso Como Ballasox ballet flats, $69, 10corsocomo.com
A nude pump is as versatile as they come. Skin-toned footwear will elongate your legs (it’s a visual trick), and they match everything from brightly-colored dresses to black pants. Steer clear of platforms and towering heels inside the office, and choose a height that’s easy to walk in (flats are fine if that’s your thing; just make sure they’re not worn out). Patent leather adds a pretty, subtle sheen. Pictured: Via Spiga Idalis pumps, $185, viaspiga.com
Canvas or leather tote
Guilty of schlepping your belongings to work in tattered grocery sacks? Yeah, we’ve been there. Invest in a roomier, structured tote that can hold it all without the risk of spillage, preferable one that fits easily over your shoulder. Neutral shades are versatile; brighter shades are an easy way to add a pop of color. Canvas and leather both work well for spring. Pictured: Coach Madison North/South tote, $298, coach.com