how do I put together a business casual wardrobe?

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

I’m a woman in my late 20s with a graduate degree. I work in a professional office, but we don’t interact with the public, and our office dress code is nonexistent — some people wear t-shirts with writing and ratty jeans, while others routinely wear suits or at least a button-down and slacks, or pretty dresses. I default to dark jeans and a sweater/hoodie/t-shirt without writing, but lately I’ve been feeling like this makes me look young and unprofessional. I’m very good at my job, so I’m not worried about this holding me back internally, but it’s still something I want to improve.

Do you have any tips for putting together a business casual wardrobe? I feel like everyone else figured out how to do this at some point and I never did.


{ 524 comments… read them below }

    1. NothingIsLittle*

      Almost all of my professional wardrobe is from Goodwill/Salvation Army/etc. Depending on where you’re located, they might not have designer labels or anything from the last 20 years, but it’s a good way to experiment with different professional styles without a huge investment. For example, I used to think I’d like wearing a different blazer every day and had 2 black, 2 navy, red, and map patterned ones, I was wrong and I almost always wear the fitted black one or the map one if I have neutral colors on and felt no guilt donating the four others back.

      1. Jesse*

        Indeed. I just bought a new-with-tags $200 Banana Republic blazer for under $10 at Goodwill. I am frequently complimented on my expensive business clothes and I’ve never spent more than $15 on a piece.

      2. Ra94*

        Thrifting is so good for business clothes, at least in my area! I feel like a classic blazer or sheath dress stays in fashion forever, and I suspect a lot of women retire and donate their entire work wardrobe in one go. It can take a bit of time to hunt, but it sounds like OP isn’t in a rush for a specific interview or event, so she has time to slowly assemble.

        One disadvantage of thrifting is that you can’t go in with the mindset of finding one specific perfect item, but for wardrobe-building, it’s perfect. I would focus on a few key pieces- well-tailored blazers, sheath and A-line dresses, elegant sweaters, maybe pants if the fit isn’t too hit-and-miss. They don’t have to go together, because you can supplement your thrift finds with basics from Uniqlo, Gap, etc. I got a BCBG blazer that I wear over all sorts of simple dresses; today, I’m wearing thrifted wool wide-legged pants with leather loafers from ThredUp and a Forever 21 top.

        1. wittyrepartee*

          Yes, but thrifting also means that there’s a huge variety of styles and colors. I LOVE IT SO MUCH.

          1. Clisby*

            This is why I love thrift stores. There’s so much variety there that I don’t normally find in a department store. Caveat: This is true for the most common sizes – in my experience, anywhere from size 4 to 14. Outside of that, you might be out of luck – but it’s always worth checking.

            The summer after my daughter graduated from high school, she had a part-time job at the main library here, where the dress code was business casual. At high school, she mostly wore jeans and T-shirts, so we headed off to the thrift store. For about $40, I bought her 5 outfits. I told her if she didn’t really like them, we could donate them back at the end of the summer. She ended up keeping most of them.

            1. Zillah*

              I think your caveat is really good to keep in mind (and can also extend to people who might have super specific styles/body types/texture issues/etc). Thrifting can be really awesome, and a lot of people swear by it, but it’s also okay if it’s not right for you – you don’t need to force it. (When I’ve tried to thrift, I’ve often felt like something was wrong with me and sometimes ended up buying things I didn’t really like just because they were what was in my size, and it’s just a Not Great Experience for me.) It’s just one of many options.

              1. Bambi*

                So true about the size thing. As someone on the smaller size (like have trouble finding my size in regular stores) thrift shopping is just a dream for me. Hell half the time I buy clothes in general just because they fit, not because I like them. It’s nice to buy something that just fits instead of having to spend time altering every single thing you buy..

            2. Glitsy Gus*

              This is a big thing to remember. Plus sized thrift shopping is pretty rough, especially for professional clothes. I have found a few tings, but in general because good, professional plus sized clothes are already hard to find, most women wear them into the ground rather than donate them.

      3. Classroom Diva*

        This is me. We have really nice Goodwill stores in our area, so it is easy to shop and find some really nice clothing. I also use Kohl’s to fill in some nicer items that I can’t find (or haven’t yet found) at the Goodwill (since that is always hit or miss).

        I’m grateful that neither me, nor my daughter, have any issues using thrift stores or wearing used clothing. We have nice wardrobes, and very little of it cost us all that much.

        I’ve never understood the need for $100 pairs of pants or $200 dresses. Just not necessary to look nice.

        1. pancakes*

          There are lots of Goodwill recommendations in this thread for good reason, but I hope those of you who are regular shoppers will consider taking a moment to look into the way they treat their disabled workers. Not just the most recent controversy, but the 2013 NBC investigation as well. Federal law allows them to pay disabled workers much less than minimum wage, and many Goodwill franchises do. The 2013 investigation found disabled workers being paid absurdly exploitative wages – 3¢, 4¢, 10¢ per hour.

      4. AnnaBananna*

        Ha, I just looked down to my Goodwill-ed skirt. Best $3 I think I’ve spent in a looooong time. :)

      5. Effective Immediately*

        The only issue with thrifting sometimes is if you’re outside ‘standard’ sizes, your options tend to be really limited. Even at the top end of standard sizing, I find non-matronly work clothes difficult to find in thrift stores.

        1. Zillah*

          IME, it’s also an issue on the bottom end of standard sizes and/or if you have bigger boobs. It’s definitely not for everyone.

    2. JJ*

      I tend to look to J. Crew to just calibrate what “fancy casual” is and go from there. Nordstrom Rack is good! Sweater + dark jeans + nice shoes is all you really need, or get a casual blazer to put on top of the t-shirts and roll the sleeves up. Or a nicer dress + kicks (to dress it down).

      1. JJ*

        Ha, I just realized I’m sitting here in a like-new J. Crew dress I got at a Goodwill for like $5. Practice what you preach kids! :P

        1. Miss Muffet*

          my neighborhood has a buy/sell facebook page so i’ve gotten most of my work clothes that way – cheap. Even shoes sometimes! Nice way to try things and then if you don’t end up wearing it, you can just re-post it and basically get your money back!

    3. Long-time AMA Lurker*

      Yep, sitting here in an Ann Taylor Loft dress I thrifted for bucks! I know Allison has written about this before, but ThredUp is THE BOMB for mixing in some good pieces into your wardrobe – sweaters, blazers, a pencil skirt, the usual. So much cheaper (and it’s also fun to favorite items when you’re bored).

      1. hermit crab*

        I really like ThredUp too! I think it is a great option if you have a favorite type of shirt, dress, or whatever that you already know is going to fit. I’ve been periodically checking the site and buying the same shirt* in as many colors/prints/seasons as I can find, and now I basically have a personal uniform.

        *Ann Taylor Loft “utility blouses” – not for everyone because they are 100% polyester, but I like how they look on me, they last forever because they are essentially made out of plastic, and there are a LOT of them floating around the secondhand clothing world.

      2. Sally*

        I love ThredUp! I gained weight last summer, right before I started a new job, and my carefully selected new “work clothes” didn’t fit! I went to Goodwill, Boomerangs (local thrift store that benefits AIDS research), and ThredUp, and I’m all set! I tried Poshmark, but you can return something if it doesn’t fit, and that is never going to work for me. You can search ThredUp by designer/company, which is helpful when looking for work clothes. I like Banana Republic, Tahari, Taylor, Just…Taylor, Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit, Calvin Klein, Talbots, Ellen Tracy, Croft & Barrow. And contrary to how this list sounds, I’m not preppy at all! There are plenty of blouses, dresses, pants, etc. that are my style, well-made, and in good condition. Best of luck!

      3. MalleyMO*

        LOFT is the greatest! I buy 90% of my clothes there (both business casual, and outside of the office). Pretty much any blouse from them can be business casual appropriate. If you sign up for their emails, they frequently do 40% off everything sales and I can snag up a couple blouses, pants, and a cardigan or a dress for around $60.

        1. Stepinwhite*

          Thred up is nice, but one pet peeve of mine: their inseam measurements are WAY off. I’m short, so I’m always paying attention to their inseams. I don’t think I’ve ever bought a single pair of pants that was accurately measured. They are always tw0 or three inches too long.

          1. Devil Fish*

            I’m pretty sure they don’t actually measure the clothes they get, they just take the measurements from the size chart of whatever brand the clothes are (or use a generic if they can’t find a brand-specific one, which is entirely useless). This kills me because they advertise as being a good place to buy or sell clothes but they pay basically nothing even if the clothes are unworn with the tags still on.

            I wouldn’t resent being paid $15 for a literal bag full of clothes with tags totaling over $500 (yes, they accepted all the clothes I sent) if they were doing things like taking accurate measurements or photos. Example: 1 pair of slacks had a tag that said $75, they gave me $1 and listed them for $30.

            1. Fortitude Jones*

              I got a pair of Alexander McQueen strappy stilettos from thredUP for $13 because someone mislabeled them as being Anne Klein.

      4. Zillah*

        Just a quick cautionary thing about ThredUp – they can be really great, but I’ve also found that even their “like new” clothes that look great when I get them often only last a season or two – it’s been a consistent enough issue for me that I don’t really order things from there anymore.

      5. Confused*

        I must be the only person on Earth who hates them. I donated a bunch of clothes and got pennies for them, and it was fairly nice brands, some fast fashion too though. Then all my stuff was marked way the hell up. I’m sorry but you cannot charge $10 for a shirt from H&M when I can go there and get it new for the same price. Their search also sucks. I strongly prefer Poshmark for secondhand clothes.

    4. Booksalot*

      I am so disappointed with Rothy’s. They are cute and comfortable, but they REEK. They’re washable, yeah, but I catch a potent whiff halfway through one day of wear. Even using spray deodorant on my feet didn’t help.

      1. But Make It Data*

        I had a similar issue with them until I started wearing those socks meant for flats that stay on with the sticky thing on the heel. Turns out I just have sweaty feet! Now I barely ever have to wash my Rothys since the socks absorb all the sweat.

        It’s gross to talk about but I’m honestly way happier now.

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        I will confess to having a slight Rothy’s problem (wearing pair #4 right now), but I don’t find that mine reek quickly, and I can definitely stink up a shoe (RIP super-cute heels that smelled like something died in them). I do wash them (and the insoles), but it’s more based on when they get dirty looking.

        But I love them, and they are great for both casual and business casual.

    5. JJ Nitmo*

      Having been a clothing professional, you may want to look into what styles of business casual is comfortable for you. Depending on your budget, you could go to a store like Nordstrom or Macy’s where there are consultants who could help you pick out some outfits. If that’s out of your budget, you may want to go there to pick out just one nice outfit and take what you learned from the consultant and go shopping for similarly styled professional clothes at stores where the price is much less.

      1. Vera Smoot, lady detective*

        For the how to figure out WHAT TO WEAR

        I bought a ebook “The T-Shirt and Jeans Handbook” – which basically showed me how to mix my casual pieces with accessories for a more polished look.

        I check out websites like “Alexa Webb” for more style tips.

        I also like to look at catalogs & look books for various retailers – (Lands End, Talbots, JCrew, Banana Republic) for styling tips.

        FOR WHERE TO BUY IT – I try to recreate the looks using pieces I own. If there is any one piece that I need (like a navy blazer, or a statement necklace) I buy it on

        1. Broiled Alaska*

          I love a good lookbook! And if you google ‘Business Capsule Wardrobe” you can get a whole bunch of ideas — plenty of them on Pintrest! The best part of a capsule is that you only need a few key pieces that you mix n match. And take a look at how the models are styled – a tank and jeans with sneakers may say “weekend barbque”, but that same tank and jeans with a scarf and pumps might read as “casual friday at the office” when worn with a sleek ponytail and earrings and a bright lip. You might not have to buy anything, just style more!

    1. Yorick*

      In this case, I think OP can keep the dark jeans and choose blouses and sweaters that are a little more formal.

      Also, in this situation she can get quality pieces (a nice pair of slacks, a good blazer) here and there and build a wardrobe up one at a time.

      1. Ellsbells*

        There can also potentially be some flipping of that, too: mix in nicer tops with the dark jeans, and occasionally, perhaps pair a t-shirt with a nice skirt or dress slacks and cardigan/blazer.

    2. Katrinka*

      Right, I generally wear dark jeans all the time to work, but with a solid or striped t-shirt and cardigan with flats or boots.

      It’s probably a cliche, but I found a lot of great work-appropriate tops and sweaters at LOFT on clearance.

      1. I AM a lawyer.*

        I was going to suggest LOFT or LOFT Outlet, as well. I’ve gotten a lot of cute blouses and cardigans there.

        1. Imaginary Number*

          I third LOFT. You can get some lightweight 3/4 sleeve cardigans from there that won’t suffocate you in the summer but are good for throwing over sleeveless blouses. Just keep in mind that they have some of the worst size variance and you sometimes have to go down one or even two sizes to avoid wearing a tent.

      2. ThatGirl*

        Yep, I was gonna say basically the same thing – my work wardrobe is largely dark jeans with non-printed t-shirts/blousy tops in the summer and layered with a cardigan in winter, plus flats, nice sandals or boots. Granted my office is strictly casual; if it were “business casual” I might add some khakis to the mix. Stores like LOFT, American Eagle and Lands End are good for clothes in that realm.

        1. ThatGirl*

          Oh, and adding accessories (scarf, statement necklace, earrings) and nicer shoes is a great way to “dress up” an outfit that’s otherwise a little more casual.

          1. Jessica M*

            Yes to this (and many comments). I like to spend more on my shoes for nice, long lasting dress shoes that can really bring up the dark jeans and blouse. I like to get on sale classy but basic black/solid color dress booties or high heels and I have in the past purchased high heel tip protectors for cheaper shoes just to keep them from wearing out (especially if on your feet a lot).

          2. CallofDewey*

            Definitely agree with the accessories! A necklace or a pair of earrings can make something more casual all of a sudden work appropriate. I got a giant “grab bag” bag of statement necklaces on poshmark for like $20 and rotate through them pretty much daily.

      3. CheeryO*

        Bingo. Dark jeans, a “nice” top (I like to go for brighter colors or things like a subtle animal print just to keep it from being too bland), and a cardigan. Flats or nice sandals in the summer, tan or black boots the rest of the year. It might be basic, but it works.

      4. RUKiddingMe*

        I really like Target’s work wear stuff. Office friendly but not too formal.

        That said though unless I plan to or am likely to do a client thing, you’ll find me in jeans, sweats, leggings, etc. And hoodies…I have lots and lots if hoodies. Hey…it’s Seattle! :-)

      5. Bee*

        Nice jeans + a button-down blouse is a really sharp look that doesn’t look like you’re trying too hard, too! And yes, Loft is great for this. It’s also easy to stock up on ThredUp – it takes a lot of browsing to find the good stuff, but I got five tops for under $100.

        In the summer I tend to go more for dresses and skirts, and Loft and Target are great for those.

      6. Startup HR*

        J Crew and Banana Republic Outlets are also a good place for blouses/nice tops, especially if you get them in the season change over when there are lots of discounts.

      7. Kes*

        Agreed on this (although my office is casual, so I actually often wear high top sneakers with my dark jeans, nicer tshirts, and sweater or cardigan). I also like Old Navy’s “Luxe” tshirts which are just in a slightly nicer fabric and can be paired with a nice necklace as well.

    3. MaureenSmith*

      Agreed, dark jeans (no holes) are professional. Change the hoodies to something with a better cut/pattern. I prefer knit materials as they move with me better, but in nice pattern or styles. Look for blouses rather than t-shirt. Something that doesn’t scream t-shirt. Layered camisoles is NOT professional. A nice cardigan or unstructured jacket to throw on top when you are cold. A jacket can dress up a t-shirt, especially if it’s v-neck.

      1. NothingIsLittle*

        I, too, agree about the jeans. I think a fitted, unstained t-shirt looks great with a structured blazer over it. A great blazer can make pretty much anything more professional. Dark or black wash jeans with a white t-shirt and black blazer would be a great option as would a cute dress (at an appropriate length!) under one. Granted, I look significantly better in a blazer than a cardigan, which may be why I suggest it. Blouses are awesome when the air conditioning hasn’t been cranked to 60, but, as you said, layered camisoles screams middle school in the 2000s (or maybe that was just me, yikes).

        My biggest recommendation for OP would be to find a nice blazer and a nice cardigan, both of which fit her well, and experiment to see which one makes sense. My guess would be that a cardigan would work most days and a blazer would be better when trying to impress someone.

        1. Elizabeth*

          I second the suggestion to find a great blazer!

          I would also suggest learning how to fold up the blazer sleeves properly – it can throw a bit more of a polished but casual vibe in, which can be helpful if the rest of your outfit is more formal than normal and you want to emphasize the snappy casual aspect of the outfit.

          There are som great tutorial online. I prefer the version where you do a bigger fold first (maybe 3-4 inches) then fold the fold, leaving just a bit of the edge showing. Google “cuffed blazer tutorial” for examples.

      2. Pippa*

        Yes! I’m in a field where I can pretty much wear what I like at this point, luckily, but like LW I’ve often felt like I didn’t quite have a handle on the business casual look I really wanted. One thing that works for me is to keep my funkier t-shirts in rotation by wearing them under a blazer. I’ve settled on the principle that a good blazer makes everything else ok!

        I’m still frustrated that the variance between flats and boots with heels means that I have to have, e.g., black trousers in more than one length – and women’s sizes often don’t specify an inseam length. Damn the patriarchy etc

        1. MimiMarie*

          I just started getting all my black trousers a bit more fitted and at ankle length or slightly cropped, which lets me wear my keds, sandals, heels or wedges, and ankle boots with them!

      3. Oh So Very Anon*

        I find that t-shirts with a different neckline than the standard crew neckline (think v or scoop) can look much more business-like, especially under a blazer or sweater. Something about the neckline makes the difference.

    4. Venus*

      I am surrounded by people who wear collared (polo / golf type in the summer) shirts. I wear dark jeans or black pants, and short-sleeve collared shirts, and a sweater if needed. It balances well with being a bit professional, while still being practical. I do technical work, and I worry that if I dress to nicely then I will lose some of my nerd credibility.

      1. MommaCat*

        This is what I wore when I was in a business casual environment, but had a more physical job than most of my coworkers. When I wore a sweater, I layered a polo underneath to go for an “English Professor” vibe, which worked for me as a not-very-effeminate woman. My advice? Find a nice, washable sweater you feel comfortable in, and buy a bunch in different colors. That can become your new “uniform” like the hoodies have been.

        1. Venus*

          That sounds very familiar, as does Another Scientist’s comments! I definitely do the multiple shades of the same thing, and that type of sweater.

      2. another scientist*

        I hear you on the nerd credibility. Also agree with poster below if you find a look that you like, to buy it in at least two more colors. I gave up on finding well fitting button downs (I do like the look), but popover blouses work well for me, and often they have an extra button to pin in place rolled up sleeves. I’ve got four colors/patterns and it’s an easy outfit with some dark jeans or slacks.

      3. SciDiver*

        Agreed, the nerd cred is real and necessary to maintain. My office is a range from collared shirts and golf attire to graphic tees and flip flops. I like to mix and match a bit, maybe dressing up a less formal top with slacks or a nice skirt, but I’ve recently had a lot of success with changing up my shoes. The same outfit looks more dressed up if I’m wearing nice summery loafers or my tall leather boots instead of my (pretty beat up) sneakers.

    5. SheLooksFamiliar*

      Co-signing the need for dark jeans! Pair them with a blazer or sharp-looking cardigan, and you look sharp but not overly formal. Even with sweaters, T-shirts, and Chuck Taylors, dark jeans keep you casual but not I’m-washing-my-car casual. Speaking of shoes: I’m still a fan of penny loafers, but I wear the ones with thick or lug soles. They’re fun but still professional.

      As for where, I am a fan of Poshmark and – hangs head in embarrassment – eBay. I’ve found some great deals on blazers/suit separates, blouses, and my favorite Coldwater Creek dress slacks.

      1. NothingIsLittle*

        OOOOO, I love Poshmark for shoes! Goodwill and Salvation Army are great for clothes, especially in wealthy areas where they don’t really realize/care about the resale value, but I’ve had more success on Poshmark for shoes or when looking for specific brands.

        1. SheLooksFamiliar*

          Same here! I love Earthies Braga loafers, they are SO comfortable and SO hard to find. Thanks to Poshmark, I have a pair in every color.

      2. Oh So Very Anon*

        Half my wardrobe comes from ebay! (Holds head high.) I find expensive brands that I know look good on me and fit well, and buy them for less on ebay.

        1. TardyTardis*

          I once scored a beaded dress (in a size I will never fit in again, alas!) for less than $30 delivered. Still can’t bear to give it away.

    6. AcademiaNut*

      That’s what came to mind for me too. Nice jeans, shoes that aren’t grubby running shoes and a top that’s not a hoodie, sweatshirt or casual t-shirt make a nice compromise between comfortable/casual and looking professional and well put together. If you have long hair, using a hair clip rather than a simple ponytail makes for a more polished look as well.

  1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

    Honestly, an easy go-to when you’re starting out is slacks, short-sleeved blouse, and optional cardigan. For shoes, closed-toe, dark, not decorated. It will carry you through a lot of offices and situations without being remarkable, and for the most part, it’s easy to source from thrift stores or thredUp on a secondhand basis.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      Shoes are key. Don’t wear athletic shoes with bulky white soles, but there can be some stylish tennis shoes not actually meant for working out can work. I’m a fan of Clarks closed toed, flats which I find comfortable and stylish with jeans.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        Agreed. Shoes are important. They can totally make jeans and a pull over “office casual” instead of “office grunge.”

      2. daen wiser*

        I’m on my feet for a good chunk of the day, so I do wear athletic shoes – but I stick with all-black and leather-look. I’ve been known to color in small grey areas (like a stitched logo) with a black marker as needed.

        1. Kes*

          Yes, I look for shoes in discreet colours – solid grey/navy/black mostly. I also have some from Ecco that are a cross between sneakers and boots which are quite comfortable but somewhat nice looking as well

      3. AvonLady Barksdale*

        Yup. I have been wearing non-athletic sneakers for years, usually Pumas. I now have a couple of pairs of Cole Haan sneakers and I love them– I wear them with jeans, black pants, and skirts. I work in a casual office but I prefer to dress more on the business casual side. I wore a pair of metallic Cole Haan sneakers to a conference once and a senior colleague commented that I was the only one on our team who got the memo, because all of the European guys were in jeans, jackets, and dressy sneakers.

        1. Busy*

          I have non-athletic sketchers on right now. I have very wide feet for whatever reason (sucks btw) and right now I need a shoe with support.

          With that said, shoes are important. Go with nice non-descript flats. And also check out the Dressbarn. It is this cult favorite place (mostly for us post-pregnancy bodies lol) who like clothing that is less 20s something professional as the LOFT can sometimes be, but also not older lady. Basically sophisticated without the cost. Their tops are also longer and are “built” with women’s bodies in mind. It is so sad they will be closing next year. The outrage is real.

          (also, they have really great sales!!!)

          1. TardyTardis*

            Bonworth is the place for nice, cheap polyester slacks, especially if you are short and round (*I* am a medium there, mmmm…). I bought three black and two blue ones, matched my shirts and the pants as they came out of the dryer, done for the week! Just grab a hanger in the morning…

        2. Dorothy Zbornak*

          I love Cole Haan’s whole line of comfy oxford-looking sneakers. I’m going to buy a pair when I have a bit more cash!

          1. Thrifty mcthrift*

            I found a pair in a thrift store! Sometimes you get lucky. But also just adding to everyone else’s points about thrifting being the way to go.

            I work in a business casual environment, 90% of my wardrobe is thrifted, and I’m constantly complimented by colleagues on my style.

      4. LilyP*

        I have two pairs of Tomboy Toes brogues I love for days I need to dress up a little — they look nice while still being very comfortable and practical for running around in.

      5. Quill*

        I go bannanas when I can find a tennis shoe in grey or black, because I physically can’t wear anything else without pain. (It’s specific enough that I can usually only wear one brand because they’re the only ones with the correct structure to fit my orthodics.)

        Fortunately when I transitioned (hopefully for good) out of lab work I didn’t get any weirdness about my shoe choice in an office setting, even though almost all the other women are wearing wedges at one point or another.

        Of course, I overcompensate with the cardigans and quality jewelry.

    2. Mama Bear*

      I’m a fan of Land’s End for sweaters. I can usually get them on sale and stick to solid colors. I also get a lot of polos there. Target, Kohl’s, LOFT or Penny’s for simple blouses or fancier t-shirts. I tend toward closed toe flats for work – comfortable, but also a step up from sneakers. There are many options. Sketchers has a Bikers line that is comfortable like a sneaker. You can also consider colored jeans if you want that middle ground between work pants/slacks and jeans. I’d probably start with different shirt options and build from there.

      1. Former HR person*

        I have found Lands’ End at the thrift stores. Because they are mostly an on-line brand, some folks will donate stuff that does not fit rather than go through the trouble to return.

    3. Salamander*

      This, so much this. I have a color palette that works for me, so that all my stuff is mix and match like the adult version of Garanimals.

      1. Ginger Peachy*

        I seriously wish they made the adult version of Garanimals! Life would be so much easier.

    4. Night Cheese*

      My uniform in the colder months is a swing dress, leggings, and long cardigan – all of which I get at Old Navy.

      1. Parenthetically*

        Yep. I don’t like dressy pants as a rule, so my teaching uniform was comfy (usually jersey) dresses, with leggings/fleece tights, cardigans, scarves, and jackets as the season required.

    5. A Social Worker*

      Agreed. My “work uniform” is a black pair of slacks with a sleeveless top and an open cardigan (sleeveless only because they seem to fall better on my body than shirts with sleeves). I like that I don’t have to think about what to wear in the morning, just pull a pair of pants and a top out of the drawer and throw them on!

        1. CostcoSellsThemSometimes*

          Mine too!

          Sleeveless tops are great if you are worried about sweat, too—even with a cardigan you can get a little breeze going. No obvious pit stains and you have to wash them less

  2. Andy*

    keep to one or two color families. that way everything coordinates to some extent. then try to get a couple of flashy ‘costume’ style pieces to work with. statement necklaces help dress up a shirt/blazer/slacks situation. and I keep a spare blazer in my office in case of a meeting….then (a university so this may not work everywhere) even if I’m wearing something more casual I can dress it up. This only works because i only wear things in the same color family.

    1. Andy*

      and keep to one or two shirt silhouettes that are flattering and comfortable. it helps when you’re getting dressed in the morning.

    2. R*

      Agree with color families. For me, every ‘neutral’ is black/white/grey (ie. no brown or navy) and everything colored is blues and greens. Because warm colors don’t suit me. Then my black shoes go with almost everything, and my tops go with everything and not too much brain power is required in the morning.

      1. SheLooksFamiliar*

        Are you my twin? My wardrobe is mostly black/slate gray and white, although I love my inky dark navy blazers. I am not gifted with the ability to match and accessorize with artful carelessness, as if I just threw things on and, wow, it all looks great. I have blouses, tees, tunics, and sweaters in the same colors, and also rust, green, copper, amber, and other autumn colors (pale redhead). It’s easy to yank things out of my closet and look presentable…maybe not Vogue-ready, but I’m okay with that.

    3. Corporate Goth*

      This. I believe it’s often referred to as a “work uniform” or “capsule wardrobe.”

    4. Rena*

      Agreed, settling on colors really helped me nail down my work wardrobe. I use two neutrals and three-ish colors. Whatever I buy has to work with my neutrals. I got a lot of inspiration from The Vivienne Files. Her style is definitely older, but I love how she finds inspiration for color palettes in art and shows you how to play within the palette.

      My office is the same as yours, minus the suits. Here’s my general wardrobe breakdown:
      2 pairs slacks from Eddie Bauer – wrinkle free, super comfy, look classy without being overly formal
      5 ribbed cotton short-sleeved shirts from Uniqlo – they wear like tshirts but look more professional
      3 button down shirts – always nice for meeting days
      5ish cardigans – One navy, one gray, and the rest are where I play with color, pattern and style
      2 pairs of work shoes
      In the summer I might swap pants for a tea-length skirt or dress, in the winter I bring out sweaters, and I add more personality with jewelry and scarves.

      It’s really, really nice not to have to think too hard when I’m getting dressed at 6am.

    5. SCORMHacker*

      If you are on Pinterest, search for “Capsule wardrobe”, it had a lot of good resources on how to build a good base wardrobe. If you take the time to plot out what you have as they do in a capsule, you’ll be surprised how many outfits you can have with not so many pieces. I keep to a specific color family as well (navy, maroon, white, black) for anything I buy. Really helps everything coordinate all the time and I get a lot of compliments on how well my outfits look put together (which is easy when in it all is in the same color family in the first place! like grown-up Garanimals for those old enough to remember them!:)).

    6. theAutomator*

      Totally agree with the limited color wardrobe! I took it to the extreme a few years back: I had 2 pairs each of black and navy slacks (of the “close to, but not technically jeans” variety), white button-downs, and plain, long sleeved, V-neck pullovers in dark grey or burgundy. I commuted by bike, so it was important to have clothes that could stand up to that.

      The best part was that it was all machine-washable and dry-able, and the button-downs were a wrinkle-free variety (although the pullover covered them, generally). Without any thought whatsoever, I could wear my “uniform” and look put together. Plus, because all the clothes were so nondescript, nobody ever commented that I was repeating outfits.

      Also, accessories can take you from “grad student” to “professional”. Shoes, definitely, but also incorporating some small pieces of high quality jewelry elevated my fairly basic look. For me, this was a small chain of pearls and some gold stud earrings – again, pieces that matched everything and could be worn multiple days in a row without comment.

      1. Pucci*

        Jewelry really can take an outfit to the next level. Necklaces don’t need to be expensive. And they can be something others can give you as gifts (my mother loves to buy me necklaces and kitchenware for Christmas, so I rarely buy these for myself)

  3. SJPxo*

    I work in academia which has no dress docs but as a 30 yo women I like to keep to dark jeans, usually black and then dress up my outfits with smart loafers/shoes and have nice tops that are usually chiffon or other more smart materials and then blazers, smart cardigans etc. That way I am comfortable, I stick to keeping a professional standard but don’t look overly smart like a dress suit would be.
    Other ladies often wear longer/midi floral or plain addresses as well.

    1. Birch*

      Yep, same. I add in a couple of sheath dresses and dark coloured tailored jumpsuits as well.

      I joke about the “psychologist cardigan” because literally everyone in my field has the exact same collection of basic cardigans in every colour–but I think they’re pretty common in academia in general!

    2. AVP*

      This is pretty much exactly what I do!

      And I love the Madewell or Everlane black Chelsea boots in the winter – super comfortable and always look good with dark jeans. I’ve had the same pair for years, polish them at home and occasionally replace the soles when they wear out.

    3. Rebelx*

      Agree. For the LW to get started I would say work on getting a variety of blouses in nicer materials, as well as several pairs of dark jeans or slacks in basic colors, and several cardigans or blazers in varying colors, that you can mix and match with your tops. For shoes, my go-to is something comfortable and black with a low heel, but I think anything that’s not sneakers or super casual and can combine with a lot of outfits is a good starting point.

  4. TotesMaGoats*

    During the summer, my office is business casual. I’m an assistant dean so I can’t get super casual so my go to this summer has been all from New York and Company.
    –cute patterned crop pants and solid top
    –cute patterned top and solid crop pants
    –cute patterned top and jeans
    –thick cotton summer dress; knee length
    –flat leather(ish) sandals in brown, black and white with wedges for when I need to be tall

    Seriously, this has been my whole wardrobe. Today is flowered pants in pale blue, yellow, red and green flowers with a dark tan flowy short sleeved blouse. And sandals.

    1. annakarina1*

      I also got clothes from New York and Company when I was about 25 and realized that my clothes for my front desk job at a museum (jeans, hoodies, t-shirts) made me look younger and immature, and not like an office-professional adult. I got several blouses and nice slacks so that I could look more like an adult. A decade later, I don’t shop there much anymore, but often wear cardigans, slacks, and blouses or plain tees at work, so it’s now more “reserved librarian” look.

      1. TotesMaGoats*

        They are the one place where I can find actually petite pants that I don’t need to hem and much of my professional work wardrobe is from there. Sweaters, cardigans, dresses. They did a great crepe type fabric this spring/summer in several cuts and patterns that are very flattering and very appropriate for work beyond business casual. I’ve worn them to meetings with higher ups several times. It’s all in what you buy.

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          They are the one place where I can find actually petite pants that I don’t need to hem and much of my professional work wardrobe is from there.

          This used to be true for me as well, but the stores out my way started carrying “petites” that weren’t actually petite, so I stopped shopping there. Now I’ve found that pants through White House Black Market are like this (true petites) – I buy mine on thredUP.

        2. ashie*

          They’re the only place I can find NON-petite pants that cover my ankles! Seriously, I never buy pants anywhere else.

        3. TardyTardis*

          Bonworth has petites in all their slacks–yes, they look like Old Lady Central, but the slacks are perfectly fine, and go with all tops.

  5. Lady Phoenix*

    Nice blouses will instant change your wardrobe—whether paired with clean jeans or chino pants.

    Dress barn has some wonderful options at a good deal since they are closing.

      1. Iris Eyes*

        Unfortunately they are becoming an endangered retail species. Also if you see Roz and
        Ali you have found the same people.

      2. SoHappyItsThursday*

        Totally agree. I regularly find what I need there. Hate the name. Changing it might have saved them, who knows?

    1. LilyP*

      I’m seeing this in a few places, and I’m wondering if people would be willing to elaborate a bit on what makes a “nice” or “smart” top/blouse? Are there specific fabrics/cuts/colors/patterns to seek out or avoid? (I’m not the OP but I’m in a similar position)

      1. Liz*

        to me it means more tailored, or classic, more on the conservative side. not something you’d wear out to the bar or club. More muted fabrics and prints, although that’s not to say you can’t wear a floral print top with a ruffle. it really all depends on what your dress code is, and your own personal style.

        where I am its pretty much anything goes although technically we are business casual. and as of last year, can wear jeans every day. which is both a blessing and a curse to me. a blessing in that its easier to choose what to wear but a curse in that it means a lot of the time i don’t put a lot of thought into my outfits, even though I have a HUGE full walk in closet. I don’t ever look schlumpy but i tend to forget I have nice black pants, etc.

        my current summer garb consists largely of Lilly Pulitzer tops with capris or jeans. and some maxi skirts with cute tank and matching sweater

      2. Birch*

        I think “nicer” fabrics are usually more like chiffon, silk, linen, or high quality cotton. You can usually get work appropriate clothes that are made of modal or viscose that are comfortable, wash well, and look nice and don’t cost a ton. Less is more. Solid colours read more professional than patterns in general, but simple patterns are often OK. The cut should fit you well, so not super tight or too short. Black is always ok, white is usually ok. Bright colours don’t read as professional as muted colours, neutrals or jewel tones. For decoration like buttons, ruffles, straps, lace–less is definitely more. Decorations aren’t always unprofessional, but they shouldn’t be distracting.

      3. AVP*

        When I worked in retail many years ago we had pieces in what we called “career fabric” – it’s hard to explain exactly what that meant, but basically I thought of it as anything made from cotton blouse material, silk, or variations on those, and thick/conservative enough that you would feel out of place wearing it to a bar or club on a Friday night.

        I also think (unfortunately) the idea of coverage comes into that for women – sometimes wrap tops and blouses seem great for work and look fine on me except they’re lower cut and show more cleavage than I want – so I personally take those out of the “work clothes” category but everyone will have a very different experience with that depending on body type.

      4. ErinFromAccounting*

        Generally, nothing skin-tight or with plunging necklines/cutouts/cropped lengths. Neutral colors are seen as more formal, but I like a bright color too (as long as it’s not neon or a super busy print). For fabrics, look for something drape-y or structured instead of something stretchy and clingy.

      5. Amelia*

        In general, I go for tops that don’t have writing on them; aren’t boxy or voluminous (more tailored or fitted, but not tight); drapey fabrics rather than stiff (jersey knits, for example—I don’t like silky feeling fabrics but you might); no polo collars or high t-shirt crew necks, more jewel necks or slight v-necks. These will be different depending on your body type but they’re what works for me.

    1. remizidae*

      Agreed. No hoodies or T-shirts at work. Sweaters may be fine with a sober design. No tennis shoes, sandals or open-toed shoes.

        1. Kathleen_A*

          Um, no it’s not. What’s out of date about “Ditch the hoodies”? I enjoy a nice hoodie, but they are most definitely not professional office wear.

          1. Bee*

            Gwal wasn’t replying to “ditch the hoodies” but “no open-toed shoes,” I think. Everything but the most formal and/or safety-conscious offices is totally fine with sandals these days, and a lot of casual places are fine with sneakers as well.

            1. doreen*

              I don’t know that “open-toed shoes” is a useful category – that could be anything from flip-flops to very conservative -looking peep toe pumps. I’ve worked places where peep toe was fine, but flip-flops were not.

          2. Admin of Sys*

            I think they meant the shoes. Unless you’re in a business-formal office or a warehouse, no-one cares about open toed shoes or sandals. Flip flops or Birkenstocks may still get some casual side eyes, but strappy sandals are in for business casual, and have been for years.

            1. Cobol*

              Also, OP said her office is okay with hoodies (inline with where I live). Absolutes are almost always wrong.

          3. Devil Fish*

            Literally every part of that comment except the bit about hoodies is super out of date advice, especially since the letter is asking about dressing better in a workplace that’s business casual but seems to lean much more towards casual, based on coworkers wearing graphic t-shirts and “ratty jeans.”

        2. Paralegal Part Deux*

          Depends on where you work. My office would send you home if you came in wearing any kind of t-shirt, sneakers, etc. Blue jeans are Friday only.

        3. ErinFromAccounting*

          It highly, highly depends on the workplace. My current job (a downtown F500 office with a more formal culture), I wouldn’t dream of wearing open-toed shoes. My previous job (a trendy PR office), shorts and sandals were fine as long as the look was fashionable.

        4. That Girl From Quinn's House*

          Yup, the “no hoodie” crowd should spend a few mornings riding the Caltrain and observing the crowds heading to work. It’s a veritable sea of jeans and hoodies, where the occasional finance guy in a suit stands out like a sore thumb.

      1. londonedit*

        Yeah, practically every mid-30s woman in a business/casual office in London at the moment is wearing some sort of patterned midi dress and trainers (sneakers) combo. Usually white Adidas. The other trendy footwear option here is Salt-Water sandals. So…plenty of tennis shoes, sandals and open-toed shoes around here! I am in fact wearing Converse right now.

        1. Fenchurch*

          Unless you’re in an office that requires closed-toe shoes, it’s pretty open. I’m wearing my Allbirds today and I’ve seen soooo many people wearing Birks around my office this summer.

      2. Fortitude Jones*

        I only agree with the no hoodies or T-shirts advice. Every business casual workplace I’ve been in allowed sandals and open-toes shoes (both of which I’m a fan of in the spring/summer), just not flip-flops. And my sweaters all have designs on them (my favorite is a wool, brown sweater with multi-colored polka dots by Marc Jacobs).

      3. A*

        It definitely depends. Agreed in regards to hoodies. However items in the other categories you’ve listed are fine in both my current work environment (casual), as well as my last two (one was business casual leaning towards more formal, the other leaning more towards casual).

        I wear t-shirts to work all the time, but they are more blouse-y than your average hangout T. Sadly, my Jurassic Park t-shirt does not make an appearance at the office. T-shirt + cardigan/blazer? Golden. T-shirt on it’s own? I’ll dress it up with nice jewelry etc.

        Personally I really dislike open-toed shoes & sandals in the workplace – but it’s purely a personal preference. Many people wear them, and there are plenty of professional sandals/peep toes etc. that are not straight up flip flops.

      4. Zillah*

        There are a lot of places where sweaters with a not-sober design are fine, and I don’t know that I’ve ever worked somewhere where at least sweaters being fine was even in question.

    2. Urdnot Bakara*

      Seconding cardigans. Honestly, put a cardigan over anything and it makes the outfit look more polished. Put a cardigan over your t-shirts if you want.

      1. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

        Or a blazer over her t-shirt and jeans. That looks more polished and in some ways is more fashionable than a cardigan is while still being polished. I am a fan of the dark jeans, t-shirt, blazer and chuck taylors look, especially when paired with a nice statement necklace.

        1. Pippa*

          Same. This look takes me almost everywhere. Chucks bought on end-of-season sale are an appreciable part of my shoe wardrobe. (Also, if you feel like spending a bit more, custom Chucks!)

    3. Aquawoman*

      Knit blazers are good for this, too. And she could even keep the tee shirt depending on the knit and fit (e.g. not a baggy go-to-the-gym look, but a solid fine knit pima cotton or smooth-blend tee shirt).

      1. ErinFromAccounting*

        Ooo, I second the knit blazer. I’m itching to buy one for the fall, J.Crew had some cute ones last time I looked.

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        I picked up several really nice knit blazers from Costco, of all places. Super comfortable, looks more polished, get a surprising number of compliment on them. And they’ve held up better than my stupidly-expensive one.

  6. Murphy*

    I usually default to a blouse (button downs don’t work for me), a cardigan, and dress pants. If you find an item that’s comfortable and good quality, there’s nothing wrong with buying it in several colors!

    Though I have to say, if you’re not dressing out of sync with your office, I don’t think it makes you look young and unprofessional. But there’s nothing wrong with stepping it up if that’s what you want to do.

    1. Murphy*

      If you’re OK with shopping online, I recommend ThredUp. (And they sponsor Ask a Manager sometimes!) I get a lot of good secondhand items there for cheap. *looks down* My blouse and cardigan today are both from there.

      1. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

        Poshmark is another great place to buy nice secondhand items. I’ve gotten quite a few nice pieces there for not a lot.

      2. Bostonian*

        The skirt and tank top I’m wearing today are both from ThredUp. I never would have heard of them if it weren’t for this site!

        Everything else I own for work is WHBM.

      3. Fortitude Jones*

        My outfit today of a pink dress and tan cardigan is also from thredUP – I love that store.

        1. CoffeeinanIV*

          My dark jeans and striped American eagle top are from ThredUp, and my sandals are from Poshmark. Thrifting for the win!

            1. Fortitude Jones*

              Well, except for my Tieks – I really need people who wear my size to start sending theirs to The RealReal.

  7. Amber Rose*

    I’m in the same position as mostly just wearing jeans and t-shirts with funny slogans on them because our dress code is basically just “long pants and close toed shoes.”

    But prior to this, when I worked at less chill places, I had several pairs of nice black pants, a bunch of camisoles in different colors, and some belted jacket type things (sorry, I do not in any way know what anything is called.) They were short sleeved because I overheat even in the dead of winter, but still pretty sharp. I also had some nice sweaters.

  8. Eillah*

    If you wear dresses, Nordstrom Rack usually has lovely pieces for fair prices for all kinds of office dress codes!

    1. Triumphant Fox*

      Nordstrom Rack is a great work-wear spot. I’d encourage you to find a few brands of blouses that you like and then look for them there/shop at stores that carry them. I do a TJ Maxx/Nordstrom/Marshalls tour probably twice a year to replace things. ThreadUp and other online stores are great too. I like Max Studio, Tahari, Joie, NYDJ, Pleione(cheaper and hit or miss), and Sanctuary as some of the brands that circulate in those secondary market stores.
      I also really like Banana Republic because the sales are great, but their styles are sometimes bizarre. I like their dresses more than their blouses, typically.

      Depending on your body type, you may find dresses more comfortable and flattering. I don’t like worrying about my pants riding too low/gapping at the waist or digging in too much and I find slacks difficult to fit. When I travel, dresses are pretty much all I wear and I like that I have to do very minimal coordination. A cardigan instantly makes it more casual and a blazer can work to make it look more business. Leggings/tights and boots are my go-to in the winter and really also in the summer because my office is an icebox. I’ll do Anne Klein Sport wedge black heels if I need to dress it up more, because I just refuse to do uncomfortable shoes. Otherwise I live in my knit flats (Rothys, Skechers, etc.)

  9. KarenT*

    If you are open to wearing dresses, I find them to be the easiest thing in the world to wear professionally. With pants or a skirt I need to worry about matching etc. but with a dress, boom! Instant outfit. Any professional dress (sheath, a line, skater) with flats or heels, and possibly a blazer or cardigan and I’m out the door. I don’t know what your budget is like, but you can get decent ponte material dresses from Old Navy for about $20 on sale. If you can spend more, I like buying Tahari and Eileen Fisher from Nordstrom Rack and Marshalls.

    1. The Original K.*

      Yep, my warm-weather work wardrobe is mostly dresses. So easy! (And cool, literally, which is important given how many heat waves there have been.)

    2. WomanOfMystery*

      Yeah, dresses are instant professional wardrobe. I am a huuuuuuuuuuuge fan of Land’s End. Also, basically, I woke up one day and felt comfortable and non-imposter-y in blazers. Blazers also nicely counter balance jeans and boom! You’re a classy professional!

    3. Elemeno P.*

      +100 to dresses. They are almost my entire work wardrobe. I live in Florida, so all of my dresses are sleeveless (for walking to/from my car) and I pair them with a cardigan. When it’s cold, I add fleece leggings and a jacket. That’s it. I get to go to work in a big T-shirt and people think I am put-together.

      Stores like Marshall’s and Ross are great for getting started there. I also have a few nice things from H&M’s business-y section and Modcloth.

      I know other people said to keep to a neutral palette to make it easier to match, and that’s good for when you’re building your wardrobe! It’s okay to have patterns and prints and other colors once you have a solid choice of things to wear, though (especially since your workplace is super casual). My favorite work dress has sloths.

      1. no, the other Laura*

        I live in the Northeast, and ~knee length dresses as layering pieces can be worn year round with Uniqlo Heattech tights and riding boots. Sweater or jacket layered over that as you please.

        If you’re in a climate with winter, I can’t recommend Uniqlo enough for Heattech undershirts, tights and merino wool sweaters for layering. Plus, in the depths of February, alpaca boot socks tucked down so nobody can see them under the boots. They’re also great for cheap basic slacks in neutral colors.

      2. Jessica M*

        I also love dresses, especially with pockets :) A note to someone shopping for the first time for professional dresses – if you like or prefer to shop online, and it is possible, you’ll want to look for professional length. As in, check the actual dimensions if offered, or look for tags on Amazon that say “for professional wear.” Just seeing them on dummies and models can make it difficult to assess true length (and you can end up with something better for the beach!). And as with any online shopping, lots of good ratings for fitting true to size and material and price. After years of being afraid to, I’ve now gotten 3-4 dresses for work for a great price online that I love. I also have a basic cardigan so I can turn most of my sundresses into more casual professional wear, but that won’t work in every office.

        1. Elemeno P.*

          I love pockets as well!

          And definitely good to look for things aimed toward professional wear online. Even then, you might be getting something other than what you expect; there were some nice-looking business dresses I ordered that, once received, looked like a very different sort of business. In-person is good for an immediate update, and online is great for gradual expansion.

    4. Grace*

      I’m a recent grad who lives in dresses (except for exercise and the depths of winter) but I’ve always been a bit unsure about which dresses are professional and which aren’t. Like, right now I’m wearing a khaki linen shirt dress, knee-length (similar to www[dot]newlook[dot]com[/]uk/womens/clothing/dresses/blue-vanilla-navy-button-up-shirt-dress/p/624512641?comp=Browse in terms of fit and where it hits at the knee, although mine has a bit of a lower neckline).

      Is that business casual? It’s an extremely casual fit, and I’m wearing it purely for comfort in this heat, but it hits me right at the kneecap, certainly covers everything that needs to be covered, and so on. But is it business casual? I have the same with several other of my dresses – they’re long enough for me to feel comfortable that they’re not inappropriate, but are they too casual to be business casual?

      1. Bee*

        This is one of those situations where I think it’s totally dependent on the fabric. A thin jersey is probably too casual, but a linen or other woven fabric (or even like a ponte knit) feels much dressier.

        1. Birch*

          Ugh I LOVE ponte knits. Pants, sheath dresses. Immediately makes comfortable feel more professional.

        2. Bee*

          ALSO any dress that comes with a coordinating belt made out of the same fabric (like most shirt-dresses I’ve bought) can be INSTANTLY dressed up by using an actual leather belt instead.

      2. Elizabeth Proctor*

        That seems a little more casual than business casual, mostly because I can’t imagine what truly business casual shoes you’d wear with it. What shoes are you wearing?

        I don’t think it’s totally out of place in a BC office, but is not the definition of business casual.

      3. Corporate Goth*

        Some advice I’ve gotten on that has been on how much skin is exposed. It was phrased originally as “no one wants to see your armpits,” but also includes cut-outs, bare shoulders/arms, gaping buttons, deep v-necks, etc. (Link blocked from my work, so this may be slightly off.) Know your office & see what people a few levels up are wearing, then extrapolate back to what works for your style.

        I saw a picture once of people in a meeting with a super important person. The woman was the only one not in a suit. Don’t be her.

      4. Devil Fish*

        Shirt dresses have always seemed more on the casual side to me, but I’ve honestly never seen one that didn’t just look the person wearing it just forgot to put on trousers before leaving the house. Belting makes them look more “dress” and less “shirt,” which helps.

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          My shirt dresses either have collars and ruffles down the front or are very structured/tailored so they don’t look too casual. They’re also belted and I wear them with cute wedges, so then the whole looks is very business casual and not just-rolled-out-of-bed.

    5. Onyx*

      I’ve recently been building up my work wardrobe with dresses off of eShakti (made-to-order women’s clothes, mostly dresses), and I agree that dresses can by really nice as office wear. I was a little leery of trying eShakti at first (because it’s online ordering of custom stuff from overseas), but I’ve been really pleased with the option to order to my own measurements and it overcomes the main hurdle that previously kept me from wearing dresses and skirts–the typical lack of functional pockets. The only piece I’ve had to return was due to an error in the product description–it said it had pockets when it didn’t–rather than a fit issue. Also, I think everything I’ve seen on their site is explicitly machine-washable.

      You have to know what styles would be work-appropriate and what general cuts are likely to look good on you, but you can usually tweak features such as skirt length, sleeve length, and neckline if needed. It’s not the cheapest possible option, but it’s not expensive for custom-fitted clothes (I think my purchases so far have ranged from $35-70 per item, including having them customized to my measurements). There are lots of knits, but also lots of nice opaque, non-stretch, structured cottons rather than the limp, sheer, and/or clingy fabrics that seem to dominate off-the-rack clothes in stores near me.

      1. Risha*

        I don’t wear a lot of dresses, but I have a maxi-dress from eShakti that I wear when clothes seem nearly unbearable but I still have to look like I made an effort. It’s made of a thick, soft knit and completely covers my legs (so it doesn’t really matter what shoes I wear and if I’ve shaved recently), and it’s basically like wearing pajamas (plus a bra) to work. As a bonus, the pockets are huge, so I can easily carry my swipe card and phone in there.

    6. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

      +10000 I work in a business-dress office and LIVE in dresses because they’re SO easy. Dress+cardigan or blazer and done. So easy, so little effort. I wear pants so infrequently that my coworkers NOTICE when I wear pants. I have about 15 dresses I rotate between. 8 are my standard and I have 3 that are summer only and 3 that are winter only. I have a couple of blazers I reserve for Fancy Meeting days and the rest of the time I rotate through 6 different cardigans. I try to buy all my dresses and cardigans in the same color families so that I could get dressed in the dark if I wanted. (Grab one dress and one cardigan and there’s at least an 80% chance it will go together.)

    7. OrigCassandra*

      For your current office, OP, you could look at fun themed dresses such as Svaha ( sells. I don’t know that they would count as business casual everywhere, but I’m in academia and everyone absolutely loves my Svaha dresses. (Honestly Svaha owes me a commission, as often as I’ve practically handsold their stuff!)

      Svaha also has a wider size range than many… and all their dresses and cardigans have pockets.

      1. Coffee Cup*

        That site is so amazing… Damn you, 40 dollars of international shipping *shakes fist at the sky*

    8. Dinopigeon*

      I started building up a wardrobe of professional dresses a year ago, and now I don’t wear anything else. I’m so much more comfortable. (Dressing a fat body is… hard, to say the least, and nothing off-the-rack ever fits right, and I didn’t realize how much day-to-day discomfort these awful pants and tops were causing until I didn’t have to wear them anymore.) And my mornings have so much less stress with absolutely no fashion choices to be made.

      Plus, since I loathe jewelry and don’t wear makeup, it helps me look a little more dressy without the help of things I can’t stand. (So much common advice is to “dress up” clothes with accessories and like… not all women enjoy that stuff!!)

    9. Batgirl*

      You cut out a lot of problems with dresses (such as coordinating the colours of separates; then there’s the way you have to either match up waistlines or tuck things in). Some people say they can’t pick the right shape but it should just mirror your own – straight up and down sheath for the willowy, or nipped in and flared out for the curvy or for the unsure, try something like a sweater dress which looks great on everyone. Pockets help, if you’re used to jeans.
      One thing I will say is that young women usually go too short, simply because of the kinds of stores marketed at them (Forever 21 etc). Fine for the weekend, but at work you look like a student/work experience person. Go for knee length, midi dresses or a few inches above the knee. Even cheap fabric can pass muster if the length/cut is good enough but skimpy cuts of fabric will always look more clueless than casual. If it’s also lined, you’re on safe ground – and can go outside in the rain for lunch.

  10. Box of Kittens*

    Putting Me Together is a really, really good resource for putting together simple wardrobes that work. She has just started a new category specifically for business casual dress. She shares clothing item reviews, tips on how to choose clothes that you’ll actually wear, and if you want to go really deep you can purchase her capsule wardrobe plans (but that’s totally not necessary unless you really want the extra structure; she’s got so much content on her blog and Insta that you can prob get whatever ideas you need from there). She gets a lot of her items from Nordstrom but also frequently features stuff from Old Navy and other more affordable places. I’d encourage you to check her out; she is seriously a perfect answer to this question! I’ll reply to my comment with a link.

    1. SansaStark*

      I second this blog recommendation. I like how she encourages you to be thoughtful about the pieces that you add and the message isn’t just “BUY ALL THE THINGS!”.

    2. Lisa B*

      Another vote for PMT! Audrey has got really great resources and always has links posted for either exactly what she’s got on or similar. And she’ll always give advice like “I know these are jeans but dress this up easily by swapping X for Y” or “the basic idea here is base layer X plus neutral Y and Pop Of Color Z.” Really helpful.

      1. N*

        Yes! I came here to recommend PMT. Changed my life, and made thrifting feel a lot more doable because now I know what I am looking for, how to tell if it fits, etc. before PMT I also felt like everyone else learned this all but me. I work in a pretty casual office so a lot of things Audrey wouldn’t consider business casual but more dressy casual I wear also.

  11. Tiffany In Houston*

    Wardrobe Oxygen is a fashion blogger who has great capsule wardrobe posts. She’s older than the OP but the OP can probably get ideas in terms of styling for a biz casual workplace. Do recommend poking around her site.

    1. purpleparrots*

      I came to recommend looking into a Capsule Wardrobe as well. If you need a resource to get started Encircled (brand) and Un-Fancy (blog) have great free workbooks to help you get started. I also highly recommend Poshmark for buying secondhand – next to never buy retail now, and I’m horrible to shop with, because I’m always muttering “I could get this cheaper on Poshmark…”

      1. Margaret*

        Thirding looking into a capsule wardrobe! It can really help to just focus on stuff you can combine in different combinations so you don’t have to go out and buy a TON of clothes.

        OP, try googling ‘four by four capsule wardrobe’ and experimenting from there!

  12. Hadley*

    If it’s within your budget, I have found StitchFix to be SO helpful–they will send you separate pieces but also include a card about how to pair pieces together. I usually request tops that I can wear “to work or out” and that gives me a good range of business casual tops. I hate shopping so this has been so helpful for me!

    The other trick I realized is that no one remembers what you wear, so if you can get 3-5 good quality pairs of pants they will last forever and you can rotate them throughout the week!

    1. PolicyWonk*

      Re: Stitch fix, you don’t have to subscribe, and last time I did it, I kept one outfit, returned the rest, but then found the shirt I liked on Poshmark, because it was way too expensive new. I like Betabrand pants, but also agree with everyone else that if you up your tops game and your jeans are nice and your shoes are not sneakers, you will be doing well.

      1. Not Gary, Gareth*

        Was coming here to say exactly this!!! I’ve had two fixes from StitchFix, and that plus Betabrand pants is about 90% of my wardrobe on any given week. I also fill in the gaps with fun stuff from Modcloth – they can be a little more hit-or-miss when it comes to sizing and professional-ness… but most of their stuff is high quality and suuuuper cute.

        Honestly, the StitchFix cards were what got me over the main hurdle of “how do I do business casual?” Seeing a couple of ideas – especially the “casual” vs. “office” pairings they do – really helped me sort of figure out how to build an outfit. And I can’t say enough good things about the personal stylist aspect of it. That piece alone has saved me probably dozens of hours of internet shopping and frustration.

    2. sam*

      I was gonna suggest this too – I’ve gotten a lot of nice tops from StitchFix (particularly once my stylist figured out which styles I favored – aka the ones I kept vs returned) as well as pants that I wouldn’t have thought to buy myself.

      Also – I know they’re sometimes passe, but I often have luck at gap/old navy for the REALLY basic stuff – black/grey pants, cardigans, button downs, etc. that aren’t budget busting (particularly with coupon codes).

      (and I don’t know if you or anyone else needs larger sizes, but I’m definitely in the “extended/plus” category and both brands carry up to a size 20 in their “regular” sizes, and old navy has a separate plus category).

      for some nicer stuff that is inclusively sized, I have also bought a few nice things (and jeans) at Universal Standard – I SWEAR by their jeans.

      1. Urdnot Bakara*

        I’m definitely Team Old Navy. They don’t carry my size in bottoms in-store, but I’ve bought all sorts of tops and cardigans from there. More often than not, my business-casual outfit is a pair of black pants, an Old Navy patterned/floral tank top, and an Old Navy solid-color cardigan. Another outfit I wear a lot to the office is an Old Navy sundress and cardigan. I get a lot of sweaters from there, too. Reasonable price, good sales, works for both casual and business-casual offices.

    3. Spreadsheets and Books*

      I literally just ordered a box last week to touch up my business wardrobe. I’ll do one every 6 months or so just to shake things up without any effort. It’s a great service.

    4. Accounting IsFun*

      I was just going to recommend a service like StitchFix – saves shopping time and they understand business casual. I used to shop just at one store 4 times a year and get 2 outfits each time that would all work with each other and other things in my closet, but I changed sizes and the shop no longer works for me, so switching to StitchFix has been a good time-saver.

      I also cheat and wear nothing but black or grey pants/skirts. Makes it so much easier to get dressed in the morning. I just pick a pants/skirt and pair it with one of the tops and cardigans or jacket and I’m out the door. Less thought, less stress. I love Dress Pants Yoga Pants from Betabrand because they fit, are comfortable, and are dressy enough for work.

    5. Me*

      I had really bad luck with stichfix. But I had great luck with Nordstroms version – Trunk Club. Plus if there’s a store near you , you can take things in for altering for perfect fit pretty cheap.

      Also Thread-up has a box service now too. Haven’t tried it but I have bought from them and I like it.

      1. EddieSherbert*

        I also didn’t have the best experience with StitchFix (I weirdly had quite a few damaged items – broken necklace, torn cardigan, etc – which I’ve been told by friends is not normal at all) and most of the items were more expensive than I’d like to spend – but I enjoyed using their site, style quizzes, and outfit suggestions to get ideas for what might work for me. I think it was worth having it for a few months, just to get me started!

      2. sam*

        I think any of these services can be hit-or-miss. With StitchFix I’ve found that they’ve gotten better over time, as I’ve given them VERY DETAILED feedback on both the stuff I’ve decided to keep and the stuff I’ve returned. I’ve sometimes also had to do the math on whether it makes sense to return stuff (this awful top is $30 but if I return it I lose the $80 worth of discount for buying all 5 things, so is there something else that I *like*, but don’t love that I should also return?).

        I’m in the middle of a deal they gave me where I got a year’s worth of “no-monthly-fee” shipments for a one-time fee of, like, $50 (which was applied to my order), so once that’s done, I’ll probably take a break for a while.

    6. jDC*

      For me Stitch Fix can be hit or matronly. I like Trunk Club as they let you pick items to an extent and change out after the first round if there are things you don’t like. I can even say I want a specific item from Nordstrom and they will add it.

      1. Quill*

        *Looks down at day 3 darkwash jeans*

        In the winter it can be sensible to go even longer because you don’t sweat. Of course, these suckers are GONE as soon as I get home.

    7. Erin F*

      I agree about Stitch Fix! Last year I needed to upgrade my work wardrobe after a promotion. My office is casual but all the other women at my new level were fancier than I had been dressing. Stitch Fix was great for nice blouses and blazers to pair with my jeans. I’m plus size so I was concerned at first about fit but so far I’ve had really good luck.

      1. Erin F*

        I’ve also found the idea of adding a “third piece” (jacket, cardigan, vest, scarf) to be really helpful in pulling together outfits. That and good shoes seemed to be what sets the style of more senior women apart from the more junior women at my office.

  13. SezU*

    Stick with the classics and the basics. Dark skirt, dark pants, button down shirt (a nice quality light blue is my favorite), a cardigan. Throw in some shells (sleeveless tops) and you can mix and match all day without breaking the bank, looking good, and being comfortable. Same with shoes… stick with classic pumps or flats. You can always add trendy pieces if you want, but by mostly buying classics, I have worn some items a very long time and still get compliments. I agree with the other posters about buying from ThredUp or Poshmark to get quality items at lower costs. I also hit the clearance racks on high end stores.

  14. fposte*

    OP, is there anybody whose office style you’d actually like to emulate? This is an area where copying is perfectly fine. So maybe you’re a chinos and button-down with cardigan person, or maybe you’re a knit pull-on dress person. You also haven’t mentioned shoes or other accessories, which can be a big help here.

    I would say that from what you’re already wearing that chinos, a nicer sweater with a cami/tank underneath (though maybe not in August), and non-sneakers might be a low-impact way to explore a more polished look, and those aren’t break-the-bank options.

    1. The Original K.*

      If I recall correctly, there was a woman who wrote in here and asked if it would be appropriate to emulate her boss’s dress style and the overwhelming majority said “Do it (as long as you’re not dressing completely identically)!” I think it’s really helpful, particularly for women because there are so many different options for what “business casual” means for women – it varies from office to office, even. It’s good to take a look around to gauge what your office’s norms are.

      1. fposte*

        I think it’s a great free way to find that intersection of “people wear that” and “I would feel good wearing that.” In a workplace like the OP’s, she’s got a lot of different ways she could go, so why not find somebody who’s already blazed a promising trail?

  15. Style_enthusiast*

    You might try browsing some fashion blogs from a bunch of professionals in your age group (or older/younger, a lot of this is more about office norms/career than age, but age-appropriateness is a thing to many people, whether that is harmful/helpful or not). Once you find a few that you like and feel comfortable with, look through their posts, links to shops, follow their tips for how to mix and match and what basic pieces you can use as a foundation.

  16. cmcinnyc*

    I hate shopping, but this is a question you solve by trying on clothes. Imagine you’ve stepped out of the office to purchase an iced tea, and you run into a mentor from college and you end up chatting about professional matters. It’s not an interview, it doesn’t have to be a suit, but you are right: the jeans and hoodie make you look like a college student (though as noted above, the dark jeans can still work). How do you wish you were dressed for that encounter? That’s the ever-elusive business casual. You want to look pulled together and professional and on top of things but not like you’ve got a Board meeting or interview. And you do not want to look dressed for a date. You find what works for you by walking in and out of stores and trying everything on. I hate it. It does work.

    1. Know Your Body*

      Also to add to this comment, start by figuring out some brands that work for your shape/body. Figure out (generally) what size you are in that brand. What shapes look good on your body?

      For example, I can pull off a pencil skirt but a fit and flare dress will make me look like I’m hiding an elephant under the dress.

      1. Liz*

        hahaha. yes, i totally sympathize with you on that. While i can sometimes pull off a fit and flare, a sheath dress generally makes me look like the 10 lbs of your know what in a 5 lb bag.

        i also can’t do button front cardigans, but the open ones, both normal length and a bit longer, are quite flattering on me. I have way too much going on on top, plus linebacker shoulders, to make anything that buttons look nice.

        there’s someone i kind of follow on IG; i used to work with her, and she’s young, and her “thing” is all about not being ashamed of your shape and size (she’s a plus size) while i totally agree and think that’s great she’s so confident, some of her outfits and wardrobe choices leave much to be desired. esp. for work.

      2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        Whereas I can rock the fit and flare, but a pencil skirt does not sit on my Midwestern farm girl load-bearing hips and thighs in a manner than I am comfortable with. :)

  17. Ughhhh*

    I have a uniform basically, and it makes getting dressed so easy in the morning. I have 6-10 shells, 4-5 cardigans/jackets, and a couple nice pairs of pants and just rotate through those. 1-2 days a week I wear a dress.

    1. Marissa*

      Same, except mine is a collection of black/gray pencil skirts and sweaters/blouses. It’s super easy because everything matches. In addition, do your hair. Nicely kept hair (regardless of style) will immediately elevate your outfit. If I curl my hair and put on a statement necklace I feel like my style fits in pretty much everywhere. Lastly, take care of your clothes. Suits and dresses can still look unprofessional if they’re wrinkly.

  18. voyager1*

    I am guy who works in a office similar to the LW. Most of the women wear nice jeans and nice top. Shoes are either running/sneaker shoes or dress shoes. No flip flops. Nice sandals are okay it seems.

    Many of the women do wear dresses too.

    If people have meetings then business meetings then the jeans usually go to dress pants.

    Any t-shirts or hoodies are not really business casual. Anything with holes isn’t either.

    Hope this helps.

  19. Jay*

    I’m way older than 19 but just landed in straight sizes after decades in plus or “extended sizes” and had to put a wardrobe together. I experimented a lot until I found what worked for me an my body, and ThredUp was my mainstay – online thrift – so as I lost weight or decided a particular style didn’t suit me, it didn’t cost me much money.

    I think the first thing is to sort out what “business casual” means to you, your job, and your industry. For me (cis woman in medicine) it’s nice slacks and knee-length or longer skirts with tailored blouses and sweaters depending on the season. I have mostly black/neutral bottoms and colored/patterned tops because that makes it easy in the morning – pull one from each rack and they’ll work together. What I wear may be dressier than a lot of “business casual” but I like it and it’s not out of line with my office culture.

    You could start by keeping the dark jeans and shifting to nicer tops, or buy some black slacks for not too much money. If ThredUp doesn’t work for you, check out Old Navy, sales at The Gap, or sales at Loft, which pretty much exists to outfit women in business casual clothes.

  20. Anonya*

    Here are a couple of easy formulas as a starting point. It may take trial and error to figure out which brands fit your figure best.

    Dressy blouse + tailored pants + smart flats
    – Add a cardigan or soft ponte blazer if you need or want another layer
    – Switch the flats for boots when it’s cold

    Simple dress + smart flats or boots
    – Can be a sheath or A-line; just be careful that the fabric isn’t flimsy or floaty. In general, simpler = more bus casual rather than just casual.
    – Add opaque tights in the winter
    – Can add blazer or cardi if needed. I personally don’t; it always feels like I’m wearing armor when I do!

    Button-down top + tailored pants + smart shoes
    – YMMV; lots of women hate button-down tops. They work for my personal body type and aesthetic.

    Ann Taylor has gotten a bad rap lately, but you may want to check out their business casual outfit suggestions to get a starting point for what the overall “look” can be. Same with Banana Republic. You don’t have to buy those specific pieces but it will help train your eye.

    1. Anonya*

      And here are the stores I typically buy from: Ann Taylor, LOFT, Boden (on sale only), Banana Republic, BR Factory, occasionally Calvin Klein from a department store. Probably 90% of my work wardrobe comes from these stores. Old Navy is another popular source for pants. (Love the look, but they don’t work for my body type.)

      1. Squid*

        We have the same wardrobe! J. Crew and J. Crew Factory/Mercantile are other possible options at a similar price point. Target also has inexpensive basics, like cardigans and printed blouses.

      2. Esme*

        About 3/4 of my work wear is from Banana Republic Factory. I can usually get excellent deals on great basics, and they recently launched a line of washable suit separates that easy to wear.

    2. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      If you live near an outlet mall, you can hit up Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, JCrew outlets and get similar clothing for way cheaper prices.

  21. Sarah*

    My go-to in a similar office setting is dark jeans and a step up from a basic cotton t-shirt. I call them “nice tees”. For example, the slightly nicer shirts that could go under a suit or the flowier shirts that fall nicely and aren’t as clingy. I get a lot of them at Ann Taylor Loft or on sale days at Banana Republic or J.Crew. Once you know your sizes for a few brands (or measurements), ThredUp, Poshmark, RueLaLa, and Nordstrom Rack are great places to keep an eye on.

    In the winter, I wear these tops with a cardigan or a crewneck sweater with anything underneath.

    FWIW, I also notice a lot of women wearing silk (or silk-like) blouses, but it’s not my personal style.

  22. EggEgg*

    I was in a similar situation last year and switched offices within my agency to one that is much more on the ‘business’ side of business casual.

    I went to Loft and tried on a bunch of things I could picture my boss wearing on a casual day and bought my core items that way. I also figured out what cuts and types of pants looked good on me–I knew what looked good in casual clothes, but had no idea what looked good in ‘real’ clothes–and filled in the gaps with Thredup.

    Basically, I now have five pairs of slacks in different neutral colors, two pairs of heels and a pair of sneakers for lazy days, and a small assortment of blouses/shells/thin sweaters, and I mix and match.

  23. MaxiesMommy*

    Check out “capsule work wardrobes”. You can put together business casual outfits over time. First switch to a tropical wool blazer instead of the hoodie.

  24. Amy*

    I’m a woman in my 30s and I make a basic uniform out of the following:

    – 3 pairs black dress pants
    – 5 shells
    – 5 blazers / 2 cardigans
    – 5 dresses (all Calvin Klein from TJ Max)
    – A few other tops from my non-work life
    – 2 flats, 1 pair of beige heels, 1 pair black heels
    – 1 formal suit

    That’s it. It’s not quite the Steve Jobs black turtleneck but it’s pretty easy.

    1. Kassie*

      I have a tiny closet and little room for clothes. I do a very similar thing. I basically have:
      -3 pairs black dress pant
      -1 pair gray dress pant
      -3 jean jackets (different colors, my work is pretty casual)
      -3 cardigans
      -1 blazer
      -5 blouses, all with short/no sleeves so I can layer over them
      -5 dresses
      – black flats, black boots, yellow flats, brown boots
      This basically gives me two weeks of clothes without repeats. Because of a/c and heat, I can wear the same clothes year round, just adding tights under dresses when it it cold. These are my work clothes, so I change as soon as I get home into tees and jeans and wear everything twice to keep laundry down. Today I’m wearing a dress from Target and a jean jacket from Old Navy and black flats. I look nicer than about 90% of the IT professionals at work today.

      1. Ms. Meow*

        Also a woman in my 30s, and my closet looks very similar to Amy and Kassie. The only difference is I work in a laboratory environment so I can’t wear dresses/skirts or heels. My wardrobe basically is:

        – 4 pairs of dress pants: 2 black, 2 gray (different shades)
        – 10 shells
        – 5 button-up cardigans
        – 5 open front cardigans
        – 2 blazers
        – 2 pairs of loafers
        – 1 formal suit

        My office/lab tends to be cold so I wear my cardigans year round. Like Kassie, I have pretty much 2 weeks worth of outfits, but I do a ton of mixing and matching. Also, we have casual Fridays, but that just means I wear dark jeans instead of slacks.

        1. Ms. Meow*

          I’ll also note that it took me 3 years to get to this amount of clothing. My first year at work I literally had 2 pants, 5 shells, and 2 cardigans. I took my time to build a wardrobe that I liked.

      2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        I do love the jean jacket as a Friday casual “blazer”. I put mine over a-line skirts and plain colored tees.

  25. Bugsy*

    The dark jeans sound fine. You can keep some basic t-shirts without writing, but try a scoop neck or v-neck (these are cheap staples you can pick up at Target. These work great with blazers. Long necklaces can also help dress up basic tees a bit. What type of shoes are you wearing now? Try adding a pair of ankle boots, a pair of ballet flats, and a pair of wedges to the mix – the right shoes can really change the whole outfit.

  26. Kara*

    I’ve built a minimalist professional wardrobe that varies between business casual and formal and can be done on a limited budget. I have a couple of pairs of black shoes in different styles, black slacks/skirts, and a variety of colored tops (from JC Penney, Ann Taylor, and Kohls; jewel tones work for me, but go with what you feel comfortable wearing) that I can pretty much mix and match with anything. I have one nice Ann Taylor suit and a suiting dress that I can use the jacket with if I don’t want to be in head-to-toe black. It’s about 14 pieces total, but I can make a variety of outfits with it. The other great benefit to this collection is that the basic color is black, so I’m not wasting a ton of time on decisions of what to wear, which shoes match what skirt, etc. I buy the best quality of these pieces I can afford, and maybe replace 3-5 pieces per year. Simple, not too expensive, and makes me look and feel like a professional.

    On another note, I do the same with my makeup. I have a neutral color palette from Sephora that looks polished without requiring too many decisions, takes about 15 minutes total, and stays on throughout the day.

  27. Iris Eyes*

    Find someone either in person or online who has a position a little above yours that you think is cool and ask yourself if the outfit you are wearing or planning to buy is something that they would compliment you on or maybe wear themself. Don’t out right wear exactly the same things but having a living breathing Pinterest board that can prompt you to ask What Would Jennifer Wear? can help you see it in your context.

    I have discovered that a lot of it comes down to not just the cut but also the fabric.

    If you take your dark jeans and add a solid tee shirt with an open sweater over it (think cardigan not hoodie) that would probably punch up your look enough for the environment you describe.

    1. Daisy Steiner*

      Funnily enough I have an actual Pinterest board of casual work outfit inspiration, and most of it is Jennifer Aniston or Emma Watson! They both have a casual style I really like: boots with jeans, layers on top, scarves etc

  28. Alice Addison*

    Banana Republic and Loft are my go to places! But only when they have 40% off ;)
    Good basics to have are:
    – a few pairs of nice looking but comfortable pants (I like the Sloane chinos at BR)
    – a few shells (sleeveless blouses) that can be worn alone or under a sweater
    – a fun top to wear with pants (like a peplum or lace or something to give it some character)
    – a few skirts that are comfortable but look nice (loft has a ton of options)
    – a few comfortable work dresses, doesn’t have to be fancy, just an appropriate length and comfortable
    – a nice sweater in a black and a neutral

    In the winter, I also have some nice long sleeve shirts (BR luxespun material) to pair with skirts or pants

    1. Tigger*

      Dude I LOVE the sloane pants. They are so nice! I was written up at an old job for wearing the blue ones because they looked too much like jeans

        1. Tigger*

          I hate dress pants with a passion because I have a butt and thick thighs but a small waist and I am 5′ 2″. I have never had problems with the Sloanes

  29. Tigger*

    I am in the same boat as you and I wear a lot of nice smock tops (I don’t know what to call them), A nice plain t-shirt with a nice cardigan or jacket/flannel. It really comes down to the fabric of the top

  30. Pretty Penelope*

    I find mixing “formal” and casual things together works really well. For example, when I wear dark jeans, I’ll pair it with a nice blazer or cardigan, and I’ll either wear heels and ballerina flats. If I am wearing a pencil skirt or dress pants, I’ll often throw on a cute print top (not a button down – how I loathe those). Interesting print tank tops are also great, and anything with cap sleeves is a win! For summer, dresses are easy. I also find that nice accessories (like a great silver bracelet or interesting necklace) pulls a more casual look together.

    I tend to buy pieces that are really multipurpose. A black dress can be worn with multiple cardigans or on it’s own, and those blazers I love can go with dresses, skirts, pants, jeans, etc. Basic colour things are good, but I like to add one or two more “trendy” things a season. If you find a style or colour that really works for you, buy like 3! The law of fashion is that you will never find them again.

  31. londonedit*

    My current work wardrobe (which is basically the same as my home wardrobe) includes:

    – Midi shirt dresses; I have a couple of patterned ones and a couple of plain, worn either with sandals or white trainers
    – ‘Paper bag’ trousers (those sort of tapered yet slightly baggy ones with a high waist and tie belt) with a plain t-shirt or top tucked in, worn with white trainers/Converse or ballet flats
    – Black jeans with a nice patterned top, or a plain top and chunky statement necklace, worn with ballet flats or smarter shoes (I don’t do heels but I have some nice leopard-print/pointy orange/mustard yellow flats)
    – Tapered patterned or plain jersey trousers (so comfy!) with a plain t-shirt and ballet flats

  32. ellex42*

    I have worked in similar settings, on and off, and currently work in an office with a slightly more formal atmosphere (although we still don’t interact with the public). A while back I found myself in much the same situation as you, with a similar desire to upgrade my wardrobe without spending a lot of money or feeling out of place at work. But I also wanted to be comfortable while sitting in front of a monitor all day.

    It sounds like you favor a fairly simple wardrobe, so I recommend checking out the lower end department stores and even places like Walmart. Look for dress slacks in gray, brown and black, and pair them with a variety of blouses/collared shirts, polos, and sweaters. Even a solid-color, no graphics/text t-shirt can look professional under a cardigan. If you stick to solid colors and simple or unobtrusive patterns, it’s easy to mix-n-match, which means you don’t need an extensive wardrobe.

  33. Tuckerman*

    I like to wear black dress pants and some sort of short or long sleeve knit/blouse. I find buying higher quality pants like White House Black Market makes me look sufficiently dressy so I can spend a little less on tops. I find solid colors are more versatile. I have some simple, nice jewelry that pairs with everything and one (yes one) pair of Jessica Simpson black flats I wear with everything.

  34. Jane Austin Texas*

    The key here is to employ layers you can mix and match! I like a slacks/shirt/cardigan combo, which can be dressed up (skirt/shirt/jacket) and dressed down, and you can swap one piece and have a whole new outfit. Shoe-wise, black wedges get me through most of my days, and they’re super easy to walk in.

    And, a protip as you grow in your career: get a suit jacket you can keep in your office. Instant level up for when you get called into the impromptu meeting with your big boss!

  35. Morticia*

    Before investing in a more formal wardrobe, it might be helpful to see what women in your leadership are wearing, and emulate that sort of style, if any of them appeal to you.

    1. Justme, The OG*

      Huge caveat of it they appeal to you. I work in Higher Ed and would not wear what the female department heads or deans wear. Just not my style.

  36. Gidget*

    Loft and Loft outlet are good, relatively inexpensive, places for business casual tops (especially when there are sales). A variety of nice tops are probably the easiest way to dress up your jeans with the least investment. I feel like the main market for Loft is “women looking for business casual work options.”

    Also a big fan of dresses. Loft, Banana Republic, and H &M are good places for those.

    If you are less interested in where to shop, there are various blogs online with suggestions for what to include as business casual staples.

  37. boop the first*

    I can’t dress myself to save my life, but every low-level job I’ve worked required black pants. I don’t even know what you call those generic black pants, but I would go down to the thrift store, head to that one tiny section full of black pants and buy the first thing I can find in petite.

    Even if I somehow find a job that DOESN’T have an ugly polo-shirt uniform, I still can’t see myself going to work without those generic black pants.

  38. kittymommy*

    I’d pair the dark jeans with a blazer and/or nice blouse – a blazer just makes jeans look more professional with minimal effort. Also get some pants in neutral colors and then have them and the jeans looked at by a tailor/alterationist to see if they need to be better fitted for you (I have always found that even when I think these items look fine a simple hem alteration or dart seems to elevate the item).

    For stores, I would try Ann Taylor Loft, Banana Republic, JC Penny (their Worthington line is great for suits and blazers). Also try Poshmark and Thredup.

  39. Linzava*

    I built mine on a budget pretty easily. I found a dept store that carried slacks that fit comfortably, this was the hardest part. I bought about 3 pair, 2 black and 1 charcoal. Then continued to buy more colors and styles with every sale. For tops, Ross, Marshall’s, and TJMaxx. Many of my work tops where about $5. For shoes, I found a comfortable walking shoe brand and found a business appropriate model. Also, the places I bought the tops have great deals on shoes. If you need a heel or a kitten heel, spend the $100 on a good shoe from a department store, your feet will thank you.

    1. Linzava*

      I forgot to mention, in business casual, women can get away with T-shirts as long as they have a little flair, ruffles, lace, any non-flat neckline.

    2. Zephy*

      +1 for TJ Maxx/Ross/Marshall’s, that’s where I got most of the clothes I wear to work. I had the advantage of being given some generous gift cards to all of those places over the last few birthdays and Christmases, but even just fifty bucks can go a long way there.

      All my shoes came from Ross or Shoe Carnival, but I don’t spend much of the day on my feet, and don’t have to contend with winter weather. If I had a more standing/walking-intensive job, or if I had to deal with snow and ice, I’d invest more in footwear.

      1. Coyote Rose*

        +2 for TJ Maxx/Ross/Marshall’s. I get almost all my dress pants and nice dresses (Calvin or Anne Klein) from Ross/TJ Maxx. I then match those with tops from Express or NY&Company and shoes (mostly flats but some wedges) from DSW.

  40. Ginger*

    Structured tops can provide a visual of being pull togethered and a little bit more formal. A cardigan, a blazer, coordinated accessories (scarf or necklace). I’m a big believer is dressing a little bit “up” even in casual environments. Not only does it combat the looking young aspect but I believe it projects a sense of confidence, competency and professionalism.

    We do live in a world where image matters, for better or worse.

  41. Oryx*

    If you are comfortable in dresses, I always recommend those. There’s just something about dresses that feel more elevated than pants, even if it’s just a simple sundress with a cardigan and flats. Some dresses I wear year-round thanks to leggings.

    Otherwise, I’d say keep the dark jeans and just get some nice blouses and a blazer, or sweaters in cooler months

    I also am a big fan of wearing a lot of black and then jazzing it up with statement jewelry or shoes (I wear Tieks, so $$$ but lots of options to give a bold pop of color)

    As for where I’m always a fan of Poshmark or if you have one near you, Clothes Mentor.

    1. Arjay*

      I love Tieks! They are the only shoe I’ve ever worn that didn’t require any breaking in at all. I’ve only got two pair because of the $$$, but I covet so many more.

    2. Fortitude Jones*

      I, too, love Tieks, especially the neon colors with muted tops and dark pants/jeans.

  42. Justme, The OG*

    Dark jeans are fine in your office’s version of business casual. Instead of the hoodie though I would go with a blouse or sweater. You can also wear black trousers if you prefer, with the same sort of tops.

    As for where to shop, I’m plus sized (gah I hate this term) and I have been finding my pants at Target and Kohls lately. Also see if there are nicer resale shops in your area that sell more expensive brands at a discount. I also find shirts at Old Navy but their sizing is wonky.

  43. Catsaber*

    My general rule for making something look more polished/professional is to think in terms of structured vs relaxed. A suit has more defined structure – the lines are sharper, the fabric is stiffer. Jeans/tee has a less defined structure – relaxed lines, flowier fabric. So if you want to make your outfits look more professional, you can take the same “outfit” and just swap out the looser, flowier pieces for more structured pieces. There are even “dressy tees” that are thicker, more defined fabrics that, when paired with jeans, look really sharp as opposed to just your basic cotton tee.

    Keep the color palette simple so that everything coordinates. I like dark neutrals, and typically those read as “business”, but many people do bright or pastel neutrals, or combine monochromatic brights, etc together for a sharp look. Check out Victoria Beckham for some good inspiration for various color palettes.

    Finally, I like to make my shoes the statement piece of my outfit – I try to invest in quality shoes that look SUPER COOL. That’s where I show off my personality. And they dont’ have to be terribly expensive – I shop at a lot at DSW, so that’s about my level.

  44. Mid-thirties human*

    Everlane is your friend here! They have pretty reasonably-priced simple basics that pull together professionally without feeling dressed-up.

    1. Snack Management*

      Seconding Everlane! Their work pants are very reasonable in price and well built. My only issue with their pants is that they trend high-waisted and very thin in the ankle which rules them out for winter for me (not workable with boots). They have great tops and trend toward basics which can be easily accessorized.

    2. pancakes*


      I rely on Everlane more and more over the years because places I used to reliably find work clothes at— J. Crew, Zara, sometimes Topshop—really declined in quality. Items that would’ve been made of cotton, wool, or a decent blend are now too often viscose or polyester. These fabrics generally don’t wear well at all, often don’t breathe well, and can look really cheap.

  45. CK*

    I wear dark jeans with button ups and silk blouses from Everlane! The price point is reasonable and you can easily find it on Poshmark / Ebay.

    A simple tee with a blazer or cardigan thrown on top is also an easy with to go. Love J.Crew Factory for this one!

  46. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    If you’re a 12+ size, Torrid has great options that are cute and fun but professional. That’s basically where I get all my clothes that aren’t t-shirts because well I only wear t-shirts that represent sports or wrasslin.

    Dark jeans with a cute blouse goes so far.

    1. Devil Fish*

      Way too much of my closet is Torrid but I’m pissed at them lately because even though they’ve been adding pockets to most of their skirts/dresses (which I don’t wear but I realize this is a net good), they’ve been replacing the real pockets on their slacks and professional pants with faux pockets—I bought new pants to replace a pair that had worn out by clicking the link on a previous order and the new ones had no pockets (they weren’t just sewn closed, there was no pocket lining at all).

  47. Manon*

    You might find it helpful to create a capsule wardrobe for work. The concept is basically to have a fairly small set of items (tops, bottoms, dresses, shells, shoes, and accessories) in colors that work together that you can mix and match freely. Just google “capsule wardrobe”, there are many articles about it.

  48. Mel*

    It’s a good time to start thinking about this, because you can do it slowly within having to buy it all at once (like I did in my last job!). And when you get a job that requires it, you’ll buy a couple pairs of dress slacks and be done!

    Simple tops I whatever cut looks good on you and cardigans. Done. Keep buying those cute tops and cardis whenever you see one you love and you’ll start looking way polished.

  49. Kiki*

    There have been some wonderful strides in the realm of dressy-pants-that-don’t-feel-like-pants.
    This summer I’ve been living in the Kit and Ace Bike to Work Pant, then pairing it with comfy blouses or plain t-shirts and doing a French tuck (this is a thing made famous by Tan France from Queer Eye).

    Also, easy, comfy dresses are my lifeblood. People associate dresses with dressiness, but they are actually easy (no need to pair them with anything) and comfy. I attached a link to an Everlane wrap dress below.

    Both of the examples are on the more expensive end of the spectrum, but they’re really high quality and neutral, so you can wear them almost every week for years on end.

  50. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

    I’m about to turn 26 and I’m a lawyer, but I work in a casual office and I’m told my fashion sense is that of a librarian. For me, “business casual” means solid-colored or neutrally-printed clothes. They don’t have to be fancy – I have an entire drawer of plain T-shirts I bought from Walmart in a variety of colors. My other rule of thumb is that if I dress down in one way, I try to dress up in another.

    For example: I have a lot of dresses, especially sheath dresses. For me that’s easiest because I don’t need to worry about pairing anything. I just put the dress on and go.

    Alternatively, I wear a skirt that’s, say, floral with one of my T-shirts (in winter it’s long plaid skirts with tights and a long-sleeved tee). Plain on top, neutral pattern on the bottom.

    But say I decide to wear a shirt with a violent electric green print (which I have). I pair it with a black pencil skirt to offset that. I might also wear a black sweater over it.

    What I never wear are graphic tees or sweats unless I’m explicitly dressing down (like it’s a Friday).

  51. TheA*

    I use Trunk Club. I live in a fairly rural area with no shopping places, so it’s great to have clothes sent to me. Unlike Stitch Fix, which has its own brands, Trunk Club is part of Nordstroms, so if you like a brand, you can always see what’s new by that brand.

    1. J.*

      Ha, I was just saying something similar at the same time! Although I had a harder time with Trunk Club and preferred Stitch Fix (and liked Dia & Co best of the three). Trunk Club was overwhelming – they sent SO many things at one go. I prefer getting a smaller box of just a few items to try at a time.

  52. J.*

    I signed up for one of those box services that send you five things and you try them on and keep/pay for what you want and send the rest back. I told the stylist what I currently wear at work (my office is a lot like yours and leans hard to the casual side of business casual) and that I wanted to step it up to be slightly more professional but still in the business casual range. I did five or six boxes over the course of a year and kept 1-3 items each box, and it was really helpful. It was pricier than the bargain hunting that I could do on my own, but it opened me up to stuff I never would have picked up off the rack myself but ended up looking great AND it didn’t waste an entire Saturday to do it.

  53. SeekYou*

    My favorite go-to items to have in your closet, and you can mix and match multiple outfits:
    1) A comfortable short sleeve black dress that you feel great wearing
    2) A grey lightweight blazer (long or quarter sleeve)
    3) A white button down shirt
    4) A dressier shirt in your favorite color or pattern
    5) grey, black, navy, or olive green skirt or pants
    6) optional accessories: comfortable heels or boots, a scarf, and your favorite jewelry

    Adding in a few tshirts or jeans once in a while, I mix and match these 6 items on the regular. You can make infinite combos of outfits:
    Black dress with blazer
    White shirt with blazer and jeans
    Dressy shirt with skirt and blazer
    Tshirt with blazer and black pants
    And so on, and so on.

    Best of luck!

  54. benny c*

    I’m a man who works in engineering with a lot of construction-site work, so my advice is going to be coming from there culturally, it might not be super-helpful.

    Jeans — pants made of denim — are sometimes a bit too casual for offices, but I find that work pants by brands like Dickies, Wolverine, Carhartt, etc; made in twill and canvas, are just as good (or better!) than jeans in terms of ruggedness and cost, but often look a lot more “business” than jeans specifically. They basically only come in boring conservative colors and styles, so I feel like you basically can’t go wrong, and the prices are right.

    I exclusively wear polo shirts at work (except on Casual Friday while in the office), and I’m not really in a good place to say anything about shirts & blouses. But I will add that hoodies are… well, the stereotypical “person who wears hoodies at work” is the brogrammer stereotype, so I’d recommend against them as an extremely general rule.

  55. Shad*

    Personally, I’m a fan of skirts/dresses. If you like floral, Tara Lynn is a great source of good business casual dresses with pockets (real pockets! I kind of adore them). They can be a little pricy, but they aren’t bad, and they’re high quality.
    If it’s about what kinds of garments work, keep your work jeans in good condition, mix in some non-yoga pant black/neutral pants (linen works, suit pants work, etc. Similar material guidelines for skirts). The nicer the pants/skirt, the more leeway you have on the top. With black pants, I’d be good with a nice t in a good material (I’ve actually found H&M to have high quality for a good price. Target and Old Navy are more hit or miss). With jeans, a polo or a decent blouse would be good.
    Don’t be tempted by the cheap AF shoes at target and such like. They don’t last as long and will kill your feet and every other joint (do not underestimate that! It is amazing the effect good shoes can have). Shopping sales is a great way to help on the prices, but I highly recommend going to stores like the Walking Company for high quality and supportive shoes that don’t look orthopaedic.

    1. Shad*

      Also, when in doubt, get about a week’s worth of basics (noting that bland pants can be reworn and no one will notice and trying to pick things you’ll wear out of work too, just in case) and see what your coworkers are doing for guidance as you expand your wardrobe.

    2. LawBee*

      Man, Target used to have the BEST shoes but it’s been years since I bought shoes from them. It’s all cheap crap now. Grump grump grump.

  56. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Oh and never ever underestimate the worth of a tailored jacket. They’re comfy because they’re fitted to your shape! You can also get a comfortable light weight cotton jacket or wrap to use instead of a hoodie if you want to up your game. I have one in my office since it gets cold in the winter.

  57. Clawfoot*

    This advice might be dated, but when I first started working in a professional office with a “business casual” dress code, my mentor told me, “If you get home at the end of the day and don’t feel like you should change before relaxing on the couch for the evening, you’re not dressed up enough.”

    Over time I’ve found that a bit less relevant, as I have a number of outfits now that are both professional and very comfortable, but at the time, it was a good general rule to follow until I got my fashion footing under me.

  58. Sarah*

    3 dark knee-length dresses
    3 dark blouses
    2 dark skirts
    1 dark pair of slacks
    1 dark pair of jeans
    1 dark sweater
    1 dark cardigan
    2 dark blazers or jackets
    2 dark pairs of shoes (one flat, one with a comfortable heel, both close toed)
    1 dark pair of tights

    Hundreds of combinations. Impossible to stain. You never need to use bleach. You’ll never be underdressed.

    1. Philosophia*

      Not quite impossible to stain: a splash of salad dressing, for instance, will do the trick. Rub a dab of cornstarch into the oil stain as soon as you can take the garment off, though, and let it sit overnight before washing it, and you’ll have a chance of preserving it for office wear. Otherwise you could end up with a shiny spot on a matte fabric.

  59. Ptarmigan*

    I hate clothes and fashion and cannot master layers or other complicated concepts. What works for me is the kind of plain black work pants (polyester stuff, not form-fitting, with a zipper and pockets) that are sold almost everywhere, and tops that are shaped like t-shirts but are synthetic/shiny enough to look fancier to me. Kohl’s sells a lot of tops like that. Wear with flats or heels according to your preference. This probably makes me look like a not particularly fashion-forward office administrator, but so be it.

  60. CorporateFashion*

    I had this same problem and I finally figured out a happy-medium. I bought seven pairs of comfy slacks/chinos in neutral colors (think navy blue, gray, black, olive green), 10 cardigans in various colors (mostly jewel tones) and 10 fitted/loose t-shirt types also in various jewel tones (some basic, some stripped or patterned), 2/3 blazers (gray, black x2), a pair of toe-patent leather flats with a slight heel (black and brown), and 4-5 statement necklaces and three skinny leather belts (black, brown, and red). With this wardrobe, I mix and match and everything fits comfortably without being stuffy or too formal. If I take off the cardigan, I am more casual, but if I go with the blazer, I am more formal. Banana Republic sales, TJMaxx/Marshalls, and Clarks for everything except the necklaces which I buy from wherever. I’ve been doing this for 9 months now and it works because our dress code is also very lax, but being female, young faced, petite, I needed something that says, “I mean business,” but also, “I want to be comfortably and not out of place.” Hope this helps!

  61. Jesse*

    Former work-from-home to business casual here, it has been quite the adjustment.

    1. Know your body type and play up to your strengths (every body type has them)
    2. Reddit’s femalefashionadvice is a godsend
    3. Thrift shops are an excellent source of high-quality blazers and work pants
    4. Pair loose/baggy with tight (loose/baggy top, tighter bottom – tighter top, loose/baggy bottom) for balance
    5. Go neutral, neutral, neutral to mix and match. Use accessories to pop out the looks from neutral to nice.
    6. Google “business capsule wardrobe”, print them out, go to the department store and copycat if you’re feeling really lost. It’s totally okay.

  62. Jennifer M*

    I would agree with others on losing the hoodies and replacing them with cardigans. I have cardigans in black, gray, white, and brown and that covers me for most things. As you are doing, stay away from writing on your tops. Dark jeans seem to be fine for your office. A pair (or two) of black slacks are super versatile. Throw in a pair of khakis in a more tailored cut.
    Business casual doesn’t have to be pricey. I personally prefer skirts and dresses and would hate wearing jeans every day – some are pricey some are not. I picked up 2 V-neck, short sleeve, knit dresses (with pockets!!!) for $12 each at Walmart back in May. If I wear them with flip flops they are super casual. If I wear them with flats/heels and some jewelry, they are much more dressy. Now sure, they won’t last forever, but at $12 I’m sure I’ll get my money’s worth out of them. I’ve bought several elastic waist, knit skirts from Old Navy in dark colors. I’m too busty for button downs, but I have non-T-shirt tops that I wear with them (Kohl’s, ON, Target, Dress Barn). I’ve managed to be on multi-month business trips to countries near the equator for the past 2 winters, so I haven’t had to dress for work in the cold climate for a while. But I usually wear pants and a sweater. Swap between black/brown loafers with socks or flats with knee high nylons (I have a pair of black pants that I like a lot but they shrank when I accidentally put them in the dryer. You can’t really tell if I wear flats, but if I wear loafers, it is obviously that they are too short).

    1. daen wiser*

      I love my button-downs. Since I am also busty, I will handstitch the button band shut from about the second button to the fourth. It gives me enough room to pull the shirt over my head, but it keeps the band from gaping over the chest.

  63. masters student of none*

    I feel like the easiest way to “level up” is blouses with black jeans and flats

    I really love Target, they have tons of great business-y casual tops that are pretty nice. They also fall in the same color scheme so they match everything pretty well. I also have a designated “work cardigan” that lives on my chair. I’d also start with pinterest as inspiration to find what looks you like

  64. Ranon*

    It’s a silly answer, maybe, but since you can- one piece at a time! Maybe try to find a good blazer, first, or a cardigan if you’re more if a cardigan person. Poshmark and ThredUp are great if you have the time, you can get great quality for a lot less than store prices. Live with a piece for a while, see how it works for you, then add another piece when you’ve had a chance to form a few more preferences.

  65. Kris*

    Ann Taylor Loft (But wait until you get a 50% off email!) – For very cute tops that are easy to dress up or down.

  66. Kramerica Industries*

    My rule of thumb is to always wear one thing dressy to “professionalize” the rest of your outfit.
    -If you want to wear light jeans and a t-shirt, wear a dark blazer with it.
    -If you want to wear a zip-up hoodie, wear it over a nice plain dress.
    -If you want to wear sneakers, make them something plain and on-trend, like plain white sneakers or Keds.

  67. Matilda Jefferies*

    Even if you don’t need it for meetings, you may find yourself needing it for warmth! Office temperatures are notoriously unreliable – cold in the summer, hot in the winter, etc. So you will almost certainly need an extra layer at some point.

    1. Matilda Jefferies*

      Oops, this was meant to be a reply to Andy and Radio Girl above, about keeping a neutral blazer or cardigan in the office just in case.

  68. victoria*

    I know of no better introduction to putting together a wardrobe from scratch than the blog The Vivienne Files:

    The whole thrust of the blog is wardrobe curation, and she provides a few different methods you can use to come up with a coherent wardrobe with a manageably small number of pieces.

  69. bookishnewbie*

    I’m a mid-30s woman in a similar work environment and I’ve adopted the “dress for the job you want” attitude. In my case, that means dark, well-fitted jeans, blouses or “nice” tees without writing (i.e. an opaque, fitted tee in a good fabric) and a blazer. Shoes are usually semi-dressy flats or boots. I still blend with the casual look of the office but I look more polished than I would on an average weekend day, for example. It also helps me mentally compartmentalize work; even though my office is casual, I still have a pretty clear definition in my mind between the clothes I have for work and the clothes I have for fun, which are a bit more adventurous.

  70. fromscratch*

    I had this same dilemma in my current job. I’d been working from home for 4 years and didn’t have much of a “public” wardrobe.
    I work in tech and most people wear whatever they want – and that ranges from athleisure to a suit.
    I’m 33 but often get mistaken for 19 or 20, so I felt like I needed to at least look more put together.

    My default now is dark jeans, some sort of tank or tee with a cardigan, or a silk blouse. I buy nearly everything but my jeans secondhand. Goodwill in my area has 1/2 off the first saturday of every month and every Sunday the color of the week is $0.99. That, combined with Poshmark for things like silk tops from Anthropologie or JCrew and dresses from Boden has helped me build a large professional looking but still casual wardrobe.

    I wear birkenstocks all summer due to foot/knee pain and then have a nice collection of boots/flats for colder weather.

  71. ragazza*

    Jackets, even worn with a T-shirt and nice jeans, are a great way to upgrade a look to “professional.” Wear some cute flats instead of sneakers. Have one simple dress you can throw on once in a while. Make sure at least one piece of your wardrobe is “nice”–for instance, if you’re wearing a more informal/inexpensive sweater wear it with a skirt or nicer pants.

  72. Saraphina*

    Depending on where you live, thrift stores can be awesome. I’m in Washington DC and since people come and go so often, you can find barely worn NICE clothes for super cheap. I got a beautiful Anne Taylor, barely worn dress for $15

  73. SweetTooth*

    You don’t really have to change your style in the sense that you can continue to wear the same basic silhouettes but in more polished ways. Like, if you are more of a pants person than a skirt/dress person, go with that! If you like skinny jeans more than straight leg or boot cut, that’s fine! Your foundation can be slim fit dress pants or dark or black skinny jeans.

    On the top half, the switch can be to higher quality or dressier materials. If your sweaters are getting pill-y, you can get one of those pill scraper things or a piece of velcro and freshen them up while watching a movie. If the concern is fit or patterns that seem too childish, then you can try upgrading to more basic solid sweaters in nicer materials like cashmere or wool rather than acrylic. You can switch to solid, dressier t-shirts that have less of the regular t-shirt crew neck, or you can buy shirts that are more silky or dressy. Those can be actual silk, or they can be in polyester or rayon or something else that’s easily machine washable. Instead of a hoodie, throw on a cardigan or a blazer (depending on how formal you want to feel that day). Instead of sneakers, wear ballet flats or loafers or ankle boots.

    And you don’t have to make a switch all at once. That’s definitely the luxury of a casual office – you can get one new thing and wear it and see how you feel! If you like it, great! If not, you can try something else. Don’t buy things that you can’t see yourself wearing, but don’t feel like you can’t try something new that you like but have never worn before. You will find your balance!

  74. ggg*

    My 24-7 uniform is pullover blouse, pants (black), cardigan. Important meetings might warrant a blazer. On casual workdays or weekends I replace the pants with dark jeans.

    Shoe-wise I have a couple pairs of dressy flats and a couple pairs of Allbirds-type sneakers.

    It’s kind of boring, but I don’t have to spend much time or money on it, which is great.

  75. Adminx2*

    I am generally super basic- a handful of comfy pants, shell tops, and various cardigans/short jackets/blazers across a variety of formalities and fabrics. One pair both of black and brown loafers. Nice shaped hair cut or basic bun and I’m set. I grew it slowly, almost all at thrift stores or super sales.

  76. toolazytobeclever*

    I’m a late-20s woman and in my office, we lean towards the more casual side of business casual, with some exceptions for the more front-facing team. I usually wear dark jeans with a some sort of blouse and black flats. I tend to wear darker colors because that’s my preference, but I have a few blouses with are colorful (most red, green, and royal blue. I get most of my blouses from TJ Maxx, Marshalls, and Nordstorm Rack, sometimes Loft when they’re having a good sale on their clearance section! For the summer, I also wear dresses, which I also pair with my black flats, and I also find those in the same places I get my blouses. Hope this helps!

  77. Nea*

    I also wear jeans to the office, and have both saved myself a lot of time and kept it professional by having a uniform: jeans, knit top, cardigan, flats. In the summer the top and cardi are short sleeved. In the winter, they’re long sleeved.

    Also, I recommend picking either navy blue or black – probably navy blue is best, considering the jeans – and making sure EVERYTHING goes with that color. Any color or print that coordinates with navy blue will also coordinate with light blue jeans, medium blue jeans, khaki jeans, or gray jeans (and, in a pinch, usually black as well). And there’s your mix-and-match office casual wardrobe.

    Shoes-wise, I started wearing Crocs Kaydee flats – the patterned ones – this summer to brighten up an otherwise plain wardrobe and I’ve never gotten so many compliments on my shoes in my life. They’re perfectly office-worthy unless you’re in a full formal hose-and-heels- and suit job.

  78. Delta Delta*

    I absolutely gasp thinking back on what I used to wear that passed as “professional/business casual.” I wish I had asked a question like this back then!

    I am a fan of dresses & skirts, so as I’ve evolved, I have amassed a pretty good collection of summer skirts & dresses, and winter dresses (I live someplace that’s too cold in the winter to always wear dresses). My go-to tends to be patterned skirt and plain tee shirt in a coordinating color, and a blazer or cardigan. While the cheap tees from Target work, you can also find more dressy tees, which feel a little more professional. I am also a fan of the summer dress/blazer combo. In the winter I wear a lot of wool dresses with tights if I’m going business casual.

    On court days I wear a suit, obviously.

  79. Bunny Girl*

    ThreadUp is a go-to of mine. You can get high quality items for relatively cheap and they last a while. I think it’s important to just splurge on the basics and just dress up the rest of it. A couple pairs of dark slacks, a sweater, and a couple standard plain tees, and a nice pair of shoes.

    I really struggle with my professional wardrobe because honestly my typical “at home” style is so different from how I’m expected to dress at work. So I just stick with basic colors (black, grey, white, and some dark cranberry thrown in) and it seems to work out okay. It’s a little boring but I don’t have to worry about something not matching.

  80. Fabulous*

    I generally have gone with well-fitting jeans (either dark or light) and a nice blouse, or t-shirt and cardigan.

    Cardigans are seriously where it’s at!

    Lighter cardigans for warmer months or heavier ones for the colder. You can really wear anything with them; t-shirt, blouse, or even a tank top. You can get shorter cardigans to wear with tunics or dresses, or longer cardigans to pair with leggings (and yes I’ve also worn leggings to work – if they don’t look specifically like workout pants and aren’t see-through, I don’t see the problem as long as you pair them with a tunic or longer cardigan).

    In short, replace your hoodies with cardigans and you’re golden :)

  81. Matilda Jefferies*

    I want to do a shout out to grey as a basic neutral, instead of black. Lots of people love black, but I find it really doesn’t work with my complexion, so I rarely wear it. Pretty much every “neutral” thing I own is grey, and you can mix and match it with everything in the same way you would do with black.

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      Yup – I look great in all shades of gray. Also, as a black woman, brown has become my new favorite neutral in place of black. It really does work well with my skin tone and most of the jewel tone clothing I tend to wear.

  82. Bend & Snap*

    So going into Macy’s makes me want to cry it’s so depressing, but they have an awesome online dress selection and amazing return policy. I hit the sales and get sheath dresses for work, which can be dressed up or down depending on your mood.

    Brands like Calvin Klein, Betsy Johnson and Rachael Roy are all on

  83. deesse877*

    I recommend a two-part strategy:

    1) like so many have said, keep the jeans and change the top to something that reads as dressier. If you would never move 20 boxes whilst wearing a particular top, then it is dressy enough. This part is easy. There is nothing to really learn (except spending more time/money shopping, alas). You just plug in new clothes to what you’re already doing.

    2) if you are comfortable doing so, learn to accessorize. That means nice shoes and jewelry, which you will wear every day, and things like belts, scarves, watches, bags, and hair accessories that are more optional. This is harder to learn, and more expensive to start, and if your preferred presentation is minimal and or masculine of center, you may want to do very little or nothing in this area. If you do want to try it, though, look at online and print professional-dressing resources for ideas, as suggested above. A good rule of thumb is that, once your flesh is minimally covered (top, bottoms, appropriate hosiery and undergarments), add 2-3 things that will draw the eye and seem special. For example, to jeans and a good v-neck sweater, add nice loafers, a simple necklace like a Tiffany Infinity, and a good-looking watch.

    The standard of “professionalism” for women can be very expensive and labor-intensive, and it’s always sexist, so don’t invest in it if you don’t want to, obviously. But across different dress codes, the core principle is basically this: give everyone who sees you 3-4 chances to say “how controlled and competent, yet interesting she is!”

  84. Hei Hei, the Chicken from Moana*

    Here’s a great capsule from Wardrobe Oxygen:

    For me, a size 18/20 and I *love* clothes – the summer I’ve been doing easy dresses (my fave: with either my Rothy’s or a pair of comfortable-but-cute sandals. I can also layer with cardigans if needed. For fall winter: ponte leggings and a basic tee with a smart cardi or blazer. Rothys again, booties, or knee-high boots for when it’s cold.

    1. Margaret*

      Oooh I love those. I relied on these a lot while I was building mine;

      Used these to build a small collection of 30 items that serve me very well in my business casual with the occasional serious meeting (tropical climate) office.

  85. Aglaia761*

    My uniform is comfortable slacks, patterned blouse/shell/sweater, flats/sandals.

    I’ve found NY & Co’s pants work great for my body type (I have hips and a butt). I probably have about 10 pairs of pants in various colors and patterns. You may find another brand that works better. But try for at least 4 pairs of pants in standard colors; buff/camel, black, navy, med-dark grey. You can wear anything with those colors. Then as your budget allows add some additional colors and patterns. I’m currently wearing red pants, and I also have dark green and a variety of striped, and polka dots in neutrals.

    For tops, I love a shell+cardigan combo or a blouse. I shop Marshalls, TJ Maxx, Nordstrom Rack, and any clearance rack I can find. I don’t pay full price for tops. I like color and pattern which is why my pants tend to be solid or printed neutrals.

    Again, I have basic cardigan colors to match my pants; black, navy, white, beige.

  86. Mumbsy*

    Hi fellow 20 something here! I find it easier to approach business wardrobe by swapping casual wardobe items for the next step up. So make an outfit like you are going to live an average day outside of work and just swap
    Hoodie/zip up jacket=cardigan or blazer
    Blue jeans= grey or dark jeans (no rips/fading)
    Leggings= elastic waist “dress pants”
    T shirt= button down, blouse (avoid off shoulder or low cut when possible)
    Sneakers=flats, oxfords, or a laceless casual shoe in navy, black, or brown
    Dresses usually try to find some that go to the knee and pairing with a cardigan or blazer dresses up the look
    Then accessories are your friends! Infinity scarves, jewelry, belts, watches all can be optimized to dress up or down a look

  87. jDC*

    I love dressed as I am ALWAYS hot and I also have a short waist so a lot of pants dig in the most uncomfortable spot. Think low rise is mid rise for me, high rise I can put the girls in. I have wayyyy too many black and grey dresses but they get worn. Depending on the weather I’ll throw a blazer or cardigan on top. I like heels A LOT so I tend to wear black or nude pumps, in the winter maybe tights or basic black boots.
    I do sometimes switch it up. I have a go to of dark jeans, some flats (I just bought some animal print flats that are not my usual style but really cute when im wearing so much neutral) and a blouse or shirt and blazer. I wear A LOT of black. Some of it is due to sweating a lot and some because it is easy.
    Neutrals are key I’d say. A pop of color now and then when in the mood.

  88. E*

    Search Pinterest for “business casual capsule wardrobe”. There’s lots of already put together ideas, even some with exclusively Target or other store brands if you want to shop all at one place. I like saving these ideas up and then comparing what I like about several of them. If several have dark jeans with jewel toned tops and a neutral cardigan, that’s what I try to put together in my wardrobe. A black, grey, or brown knit material cardigan is excellent to put over any tank top or short sleeve shirt to dress up a layer.

  89. sea pea*

    I recommend picking two to three work silhouettes and making those your uniform. When I worked in a business casual office, my uniforms were:

    1. Dark slim jeans or slacks, flowy top, dark sandals or flats
    2. Skirt (usually midi length but fitted so still dressy), knee-high boots, black turtleneck
    3. Dark slim jeans or slacks, white tee, blazer, black heeled booties

  90. Allie*

    I’m also a woman with a graduate degree who went through the same thing a year ago. For summer, I’m personally fond of dresses and skirts (which tend to inherently be viewed as “dressy”) so I didn’t need to make much of a change there. For winter, I upgraded my jeans, t-shirt, and sneakers to blouses or nice sweaters and booties (I’m not a flats person) with the exact same jeans. The other women near my age tend to do the same – jeans, blouse or sweater, and not-sneakers for shoes – but year-round because they aren’t big on dresses. Just consider this one more data point in helping you figure out what works for you. I hope you find a slightly upgraded wardrobe you like!

  91. Jimming*

    As a plus-size woman, shopping can be a frustrating experience. Some of the commenters have already mentioned good options. I mostly shop at Torrid because they have well-fitting sizes. They’re usually more “casual” than “business” but they usually have some nice slacks and blazers available.

    I like pairing a blazer with slacks or dark jeans and a t-shirt – but I’m on the west coast and that still might be too casual for some offices.

  92. Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler*

    Statement necklaces and scarves. An inexpensive way to turn “these are slacks” to “Huh, that’s a planned outfit.”

    Jewelry doesn’t have to be expensive – I am partial to multi-strand necklaces of beads in one color, which you can actually make pretty easily (or buy if that’s your preference). Scarves can also be cheap; if you’re okay with the Forever 21s and Charming Charlies of the world they’re usually pretty accessible, and thrift stores can be great for the silk kind.

  93. Kate*

    Read the book “The Curated Closet.” It’s all about the process of building a wardrobe that works for you, in your context, that you genuinely love. Cannot recommend enough!

    1. WakeRed*

      Yes this!!!!!! So glad I’m not the only person. The Curated Closet has helped me figure out where to spend my clothing money and what things I value. (Waists, pockets, and sustainability)

      As far as putting outfits together, which I find impossible: In my 20s back when the Sartorialist was more of a thing, I liked to look there and then borrow their fashion, or JCrew catalogs to get a sense of how things went together. Pay attention to the folks whose ensembles you like, or look on Pinterest. Curated Closet will walk you through this. You can get nice stuff secondhand, or at Target, but it helps to have an idea of what you *like* to wear before you go out and buy things that you’ll only wear once and pull at the whole time!

  94. Oxford Comma*

    The dark jeans are fine. Start by pairing those with dressier tops (lose the hoodies and t-shirts). That can still mean things like pullover tops, but not things with slogans on them. If you have a figure that lends itself to button downs, those are good options. I don’t know what you’re using for footwear, but I would go with something like flats.

    Gradually add in slacks (trousers) and again pair with the nicer tops.

    Darker colors, neutrals are all good options for bottoms. If you want to be bolder with a patterned trouser, then make sure the top is solid.

    Depending on your age, work temperature, etc., a blazer or cardigan can be a lifesaver. I am terrible at accessorizing but items like scarves, jewelery, etc. can be ways to dress up what you’re wearing.

    For places to go, I would suggest TJ Maxx, Nordstrom Rack, Marshalls, Kohls. Some of the department stores are options. I personally hate shopping, but if you go regularly, you’ll learn how long you have to wait before stuff hits clearance racks (not as long as you think). I tend to spend more on the basics likes trousers and blazers, coats and shop sales racks for tops, cardigans, etc.

  95. Lorax*

    Honestly, this is so industry specific. “Business casual” could mean anything from “you don’t have to wear a tie, but you still need to be in slacks, a button-down, a blazer, and dress shoes” to “jeans and hoodies.” The best thing to do is look at what others in your industry are wearing and follow suit (so to speak).

    I work for an environmental nonprofit, and we tend to be a very casual bunch. Think, khakis, old trail building t-shirts, flannel, and Tevas or hiking boots. Going full business-y would be weird in most contexts. That said, my organization specifically is a little more formal than our partnering organizations, thanks mostly to our longtime president who came from a more formal government background. I would consider my day-to-day wardrobe “business casual.” I try to get pieces that I can easily mix and match in order to maximize my wardrobe potential without having to buy a ton of stuff (usually this means avoiding weird colors that don’t match well with other colors and avoiding lots of patterns). My outfits are usually a mix of:

    — Nice-fitting chino pants and high-quality, nice-fitting jeans (no holes or signs of wear; no embellishments, embroidery, or graphics; no odd colors; no skinny jeans; high-quality material; usually from brands like J. Crew, Eddie Bauer, Gap, or Banana Republic)

    — Blouses, cardigans, and pull-over sweaters (brands like J. Crew, Ann Taylor, Ann Taylor Loft, Diane von Furstenberg, Brooks Brothers, Vera Wang)

    — The occasional blazer

    — Casual, tailored-looking dresses in wool, cotton, or linen (brands like J. Crew, Ann Taylor Loft, Theory)

    — Flats, mules, or dressy boots (brands like J. Crew, Frye, Rothys, Clarks)

    How do I afford this on a nonprofit salary? Thrift stores, consignment shops, and online second-hand retail! There are a lot of good brick-and-mortar stores in my city, mostly clustered around the universities. Online, I use, Tradesy, and eBay most frequently. The Linda’s Stuff store on eBay has some good bets, particularly if you’re leaning more towards the “business” side of business causal. The online route makes it easy to filter based on very specific criteria, so that’s what I do most often these days.

  96. Paloma Pigeon*

    Subscription services like Stitchfix and MM Le Fleur can be very helpful here. I think Stichfix even lets you create an inspiration board on Pinterest that their stylists use to curate the clothes. If it’s not out of your budget, my recommendation is to try a few months and see if it helps.

  97. Mermaid's Top Half*

    I am also a woman in my late 20s and exclusively wear jeans and a “nice top” to look less young at work. I haven’t seen anyone plug for Express yet, but their Portofino tops (long-sleeved, short-sleeved, and sleeveless) are fantastic! They fit nicely, come in a million colors/prints, and Express frequently has buy one/get one 50% off sales. I actually think the tops are objectively cute (not ‘work’ cute, IE less cute) and have gotten many compliments from other women my age about the shirts.

    1. Bostonian*

      I have the same Express work top in 4 different colors; they are amazing! I’m a big fan of zippers.

  98. Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced Bouquet!)*

    I love clothes so I tend to lean towards a more dressy business casual, but here are my tips:
    1. If you don’t like having to make *outfits*, try a capsule work wardrobe. Basically, have some tops, bottoms, and dresses that all go together fairly easily. That way you can wake up and quickly grab things that look good together.
    2. Look for nicer fabrics and structure. Those are the main differences between a white tee shirt and a white blouse. Jeans and a white blouse looks a lot more professional than jeans and white tee.
    3. Check out Corporette for some inspiration. It’s definitely geared more towards business formal, but it’s great for inspiration. I particularly like the Frugal Friday Posts.
    4. I buy lots of my work apparel at Macy’s, Nordstrom and Nordstrom Rack, Asos (although be careful, some of the stuff looks work appropriate online but isn’t IRL), and Banana Republic.

    1. zimmertaco*

      I second the Corporette suggestion!

      My government office is business casual but there is always some chance I’ll have a surprise court appearance or have to interact with a legislator. My personal rule is: If I put a blazer on, does my office look appropriate enough for court? And then I keep a blazer or two in my office at all times. (Full suits are of course required for trials, but local custom is more relaxed for other types of appearances).

      Maybe a good approach for you, OP, would be: If I put a cardigan or a blazer on, would I feel polished meeting a Very Important Client or a company executive? And then either wear those pieces to work every day, and build your outfits to incorporate them, or keep those pieces at work.

  99. Bee*

    Good quality loafers or mules are a great investment for a BC wardrobe. They elevate a dark jeans + top/blouse to just a smidge more formal without the discomfort of heels. I have the Sam Edelman Lior loafers in white and black and are wearing them into the ground.

  100. Jessen*

    One thing I’ve had some luck with is a plain, fitted t-shirt and a strong accessory. Something like a decorative scarf or a large statement necklace. I also wear oxford shoes a lot as a sort of compromise shoe that looks dressy but still nice with jeans. I despise your average flat, so that works much better.

  101. Bostonian*

    OP, you’re in good hands. There’s nothing else the AAM commenters like to talk about more than clothes!

    I’ll be keeping an eye on the comments because my style is pretty basic and could use an upgrade. I mostly do black/white colors; nice-looking skinny jeans with a professional tank top + sweater (works in both winter and summer because of the office AC).

  102. CupcakeCounter*

    The dark jeans are great (as long as they are clean, rip free, and well fitting). Simpy swap out the t-shirts & hoodies for more polished tops in a nicer cut & fabric. My default is a nice sleeveless top with a cardigan or open front blazer.
    I work in the home office of a trucking company so we lean more casual than business and this combo works great for me.
    Other options would be a shirt or maxi dress, leggings with a tunic top (must cover butt – I like them to come about 2-3 inches below crotch level myself), khakis and a button down/polo or well fitting v-neck t-shirt, wide leg linen pants with a more fitted top (a high waist, wide leg pant with a well fitting crop sweater and matching tank – to make sure no peep show – looks amazing).

    1. CupcakeCounter*

      oh and ballet flats or dressy sandals for nice weather and a nice pair of ankle boots (good quality, low heel) and loafers for cooler weather

  103. Llellayena*

    Dark jeans are fine (black is great) but if you want to up the look you can find dark/black khakis or jeans-cut pants in business fabrics. Upgrade the t-shirts to fitted versions and/or non-cotton fabrics (I find the Worthington line at JC Penny’s is comfortable and formal enough). Skip the hoodie and look for a fitted jacket or well shaped knit sweater. I usually skip this next step because I’m lazy, but jewelry is very helpful: necklace, nice earrings (if you have pierced ears, I don’t). Oh, and wear a belt with the pants, even if they stay up well. It helps with the shape/fit. No sneakers, but anything from nice sandals to fashion boots works great.

    Keep a set of more formal blazer/pants around in case you have a more formal day, but if the office is business casual (emphasis on casual) this should be enough. Another advantage is that wearing snappier clothes does tend to help with confidence!

  104. ClashRunner*

    Pinterest has some great ideas on business-casual capsule wardrobes. Look for staples that can go with multiple pieces, and remember that accessories will transform your outfit. As for where to get stuff, try your favorite resale shop, TJ Maxx, Marshalls, NR, outlets, and of course Target.

  105. MOAS*

    Dark jeans or khakis/cords work, as well as neutral color slacks (although you can go colorful/printed when you’re more comfortable).

    Tops can be T shirts or blouses, button downs if they fit you well, regular blouses if they don’t (I can’t ever do a button down). Polos work too.

    Flats, boots, sandals, are all OK.

    That’s the thing about business casual, it’s so tricky because it encompasses SO MUCH. My office dress code is everything goes except for shorts, ripped jeans and Ts with writing on it. I’ve worn everything from leggings and sweatpants to pencil skirts & blouses. Its not uncommon to see one person wear a suit one day and Tshirt & jeans the next.

  106. Frankie*

    My go-to in my more casual context is dark jeans and a blazer (with a plain but more casual shirt underneath). I look young and definitely had to dress up a bit more than others, both in general and when moving from grad assistant to professional staff, to be taken more seriously. The blazer cues ppl that way, without you looking overly stuffy. My guess is that even slacks might be a little overdressed for your position right now (although it’s definitely good to have a pair or two for really important meetings/interviews/etc.)

    I also think one or two understated, classic pieces of jewelry–necklace and earrings–do a lot to make you look polished without putting in a lot of effort.

    Until you know what you like, I’d actually go and shop/try on clothes in person. And make a point of not buying one or two pieces, but buying a whole outfit at once, even if that means you have to make budget buys/only buy one outfit for a while. When you buy the whole outfit you’ll wear it–if you buy one piece you’ll stress about what to put with it and won’t wear it as much.

    I do think a big piece of looking professional is wearing things that you like and that make you comfortable–not necessarily meaning the most casual clothes you could wear, but things that feel like a dressy version of yourself. You shouldn’t feel like you’re putting on a “business costume,” because that unease will come across in subtle ways and won’t come off as you being a capable professional.

  107. Lisa Babs*

    This post resonates with me. Because after graduation I got a job at a small company with basically no dress code also. So I had to find a wardrobe that fits like me… doesn’t feel young, but isn’t overly formal when it doesn’t need to be. I settled on a blouse (or other business appropriate top) with dark jeans. It gave me the feeling I wanted while still giving me comfort.

    Like in the summer I live in shells that are designed to go with suits but with dark jeans. It’s great because on the days (like three times a year) I need to dress more businessy, I can wear those tops with black pants and a suit jacket.

    But that is what works for me. For you, I suggest playing with parts of a typical business wardrobe with a more casual wardrobe to find your compromise. Maybe it’s jeans and a t-shirt with a casual suit jacket instead of a hoodie.

  108. ashie*

    I’ll add something to avoid – just because you see people on TV wear something doesn’t mean you should wear it for the office. Learned that one the hard way – thanks a lot Ally McBeal!

  109. Alex*

    I also work in this kind of office and I mix it up a lot. I wear dresses, skirts, jeans, slacks, everything. Some days I am more dressed down and some more dressed up. Since it doesn’t matter, I just wear what I feel like!

    In the summer, my favorite is either a casual dress (but not spaghetti straps or anything overly beachy) or linen pants with a flowy top. In the winter, I wear a lot of jeans with sweaters or sweater dresses with leggings and boots.

  110. Sinister Serina*

    1) Well-fitted blazer (this means it fits you well, not that it’s tight).
    2) At least a couple of button downs that also fit properly
    3) A dress that you like, that you can wear the jacket over
    4) Nice shoes-and this can mean nice sneakers/flats/boots
    5) a black pencil skirt that does with the blazer
    6) Pants that goes with all of the above
    I can’t emphasize enough that everything should fit properly-it makes a world of difference.

    Then you can add in fun things, like nice cardigans, sweaters, jewelry, etc.

  111. Aly_b*

    This can be done with more money and less research, or less money and more research. Folks have pointed to blogs, thrifting, etc as the less money/more research option. The “just dress me I have no idea” option that can help as you start to develop your own taste in more business casual clothing is to shop at stores that cater only to a more mature look (ie don’t try to hit up old navy or even loft, go to Ann Taylor or banana republic). This means you get to try a bunch of stuff and almost all of it will fall somewhere in the business casual range, and won’t feel as much like dressing up or potentially overdressing while you’re trying it on since you’re surrounded by it. I would also consider looking at one of the stores or sites that does personal shopping or bento box style things, those would give you a solid foundation and those folks are professionals at helping people change up their wardrobe.

  112. blink14*

    I definitely have a work “uniform” and actually struggle with jeans on Fridays. My personal style, while conservative is too “alternative” for office wear, and I usually end up with jeans and t-shirt with a flannel/checkered shirt over that.

    I pretty much never wear skirts or dresses to work, personal preference, so my work look is pants, sleeveless top, and a cardigan. Kohl’s has some great options for lightweight, work appropriate tops, and they always have some cardigans that are work appropriate but don’t cost a ton.

    For pants, I have multiple pairs of the same style from American Eagle, the kick boot. They have different pant styles, so your best option might be different from mine, but they are all a khaki type material and come in different colors. I usually stick to black, navy, and dark grey. They don’t last forever, I find the color fades after about 12 months, but they are almost always on sale and are cheap enough to replace every year or 2.

  113. Nicki Name*

    Another vote for keeping the jeans and losing the hoodie.

    I’m a woman in a business-casual office in a mostly non-customer-facing technical role. I’m typically in jeans, a shirt-like blouse, and tennis shoes. On Fridays I sometimes wear art T-shirts.

    For the occasional days when I need to be more formal, I have a couple pairs of slacks, a few nice blouses, and comfortable flats.

    My main sources for clothes are Kohl’s and JC Penney.

    1. Nicki Name*

      I should say, “officially business casual”. A lot of the guys with the same job title as me are typically in T-shirts and shorts.

  114. mark132*

    Not to be overly flippant, because this is almost exactly what I do. I walk into Costco/Sam’s and see what I like that is reasonably priced, that I like, that looks like it would be comfortable as well.

  115. MuseumChick*

    Staples from (almost) any business casual wardrobe:

    1) Slacks. Grey, brown, black, navy, any neutral color.
    2) Skirts. Similarly, in a neutral color. Typically knee length.
    3) “Plain” shirts. I put this in quotes because they do not have to be boring! Here you can incorporate bright colors and/or patters. Shallow V, crew, cowl, boat necklines are all acceptable.
    4) Blazers. All the blazers.
    5) Appropriate shoes. Cute ballet flats, a mid to low heel, even stylish boots.

    1. Ariana Grande's Ponytail*


      I will add that I think it is best to start with some more plain stuff that will coordinate with your existing wardrobe. So if you have pants in black, navy, and green, make sure you are buying shirts that might match with at least two pairs of your pants at a time. It takes a lot of the guesswork and difficulty out of getting dressed in the morning for me.

  116. Edianter*

    Alison has advertised ThredUp on this site (link:, so I tried them out because I trust her.

    I’ve had really good luck finding good options for work on their website, and for really good prices. You can sort by “tops,” and then I usually check the “blouses” and “button-down shirts” filters so that I’m only seeing things that are work-appropriate.

    I’ll echo others that you’re probably fine keeping the dark jeans, but adding a few nicer tops to your wardrobe can only help!

  117. Didi*

    I worked with a personal shopper a few years ago to create a work wardrobe. Here’s her approach. I loved it!

    Ask yourself:
    *are you more of a dress person, a skirt person, a pants person, or do you like to mix it up?
    * what kinds of tops do you like – button-up dress shirts, knits (like nice T-shirts or polos), shell-style (woven fabrics with a cap sleeve that you pull on, or drapes in the front, with maybe have a couple buttons), or a combo?
    * Do you like to wear jackets/blazers, or cardigans/sweaters, or don’t you like layers?

    From there, you create a look. Start with whatever is hardest to fit. For me, bottoms are hard to fit and I like skirts and pants over dresses, so we spent a lot of time (and also this is where the most money was invested) finding skirts and pants in various dark solid colors in various cuts and styles. I ended up with three skirts and three pants in black, grays, and blues.

    Then I chose some colorful tops. I don’t like button-down shirts, so I chose a variety of shell tops and nice T-shirts in various solids and prints (I like abstract and geometric prints over florals and cutesy things personally). I bought 6-7 tops that each went with 2-3 of the bottoms.

    Then, we chose the all-important “third piece.” It’s essential for a professional look to have a third piece in an outfit, be it a blazer, cardigan, scarf, bold belt or jewelry, to pull everything together. I like jackets (and need year-round because of A/C) so I picked out four jackets, again in neutral colors that will coordinate with the bottoms and tops. This look is not as stuffy as a suit, but it still looks very professional and put-together. I also bought a couple of cardigans and a wrap-type sweater thing.

    This coordinated with what I already had nicely. It cost some money but I bought quality items that lasted. Also, I had a couple of the bottoms tailored so that they fit perfectly. A key part of looking professional is fit too.

    Good luck!

    1. Anonya*

      I’m glad you mentioned fit. Too big = sloppy looking; too tight = not as offfice-appropriate as it could/should be.

  118. Silicon Valley Girl*

    Whatever you wear (& there are plenty of good suggestions here), make sure your clothes fit you! Clothes come in standard sizes, bodies don’t — & that’s not your fault! Try a ton of things on until you find what works for you.

    Baggy clothes or too-tight clothes look equally unprofessional. Get pants hemmed if necessary (or learn to do it yourself via a YouTube tutorial). If you find a jacket that you love but it doesn’t fit quite right, maybe it can be tailored, either by the store (Nordstrom, for example) or a dry cleaner that does tailoring. It doesn’t cost a lot more money to wear clothes that fit, just time, & it’s worth it ;)

    1. DataGirl*

      Oh yes, this is so important. And I hate to say it but as a lady, especially if you are on the bustier side be really careful about cleavage or fit of button ups. I was fairly young in the professional world on a team of mostly men wearing a lot of button up blouses when a creep mentioned he liked sitting next to me because the gap between buttons showed off my chest. That kind of thing is not okay, and we shouldn’t have to police our wardrobe, but after years of sexual harassment in multiple workplaces I got to a point where I’d rather cover up than give anyone something to stare at.

  119. Been There*

    Nice flats or kitten heels automatically take a t-shirt and jeans to the next level – especially if you try the half tuck look (tuck in 3/4 of the front of your shirt and let the rest hang loose). It will make you look both casual and put together. Simple but matching jewelry (all one metal) and a watch will bring this up further.

  120. Hallowflame*

    I’m in the same boat as you, OP! My office has no official dress code, so everyone defaults to somewhere between business casual and casual.
    The dark-wash jeans are fine, just keep an eye on them for signs of fading or fraying. Once they start looking to worn, it’s time to relegate them to your off-the-clock wardrobe. If you’re up for it, consider adding colored jeans to the rotation as well, paired with a nicer top.
    Avoid sneakers at work except for Fridays. Even then, I would opt for something more on the fashion end of the sneaker spectrum, meant more to look cute and less as an athletic shoe. Monday-Thursday, stick to nice flats, wedge heels/sandals, and nice boots. It’s amazing how a nicer shoe can elevate a pair of jeans!
    For tops, ditch the hoodies. Start looking for fitted knit tees with scoop or v necklines, nicer tops and shells, and knit sweaters. ThredUP, Target, LOFT, Talbots, and Banana Republic are all great resources here, at varied price points.
    Cardigans and knit blazers are great to wear over tees, light tops, and shells. The drape-front cardigans are especially versatile.
    Consider adding a couple pairs of neutral colored dress pants to your wardrobe. These are great to have on-hand, and can be dressed up or down depending on the top, shoes, and accessories you wear with them. The Sloan skinny fit from Banana Republic are my favorite!
    If you have the budget for it, subscription styling services like StitchFix can be great! After a couple of Fixes, the stylists got a feel for my personal style and needs, and I always love most of what they send me. You can leave them a note before they start pulling items to send you to specify what you need, like “I’m starting a new job in a business casual office, and I need some starter pieces!”

  121. Jenny Grace*

    We might work for the same company!
    I would say no hoodies/sweatshirts, no sneakers (unless you need them for fussy foot reasons), no ripped or faded jeans to start. I would trade out cardigans for sweatshirts, that would be my first step. Once you’re comfortable with that (I’m assuming you don’t want to do a radical wardrobe shift more like a gradual style change), I would start working in some non-denim pants, and some more elevated shirts (not necessarily a button down but not a plain T).
    I went through something similar at my work and as I bought new clothes, I bought up, if that makes sense. I still wear occasional jeans but it’s definitely the case that the higher up the chain you go, the more well dressed people are, even though it’s technically acceptable to be dressed VERY casually at my work.

  122. BeeGee*

    I love dressier leggings! THEY ARE A GAME CHANGER. Especially for fall/winter. The ones I have are from Tommy Hilfiger outlet but J. Crew also has similar style leggings. They tend to be a fairly thick material and have buttons, belt loops, and zippers. They are so comfortable but look really polished. I pair them with knee high riding boots and a cable knit sweater.

    I think the biggest tip for business casual/dressy casual is to take a comfortable item of clothing, but ensuring that it has more polished elements to it (I.e. if jeans are acceptable, making sure they are a solid color and free of rips/tears, tights that are thick enough, cable knit sweaters, cotton dresses that are long enough and are of thick/good quality material and have appropriate necklines).

    Another tip is if you have a more casual piece as part of the wardrobe, adding a nicer piece or accessory can make the difference. For example, if you’re wearing blue jeans, pair it with a cotton button up shirt, dressier shoes, and/or a statement necklace.

    A quick summary of some of my favorite staple/versatile clothing items for business casual:
    -Long sleeve solid shirts from Tommy Hilfiger Outlet’s (thicker material, great with jeans or tights and a scarf/necklace)
    -Thick tights from J. Crew/TH
    -Cotton button up shirts from J. Crew outlet (I have floral pattern, fruit pattern, and cheetah print!)
    -Thick and thin cable knit sweaters
    -SO MANY CARDIGANS (perfect for dresses and freezing offices)
    -Cotton dresses and sweater dresses (favorite is a red cable knit turtleneck sweater dress that is so cozy in the winter when paired with boots/booties and fleece leggings)

  123. a clockwork lemon*

    I’m also a young woman in a uniform with a non-existent dress code, so I usually wear jeans + a nice shirt and a solid-colored long cardigan of some sort, along with a rotating cast of nice shoes. The difference between wearing a nice t-shirt and dark jeans with a pair of Business Shoes and wearing the same thing with casual sandals or sneakers is huge.

    Also, check DSW/Nordstrom Rack/Marshall’s clearance for Generic Business Flats, they usually end up being $20-40 and you can get a couple different colors for the cost of a single pair of Rothy’s.

  124. Awstinite*

    I think one major key to unlocking the professional wardrobe is the material. For example, find tops in the same fit top you like but maybe eyelet cotton, with a camisole underneath. Find pants in the same cut you like, but black or navy trouser material instead of denim. Find a cowlneck sweater or quality (thick!) cotton cardigan instead of a hoodie. Look at oxfords or brogues instead of Chucks. Look at leather or suede booties (check out Crown Royal brand for value). My (male) coworker wears oxfords with electric blue piping between the upper leather and lower sole. The more structured the material, the more formal the look, even in the same cut and even with some personal flare. Think about a knit vs wool blazer. The former reads as a nice sweater, while the latter reads as a polished jacket. Shoot for, “similar to what I like and what feels good, but an upgraded material” for an overall a more polished appearance that still feels authentic to you.

    Watch wash labels to make sure you’re not increasing your dry cleaning bill more than you’d like, though!

  125. Bend & Snap*

    Also, jewelry and a nice bag! A chunky necklace can jazz up almost anything and the handbag is one of the 3 things my mom taught me to always make sure looks nice. “If your hair, bag and shoes look nice, the rest of you will look nice.”

  126. CoffeeinanIV*

    My best friend has a mantra “Slap on a cardigan and it’s business casual” Now obviously you can’t wear shorts or a swimsuit with a cardigan, but I think that one added to dark jeans and a non-graphic tee shirt or nice blouse is adequate.

    I buy almost all my clothes secondhand at ThredUp, Goodwill, and Poshmark. Good for the wallet, good for the environment. Theres almost always a promo code flying around. ThredUp also has a styling service called “goody boxes” where they will send you 10-15 items that you only pay for what you keep – one of the collections is called “9-5” and you can add specifications that youre looking for business casual.

  127. TootsNYC*

    Just from the range of clothing you describe in your office, I challenge the accuracy of your perception that “everybody else has figured it out and I’m the only person who hasn’t, which means there’s something deficient about me.”

  128. BossLady*

    I swear by eShakti if you’re into dresses. They all have pockets and are all customize-able (so you can make the hem line lower or add sleeves if those things matter to you or in your office setting). Prices are around $60/dress and the quality is really good. Everything ships from India, and is customized, so it takes a few weeks to get to you.

    1. DataGirl*

      Agreed, eShakti is amazing and there are always sales. I love being able to customize dresses as I have tattoos to cover on my legs I always need a longer hem line. Personally the dresses I have from them tend to be more along the line of ‘casual garden wedding’ so I rarely wear them to work, but they have so many styles it would be easy to find business wear.

  129. jDC*

    Oh, if it is in your budget Nordstrom is having their anniversary sale until the 5th. Fall item at huge discounts, not sales where it is just items that didn’t sell last season. I just bought a new pair of Born boots that are INSANE comfy and come in more than one calf size for those who need bigger. I saved almost $100 on them.

  130. lisakoby*

    Agree with many of the comments. A friend has told about the rule of three for the top half of you. Blouse/T-shirt/Top + a jacket/cardigan/other layering piece + accessory (necklace/scarf/earrings)

    Can be adapted to Camisole/Tank top + Deep V sweater/blouse/other topper + accessory, thought I also think a cute at the knee dress works anywhere. Provided your bottoms aren’t ripped jeans or sweat pants you’ll look appropriate in anywhere but a totally formal office that requires a suit everyday.

  131. WorkInProgress*

    My current job is business casual and has the same wide-ranging outfits listed. (Ts and jeans to suits).

    I tend to wear everything in between as well. And based on your current outfit, it seems like the only thing you need to do is maybe swap out the top and nix the hoodie for a cardigan or blazer/fun jacket.

    On days that I need to feel more “professional” – there’s an important meeting or I’m going to a conference – I tend to go for items that have a bit more structure to them. Personally, it just makes me feel more put together and in control than something more flowy and casual. (I’m not a huge fan of cardigans when I want to play “grown up” because they’re usually kinda shapeless on me and they almost always fade and get pile-y).

    My go-to professional “uniform”:
    1) black (non-faded) jeans or tailored black trousers. Find a fit that works for you – and if they don’t fit quite right – a tailor can help hem a leg or cinch in a gapping back part of the waist. (Ann Taylor Loft has good options and they usually have 40-50% off sales pretty frequently).
    2) A blouse (or even a nice fitted T) in a bright color or monochrome graphic print.
    3) A dark lightweight blazer. Ideally something with a little stretch in it so you can move in it easily enough.
    4) Nice loafers or flats (in decent shape) – I keep it comfy in case I need to run around.
    5) A statement piece – it could be jewelry or, if you like makeup, a statement lip (in a “traditional” color). You’d be surprise how quickly a red lip can totally change an entire look!
    6) Hair – clean and styled. (This could run the gamut from just pulled back into a sleek ponytail to a simple blowdry – but I did *something* with some level of effort/purpose to it).

    What I like about this outfit/uniform, is that when I’m traveling, the only thing I need to pack extra of are tops. If they’re different enough (prints/color) and you switch up some jewelry, no one will know you’re wearing the same pants/jacket for a week. (Unless you spill soup on them and can’t get the stain out).

    I’m also a fan of dresses and skirts/tops (especially in the summer), because you just toss it over your head and out you go and you look dressed up. But I know not everyone is a fan. (And for any fellow thick thighed ladies out there that hate chafing – runner’s Glide works wonders).

    I feel that one caveat to all of this working: ironed/pressed clothes. If your clothes are all rumpled, shirt collars askew, cardigan faded/pile-y etc – it’s going to undo the “grown-up professional” look. Keeping things tailored and sharp is key for me.

    And above all, find things you not only feel comfortable in, but feel GOOD in. More than anything, your confidence (or lack thereof) will have the most impact on how you are perceived. So find stuff that makes you feel like “Yeah, I got this, I’m a badass.” Trust me, that energy will radiate out in a positive way. Good luck! :)

  132. Secretary*

    Look at people who dress the type of business casual you want to emulate, and take a friend shopping to help you pick out a few pieces. Choose a friend who is good at business casual.

  133. AnonyMousse*

    I am a young non-profit lawyer in my late/mid twenties. My current office is very casual in address so in the summer I wear flat sandals and natural fabric dresses that are all around knee length in the summer time. But at my previous more dressy office environments, I usually wear a pencil skirt/blouse/cardigan or a sheath/cardigan combo for everyday. My wardrobe consists of fun/fashion forward pieces from Zara and basics from JCrew or JCrew Factory. I always buy in bulk when JCrew/JCrew Factory has a 70% Extra Off Sale and that’s how I built my suit separates closet for some variety in pencil skirts and business pants. I invest heavily in suit jackets because I care about them more so I get them from Theory and Rag & Bone, all on sale, some on sample sale, never more than $150.

    For shoes, I go Zara again for fun flats and some fun leather pumps, and JCrew and Ann Taylor for more practical shoes. I always splurge for classic shoes and take very good care of them so that I dont wear them out. I usually attend the Jimmy Choo sample sale twice a year and I’ve never spent more than $100 on a pair.

    I alternate btw a Everlane leather tote and my trusty Longchamp as my go-to work handbag.

  134. Erin*

    No jeans with holes in them, no tee-shirts with sayings on them, and no tank tops.

    Hoodies are okay but mix it up with a sweater once in awhile.

    Converse sneakers on Fridays only.

  135. OhGee*

    Business casual is so industry/office-specific. It sounds like your current workplace is pretty flexible, so I’d start with looks you like. I recently left a super casual workplace for a much more formal business casual environment (they started allowing jeans on Fridays shortly before I came on board) and people’s choices are still pretty flexible, depending on their team, whether they interact with business contacts, and rank (administrative coordinators are generally more casual than directors). I’m an assistant director who does little interaction with non-employees, so I wear slacks, dresses, and skirts, and jeans every Friday. I have several solid-color, plain shoes (nice Chelsea boots, nice ankle-height boots, one pair of heels), a pair of patterned flats, and a pair of sandals for summer. I tend to either wear all black or really colorful outfits, and little jewelry because it’s not my thing (neither are handbags). I love to thrift shop for tops and dresses (more because I’d like to reduce my consumption than due to budget-consciousness), but am more likely to buy pants new (I struggle to find anything I like in resale shops), but I only have one or two pairs of pants for work. If a hoodie is comforting, but you want a style upgrade, get a roomy cardigan. It really is up to you. If you don’t want to think too much about it, a capsule wardrobe makes sense — if I didn’t enjoy fashion so much, I’d probably lean in that direction.

  136. Why isn't it Friday?*

    I go to the outlet mall in my city once or twice a year and just load up. If you’re going to stick with jeans, make sure they’re full length (nothing cropped), in a dark wash, no frayed hems. Wide-leg jeans actually look really chic in a dark wash. Try adding a cute colored belt for some extra sophistication. For shirts, you can’t go wrong with an Ann Taylor or Banana Republic work blouse. White House Black Market also has lovely items that tend to be higher quality – good fabrics, lined properly, nice and thick. Adding a cardigan or a blazer will also level you up, as will nice understated studs for earrings (fake pearl, fake diamond).

    The biggest thing to keep in mind is to make sure your hair and your makeup are really polished. My routine is very simple – IT cosmetics CC cream, blush, a little setting powder and brushing out my eyebrows. Getting your eyebrows threaded once in a while will do wonders for your face and make you look very put together. Make sure your hair is smooth and brushed away/pinned away from your face. Just add a nice, non-scuffed shoe, not a sneaker, to all this and you’re set!

  137. Kit*

    I can tell you what I do (as a devout jeans and t-shirt person who resents having to dress up in any way, shape or form). I have an easy blazer on hand, wear dark jeans, have a pair of cute and pro flats/shoes at my desk, and lots of low key blouses or “smart t’s”. I refuse to wear anything uncomfortable or annoying, so I barely have flats, I am a boot or van person, with the odd pair of shoes for fun. It’s important you find what you wear comfortable.

    As a plus size lady I get blazer type things from Addition Elle but can pick up casual/smart looking tops from Gap or Old Navy. But since its all about how the outfits are put together, people here have suggested style books and websites, peruse those!

  138. Don't Send Your Kids to Hudson University*

    I would focus on building up a collection of more professional pieces in neutral colors that can easily be mixed with more casual pieces (like some pencil skirt you could wear with a nice blouse and jacket, but could also pair with a solid tee or a sweater). I’m an advocate for some version of the “work uniform” for women, and can never get enough navy, black, and grey pieces to rotate through.

  139. JaviMami*

    Plus size female commenter here, and works in government and do a lot of international travel to high level meetings.
    I look for classic pieces that are the more expensive part of my wardrobe and will last a long time (jackets, pants, dresses, and designer shoes, etc.), and then more seasonally freshen my wardrobe through shirts, blouses, and cardigans. So I go to Nordstrom Rack for Eileen Fisher and Marina Rinaldi, and shoes, etc. for my long-wearing items (I try to get items I will wear for five years and only if I LOVE it) and then Target, Lands End, and Costco (online for better plus size selection) for things with color and prints. This helps me keep my budget in check, I have good quality items that last a long time and look classic, but also freshens my wardrobe so it doesn’t get boring.
    Also find a good tailor, and accessories help as well, like scarves and jewelry.
    We also have casual Friday in the office and people who treat every day like casual Friday, but I have never dressed down for it. I never know who I will run into at the office on any given day.

  140. Sally Forth*

    It might be too dressy for you, but I am loving the new warden’s wardrobe on OITNB. She was given the advice to ditch the oversized blazer she had and now she wears interesting fitted ones more suitable for her age.

    1. EddieSherbert*

      Warden Ward! Yes! She definitely has a great look for “I’m only 26 but I need to look authoritative.”

      (her outfits would be noticeably too dressy for my work, and it sounds like probably for OP’s as well, but I love the reference)

    2. Why isn't it Friday?*

      This comment made me think of Samantha Bee. I think she usually does jeans, a neutral blouse, and then a kick ass blazer, usually in a pop-y color if I’m not wrong. She always looks awesome on her show. I bet you can find items like that second-hand, OP.

  141. GS*

    My advise is to get nicer pieces you can wear at multiple things, not just work. When I was your age, I bought pretty BCBG wrap dresses (specifically the Adele dresses). They were washable, lasted FOREVER, and I could wear them across my life – at work, going out, to church. I took it as a challenge to find pieces that could work for all three of these things. Dresses were so easy – warm in the winter with hose (vary sheerness as desired), cool in the summer without. I think they’re comfy as all get out – I was essentially wearing a muu-muu with leggings everyday and no one knew! I was able to find a brand of hose I loved that didn’t run much – advise there is to go up a size. Wrap dresses are fantastic too because you can go up and down in weight a bit and still be fine. With structured work pants, even five pounds and the pants are too tight.

    When I got to a more “suity” stage of my career, I did a lot of unmatching suit pieces which I could rotate. So say two pretty navy skirts, a navy solid suit jacket, a grey suit jacket, a black skirt, patterned silk black and white skirt, navy patterned suit jacket. Simple washable shirts underneath each. Also – a set of pearls will pretty much instantly elevate and tie together everything. Find a jewelry store that’s going out of business and score yourself a deal.

  142. Tasha*

    Dark jeans are an excellent choice, chinos are also great. There are so many more tailored pant choices for women now than 25 years ago! I pair them with dressy t-shirts (structured, and/or with a v-neck) plus a cardigan. For colder weather, pullover sweaters, with or without a button down underneath.

  143. DataGirl*

    Talbots and Ann Taylor are my go-tos for work attire, but that may be more than you want to spend right away. New York and Co. has more affordable work clothes and they are very trendy, but the quality is lower and they wear out faster. I’ve found a lot of my suits in the clearance section of big department stores- Lord & Taylor, Macy’s, or even Sears and JcPenny. I agree with everyone else, nice dark jeans can be spiffed up by changing the hoodie/t-shirt to a sweater or blouse. It doesn’t have to be button down, all my blouses are loose chiffon types of things because I refuse to iron. Because the temperatures in my office vary considerably, I also wear a lot of dressy tank-tops or shells with a cardigan so that I can un-layer when it gets hot. HTH

  144. i work at a fashion school so...:)*

    Shop second hand–you’ll save money, get more items, and feel good wearing quality brands that you otherwise might not be able to afford.

    Figure out around 3-4 neutral colors and 1-2 “pop” colors you like that look best on you. This makes mixing and matching easy. I have a pale complexion and like to wear navy, light blue, charcoal gray and chocolate brown. Then I’ll throw in one brighter and/or patterned item for a pop of color–usually in green or purple.

    It’s easiest to put together outfits with pieces in solid colors or very simple patterns such as a heather or color block. Get a select few pieces in prints that you like–stripes or florals for example–to mix things up.

    Dark wash jeans are great for more casual offices because they read as more professional while still being laid back. Very easy to go day to night, as well. Obviously avoid anything ripped or too faded.

    Ankle-length pants are great for summer.

    Sleeveless shell tops can easily be dressed up or down. Look for quality pieces that have linings, have the same pattern on the front and the back, are cut to complement your figure, etc. Be wary of polyester as it looks cheap. I also love a nice cotton button-down–if you layer it with a hoodie it gives a cool professional-casual vibe.

    Knee-length dresses or skirts are a good bet. Because you’re in a more casual environment, you might want to wear jersey-knit dresses in the summer and sweater-knit dresses in winter… they’re more comfortable than the more professional woven sheath dresses. Just make sure you look for pieces with structure and add a belt if you want more definition.

    Layer with blazers or cardigans because we all know how freezing offices can be.

    Spend a little more than you normally would on a nice work bag–you’ll get years and years out of it so it’s worth the investment.

    For shoes… non-athletic tennis shoes (as opposed to gaudy running shoes) in a dark neutral are usually appropriate and casual-chic. I also like flats and boots.

    TL;DR think of your work wardrobe as an investment. It’s okay to splurge a little. When you dress better, you really do feel better and perform better.

  145. Liz*

    What I’ve learned over the years, through trial and error is never buy anything if you aren’t buying something to wear it with, or already have. Too many times I bought that item just because it was cute or unique and never wore it since I had nothing to coordinate or match it with.

    capsule wardrobes are good too; my go to is black, navy, brown pants and capris, and a bunch of tops I can mix and match, with sweaters and jackets too. it makes travel easier as well.

    Also, to make stuff last longer and look better, don’t always follow the washing instructions. I never use as much soap as they say and Even if it say you can put it in the dryer, I generally do not. So it won’t fade as much, or shrink. I wash my stuff inside out too, and for things that are lighter weight, I bought a bunch of mesh lingerie bags in various sizes.

  146. lnelson in Tysons*

    For many years, I did hit the second hand shops for business/suits for the office when I was in a “business attire” office. Found lots of good deals.
    Fortunately, my last several places have been more casual. So while jeans are allowed, I tend to wear pants (trousers for our UK readers). Various colors, dark blue, brown, black. I prefer a cotton blend. So often I can find what I like at Kohl’s. Then not T-shirts, but tops and in the winter as I get cold quickly, sweaters. Most solids, but almost never with some kind of logo.
    Shoes can be another issue. I’ve had foot problems so no heals. But “jean boots” tend to look good with most of my stuff.

  147. Laurelma01*

    I worked in a work casual environment while in FL. We only dressed up if the clients were coming in, which was rare. My go to was capri pants, nice shoes, pressed blouse. I like Worthington’s fitted blouses, they also offer ones that need minimum ironing. Your accessories can dress something up quite a bit also. Nice jeans, heels, blouse and a jacket can look professional, especially if you top it off with a nice scarf or accessories. I’m a scarf girl. I got some cheap t-shirt dresses at Walmart in the spring — nice shoes and a scarf, does not look like a $15.00 dress. I got an unusual color (a brick), plus pink and olive green. I have some scarfs I got off of E-bay for under $10 each, some as cheap as $2 – 3. 3 days taken care of. I can switch out the accessories and scarfs. Looks different each time.

  148. Adalind*

    My office is a “dress for your day” kind of place. I personally don’t see external customers so I tend to wear jeans (nice ones – no rips, holes, etc) in a few colors (gray, black, dark blue) and just pair with a more formal top. I will change it up and wear dresses on occasion. More so in colder months I will wear thick black leggings with a long sweater and pair it with flats. Summer I wear sandals and have gotten by with my blingy flip flops. haha. Others get away with a lot more, but I try not to push it. I keep a sweater at my desk if I’m chilly (wearing it now because I have a sleeveless v neck on).

  149. Kiwiii*

    I had to make one on the fly last summer when I was suddenly hired to a business casual workplace. Dark jeans are probably fine most of the time, though I would buy a pair or two of gray or black slacks for times when you need to present information to people outside of your team. I find it’s easiest to look put together on only a few pieces if they all sort of go together. I have a few work appropriate dresses, but they’re all black or black with a minimalist pattern, I have a couple similar black sleeveless tops, and then a half dozen longer sleeve tops black tops, most of which have small to medium patterns on them. Going into choosing items with a look 0r pattern in mind can really help make the “professional look” look cohesive with less effort. Because I had to put it together on short notice (and with minimal capital) I went to the sales rack at a department store and literally got everything that fit that might go together and started from there.

  150. Sarra*

    If your budget allows, consider a subscription box like Stitch Fix or Dia (plus sized-specific). You can specify that you’re looking for business-appropriate clothes, colors/styles, etc. When I got a corporate job a couple years ago, my wardrobe was “mom-chic” – jeans, t-shirts, yoga pants… I signed up for Dia, and every month I purchased a couple of new pieces that helped transform my wardrobe over time.

  151. MiddleGenerationMillennial*

    If you face clients, a simple tea dress or wrap dress with a cardigan/basic blazer is fine! Or black/navy/grey/khaki and an opaque blouse. Keep jewelry simple and makeup if you wear it moderate. Straight leg or skinny jeans and in a dark wash are fine for casual days. Just make sure nothing is too sheer (this is hard!)

    Shopping for tighter budgets:
    Old Navy has really stepped up their game!
    Nordstrom Rack

    More pricey:
    Stitch Fix subscription (or other styling services)
    Banana Republic
    LOFT/Ann Taylor

  152. SpringIsForPlanting!*

    I was in a very similar situation and had success with a couple of personal shopper visits. Lots of stores offer personal shoppers, and it’s free to work with them (they get paid on commission). I’m very much Not a Clothes Person, so it helped me to get ideas from people who think about these things more, and, practically speaking, to have someone running back and forth to get different sizes/colors/etc. while I tried stuff on.

    1. JR*

      I’ve had great luck with the Nordstrom personal shopper. They’ll call or text you ahead of time to ask your sizes, preferences, and what you’re looking for, so when you get there, the dressing room is full of options. Then, while you try things on, they’ll take your feedback and find more things – this but in the next size up, do you have more things in this cut, etc. You can also tell them you want stuff at the lower end of their price range – their Halogen brand is pretty affordable, plus sale items, etc. The last time I went, almost every item I bought (including blazers, etc.) was under $50. I’d also recommend you get any alterations done on the spot – it makes a big difference, and I know I never go find a local alterations place once I take my things home. I got a Nordstrom card last time, and it made the alterations essentially free. Same with bras, if you need new ones, get them fitted while you’re there. It’s really efficient, and I like that the shopper pushes me just a little outside my comfort zone. And I’ve never felt any pressure at all to buy anything – not sure if they get paid a flat rate regardless of what I buy or if it’s just part of their store culture, but it’s great.

  153. SaffyTaffy*

    The fantastic E. Jean of Elle magazine said something like, “a black dress, a pair of black trousers, a black blazer or cardigan, a pair of black pumps, a string of pearls, and the rest is up to you.”
    I don’t wear pants, or black, so YMMV, but I believe the essence of the advice was “basics that can be re-worn throughout the week.”

  154. Samwise*

    Wrap dresses (make sure they cover your ladies, however — when you’re trying them on, have a little safety pin with you to make sure that pinning the top looks ok) because they are comfortable, dressy, and forgiving. Wear with non-beachy sandals in the summer (I;m a dansko kind of person; also love clarks, so I have a granola vibe) and comfortable pumps or knee high boots in cool weather. Cardigan. Scarf, fun necklaces.

    If dark jeans are ok in your office, cool, make sure they fit well and don’t drag on the ground, no holes, no patches. You can also get some trousers in neutrals — black, navy, dark grey, light grey, various browns — solids or subtle/suiting patterns, such as tiny checks or herringbone or subtle stripes, whatever is in; if you are young or have the confidence for it, whatever fun color is in style. Wear with flats if those are comfortable for you, your non-beachy sandals, comfortable low to mid-heal pumps, short boots. I have dansko granny boots (shin high, lace up), I adore them, so comfortable too.

    I go barelegged or tights in cooler weather, I have a fabulous collection of knee sox for under trousers in cool weather.

    I buy at Le Petit Tarjay, Goodwill and other resale shops, Loft and Loft outlet, TJ Maxx, Talbots (!) on sale, etc. I have a hard time spending much money on clothes, I buy shoes at lots of different places but only rarely at resales (hard to find used shoes and boots that are in great shape and aren’t gross) — I shop sales and will spend $150 on a pair of Clarks boots on sale for instance because they are going to last and I don’t care if they are last season’s style. Find a really good shoe repair shop and resole, repair shoes that you love.

  155. E*

    Capsule wardrobes are your friend, Pinterest has lots of already put together ideas from one store like Loft.
    I like to shop my local Goodwill that is in an upscale area, for $4-5 I can try out a style that I am not sure I’ll truly love so I’m not too financially invested. Also consignment shops are inexpensive for gently worn good brand clothes.

  156. Notwithstanding the Foregoing*

    For me, I find I always feel more professional and when I wear either a dark blazer or a shaped, open cardigan. I suggest looking for higher quality pieces (thrift stores, markdowns at department stores, or even eBay, once you know a brand/size, are ways to find items without spending a fortune). Price does not necessarily mean better quality, but low-cost, fast fashion pieces often don’t retain their shape/color as well. Seek out quality and fit. It is also often true that buying fewer, nicer pieces is cheaper and looks better in the long run.

    Also, accessorizing with scarves can raise the professionalism and stylishnes of an otherwise plain cotton top. I find that silk, cotton or linen scarves hold up the best and can easily be handwashed.

  157. infopubs*

    What’s useful to me is to think about adding a third piece to each outfit. Add one: scarf, belt, substantial necklace, or jacket/blazer/cardigan. The key is to make it have the same visual importance as the jeans and tees. A plain tee with a colorful scarf is super easy, but looks like you put more effort in.

    Alternatively, subbing out a skirt for the jeans looks like more effort, possibly because then your shoes become more visible and the “third piece.” Or maybe just because jeans/pants are more common so skirts stand out visually. For me, skirts are much more comfortable so it’s a win-win.

  158. Gdub*

    Don’t rule out dresses! They may not be your style, but I like a dress because it’s only one thing to put on, and you don’t have to worry about anything matching anything else. I usually wear them with black tights and flats to keep it casual.

  159. Cobol*

    There’s a lot of great advice here. I don’t know if what I’m about to say is true. I’ll state my assumptions up front, and of I’m wrong just ignore the rest.
    1) Money isn’t an issue
    2) Comfort has always been what matters to you
    3) You really have no idea about fashion and are getting a little overwhelmed

    I’d suggest a personal shopper at Nordstroms. I’m guessing you really want something that dresses up nice jeans (and if so say that, because they can get a little too fashion over function). Let somebody who’s an expert do the heavy lifting.

  160. Samwise*

    Another thing: look through magazines and cut out looks that you like, don’t worry if they are right for your bod — not just fashion mags, business mags are good because you’re aiming for a business-y look, print out from websites. Then share with a friend with fashion sense, or take with you to a store and see what’s there that’s similar.

  161. Bad at screen names*

    This helps with shopping too. My base color is black. I have black pants, skirts, tanks, and cardigans and everything with a color or pattern i buy can be worn with black. It keeps me from buying something that I will never wear because nothing matches it and makes getting dressed easy. In the morning I pick a colorful top, bottom, or shoes and go from there. It’s easy because everything matches.

  162. Mother of Cats*

    My go-to stores are the J. Crew Outlet and Loft…Loft routinely has their clearance for an 40-60% off and their sizing is super consistent so once you know how their clothes fit you it’s easy to order online. I wear A LOT of dresses with cardigans. So, so, so many cardigans. It looks put together but not overly stuffy.

  163. Will W.*

    Gonna chime in with advice for if you want to dress more on the masc side:

    I’m an early 20s butch lesbian who works in a fairly relaxed business casual environment. My work wardrobe is long-sleeved button-ups (in subdued patterns like stripes, checks, or small dots), gray or tan trousers/chinos, and leather lace-up oxford shoes. In the winter, it also includes plain sweaters/cardigans in thin fabric, and I’ve got a navy blazer and a couple ties if I need to dress it up a little. If it’s above 95 degrees or so I might wear short-sleeved button-ups too. Today I’m wearing brown brogues, gray pants, and a light pink button-up shirt with blue checks, sleeves rolled.

    The advantage of my look is that you don’t have to do much coordination–Pretty much all my shirts go with all my pants, and I usually also wear a plain leather belt. I have about 6 shirts, 3 pairs of pants, and 2 pairs of shoes, though I would probably enjoy having 8-10 shirts and 4 pants. I’ve gotten most of my clothes from the thrift store, or from the sale rack of stores like J Crew or Banana Republic. My shirts are mostly men’s, my pants are women’s–this may or may not work for you.

    I think my wardrobe is pretty typical of my workplace, though guys might go a step more casual with a short-sleeved polo, or more formal with a blazer. Mostly shirts are more conservative colors, though more saturated colors like green or purple aren’t out of place. And if we’re hosting a conference or event, it’s suits.

    -Different fabrics and details will make otherwise similar pieces of clothing more or less casual. It’s hard to describe, but you can look up blogs’ guides to clothing formality. Generally, the more texture, the more casual. Plainer stuff is more formal.
    -If you wear lace-up leather shoes, do not wear thick sports socks. You can pick up packs of thin dress socks for cheap at Marshall’s or similar discount stores.
    -You can get a wardrobe by getting a piece at a time when something is a good price
    -You clothes should fit for the most professional look. Look up guides for more detail. Hemming pants and shortening sleeves can be done for $10-15 each, but more intensive alterations will be more expensive.

    1. time for lunch*

      Thank you for this. I am moving from a wardrobe position similar to OP’s (grad school followed by years of wfh, all skinny jeans and athletic wear) toward yours, and it sounds like I’m headed in the right direction. I have two pairs of oxfords, a couple jackets, several long and short sleeve button downs, and women’s pants. I am in the market for more, though. Any favorite brands or stores? I have a slim build and am about 5’8″.

      I haven’t had my men’s shirts tailored yet but in some cases I need to. I was going to ask you about socks but you covered it at the bottom. I’ll add: men’s socks do not fit my feet, even though men’s shoes do! I am also considering a canvas oxford for summer because it’s too hot for leather shoes on many days.

      1. Will W.*

        I do like shirts from J Crew, though I usually get them secondhand or on sale. Uniqlo has decent stuff for the price too. I actually do like Gap pants too. I have a stocky build and am only 5’3″ though, so this might not work for you!

        Have you tried boys’ socks? The kind sized for older kids might work for you!

        Oh, and good point on the canvas shoes. They’re not as formal as leather, but wouldn’t be out of place for business casual. (My workplace definitely tends nerdy and relaxed though.)

  164. Working Mom Having It All*

    I work in a business casual office, in a creative field and in a setting where people here could have any job from studio head to editor to office PA. So there are people on the upper end of biz cazh, and people basically coming in pajamas. So I would say a big part of it is not just what your office dress code is, but also what your job is and where you are in the pecking order.

    I’m an admin working over in the corporate/executive corner, so I try to be on the more businessy edge of things, but also with the ability to do something like get down under a desk to unplug something, or change the toner in a printer without worrying about getting dirty. My uniform is chinos, linen pants, or dark jeans, a plain t-shirt or other casual top, a cardigan (my office is cold), and either flats or loafers. No logos. No rips in anything. I will sometimes go more casual with sandals or a hoodie rather than the cardigan. I also consider it OK to go more casual if I’m wearing company swag, for example I’ll wear a logo on a t-shirt if it’s one of the ones that get handed out at work periodically, or I’ll wear my official corporate branded hoodie.

  165. Turanga Leela*

    I have your exact office situation! My wardrobe is built around:
    1) Black crepe pants from Eileen Fisher, which are expensive but are machine-washable, last forever, and feel like pajamas
    2) solid-color or striped “nice” t-shirts from either Eileen Fisher or Chico’s
    3) a smattering of dresses from Boden and Ann Taylor, for when pants are in the wash or I have a meeting
    4) several cardigans/blazers

    That’s it. 90% of the time I’m as comfortable as if I were wearing jeans and a hoodie, but I look professional. It took me several years to accumulate all of this, but you can put together a lot of it by watching for sales. My EF stuff is a combo of sales and Xmas/birthday presents from family.

    1. Thankful for AAM*

      Oooh, The Eileen Fisher black crepe pants are EXACTLY what I have been looking for.
      How is the sizing and do you ever find them on sale?

      1. Turanga Leela*

        The sizing is flexible. I’m roughly a size 14, and I own pairs in L and XL; they both fit but differently. They have elastic waistbands and I have worn them through weight fluctuations and into pregnancy without trouble.

        For sales, EF itself has periodic sales (get on the email list!), but the real trick is department store sales. Dillard’s carries Eileen Fisher and they have great seasonal sales. I think Nordstrom also has Eileen Fisher, so you could watch for sales there too.

        1. thankful for AAM*

          Thanks so much. I have never been to Dillard’s and just found a discount one about 30 minutes away. I will check it out.

  166. Birch*

    Can I plug the jumpsuits that are suddenly everywhere and suddenly available for petite people? I got this dark navy one with wide legs and an elegant flower pattern at a local boutique and it’s the most comfortable thing! Add a blazer and some pointed loafers and it looks so put together. If you wear one in black with more tailored legs, no one could even tell it wasn’t pants, and requires zero thinking in the morning.

  167. AndersonDarling*

    JC Penny sale, thy have all the basic pants and skirts you need at good prices. Black pants, brown pants…or skirts if you are more into skirts. Add additional colors to your bottoms collection as you can afford…grey, light brown, maybe a pinstripe. Pick out some basic tops that are in colors that are flattering on you. Add in some colorful cardigans (there are great ones on Amazon for under $20).
    Stay away from trendy styles that will be out of style by next year, or even by the end of the season. (Skinny pants have almost expired!) You are just trowing money away at this point. Save trendy shopping for when you start making a dispensable income. Stick with straight leg pants and knee length skirts.
    And my 100% most important tip is to get clothes that fit well. Do not buy something ill fitting because it is cheaper! Do not kid yourself and say that you will hem the pants, or loose/gain weight and then the clothes will fit. Buy clothes that fit well to who you are right now. I have wasted SO MUCH MONEY buying clothes thinking I would someday fit in them, and I could have used that money to buy the more expensive clothing that actually fit me well. Well fitting clothes make the biggest impression. If it doesn’t fit well, you won’t want to wear it unless you have to because all your other clothes are dirty. So make sure you love every article of clothing that you buy.
    Once you have a collection of tops, bottoms, and cardigans/cover-ups, then you can mix and match every day to have something fresh.
    If you want to be in style, then buy inexpensive accessories to layer on your basic wardrobe to make it pop. You can get stylish jewelry from the clearance rack for a few bucks.
    Eventually you will start to find your unique style to incorporate into your basic wardrobe. It may be certain colors, jewelry, makeup, hair color or style , but those basic tops and bottoms will be there to build on.
    Your wardrobe will evolve over time so don’t expect all of it to happen at once. It really is an investment so give your clothing selections the time and consideration they deserve.

    1. Allison*

      I just got a great red pencil skirt from the sale for $15! It comes in the mail tomorrow and I can’t wait to rock it at work next week.

      1. AndersonDarling*

        Sometimes I feel like I am stealing when I get pants and skirts at Penny’s because I can get them for under $20. I think my last full suit was only $50. A lot of their tops have gotten a bit to cheapy/thin, but their suit separates are great. And they wash up great too!

  168. Allison*

    When I started out I was getting a lot of stuff at H&M, they had decent work dresses and machine washable blazers at the time. But now all their blazers are dry clean only, which is a pain. It’s still a good place for skirts and cardigans though. A black cardigan paired with a pencil skirt and a basic white shirt underneath can look quite nice.

    Target is a good place to go as well, for inexpensive stuff. I also really like Ann Taylor and White House Black Market, but you gotta be strategic and wait for stuff to go on sale. I’ve gotten some good pieces at Macy’s too, but again, on sale. Old Navy and the GAP are great for basics, too, they have great pants for short people!

    Good things to look for:
    – Pencil skirts or A-line skirts
    – Sheath dresses, maybe shirt dresses as well if you like that style
    – Tops you can wear tucked into skirts (I’ll admit, I’m still figuring this out), and longer tops you can ear untucked with pants, I’m just getting into this style and I love it.
    – Simple flats, loafers, Oxfords, and comfortable heels.

    Your dark jeans are fine, but you can mix it up with some simple slacks.

    I would start following Corporette, they recommend a piece of workwear every morning. I find Frugal Fridays especially helpful.

  169. Not So Super-visor*

    This is going to sound lame compared to some of the other suggestions, but I literally bought 4 of the same style dress in different colors/patterns and one nice Casual Friday (jeans +blouse) outfit. I genuinely hate having to think about what I’m going to wear in the AM. Having this type of work “uniform” saves me from that. There’s enough variation to the dresses that know one thinks about it too hard, and I can through a cardigan, sweater, or blazer on in the colder months.

  170. Boba tea*

    I’m an intern so this might apply more towards students but since you’re a grad student, i figure it might be helpful
    1/ i got some slacks from Target and Old Navy (it’s called Pixie sth i believe, beware it might shrink after first wash) . I got them in 3 colors: grey, black and navy blue so i can mix them up. They’re affordable and Old Navy has sale all the time.
    2/ i got some formal looking shirts at first cause i dont have anything to compare to. I managed to find some cute blouses in Marshall and from a fellow student on my school’s FB selling page. My university had a prominent Business school so it’s not hard to find business clothes. The shirt i got are from Loft, J.Crew etc places i cant afford full price but through buying them second hand (they look brand new) i got nice looking shirts for 1/4 the price. My formula is just a blouse with pants, maybe a cardigan. I mix them around and re-wear the pants with new blouses
    3/ base on what i see at work, i also get some dresses from Target. Some are pass my knees so they are comfortable without looking like im hanging out with friends
    4/ i already have 2 blazers and it’s summer, so i stock a black cardigan that i can throw on at anytime and make whatever i wear more formal if needed. They’re also good for cold offices
    5/ some ladies in my office have more summer looking dresses so i feel less worried. I have a pair of TOMS to wear with pants, 1 pair of flat and 2 pairs of sandals with low wedge for a more formal and gracious look if needed

    I guess my humble advice would be play safe first, observe people around and follow a style that you like (one of my supervisor dress really nice and i love her style so im taking note for the future lol) then once you have a good idea, you can go shopping. I think it depends on the office too. My office’s business casual isnt exactly the same as another office

  171. Rachel*

    Never underestimate the power of a casual blazer and coordinating scarf over jeans! Jaunty but still professional

  172. Environmental Compliance*

    This is my issue as well, but I work in a facility where I cannot wear flowy blouses. I generally default to a polo and jeans to go with my steel toe boots, but I’d like to try to switch it up. Polos are…not my favorite.

    Also does not help to be very petite with a larger chest, so button ups are a very much no go. If they fit my shoulders, they ain’t gonna fit my chest.

  173. Leslie Knope*

    Ross/Old Navy/JC Penney. Buy two pairs black pants THAT ARE COMFORTABLE to you. Maybe a grey pair. If you find an affordable style you like buy whatever neutral colors they have. Black skirt in a style you like, pencil,. aline, whatever. Tops I pick up at Target/JCP/on clearance racks when I see something I like that is “classic” and won’t go out of style. Have about 4 bright cardigans (yellow, cranberry, grey with sparkles, green) that I think were all from Target clearance. If you’re buying something practical it will keep until the next season. I got a handful of cute sweaters at JCP in March for literally like $3-10 each that will keep until winter. I also ask for clothes for holidays because my family (sister) has better taste than me.

  174. The Ginger Ginger*

    You need staple items that mix and match. Use (or leave off) shoes and jewelry to dress up or down. Depending on the needs of your office, have more of the casual end of the spectrum and fewer fancy things (or the reverse if your office trends more formal)

    Example: I work in a casual office with no real dress code. About a year ago, I switched to a work “uniform” for myself, because I hated waffling over what to wear in the morning. I LOVE IT. I have 2-3 pairs of nice-ish jeans (limited holes, medium- dark denim, 2 pencil skirts, a sheath dress, 1 black blazer, a 5 cardigans, 4 dressy tank tops, and 4 dressy-ish t shirts (Old Navy Luxe fabric to be exact). The colors of the tops are solid (white, black, gray, green, raspberry) the cardigans are solid (ligth gray, black, blue, fuschia). The skirts are solid blue and patterned black and white. The dress is teal because I like teal. I have the same shoes in a few different colors to dress up or down and outfit, and one pair of balck pumps if it’s a go all out kind of day.

    Everything mixes and matches. I can wear jeans and a cardi one day, and dress all the way up to a pencil skirt and blazer suit situation with pumps if the situation calls for it or I have an interview. If I’m bored I might throw in a colored pair of jeans or capris or a sundress from my regular wardrobe to shake things up, but I’ll throw one of my neutral work cardigans over it to keep it in line with my work look. It makes things really, really simple. All my work stuff lives in one section of my closet. I’ve built my items up over time. You can start with a couple staple tops and pair them with jeans you already have and build over time, so you’re not dropping a bunch of money out the gate. You can also thrift some nicer tops/shells/cardis. Just keep in mind that while an item doesn’t have to match everything in your work wardrobe, you should be able to make more than one outfit with it. Flexibility is key.

  175. trisha*

    I’ve been using thread-up for this. I like that you can sort tops by martial and sleeve length. You can also order items in a “goodie box” where you can try on the stuff you like and send back the rest

  176. LawBee*

    Stitch Fix and Dia Box if you wear plus sizes. Best things ever. Worth the money (and you can choose the targeted spending amount), and best of all, the clothes are good quality.

    (I do recommend Dia over Stitch Fix for anyone who wears > US14/16 women’s. They just have more variety and a better sense of what works with bigger body types.)

  177. Lx in Canada*

    If you’re in Canada, Mark’s Work Wearhouse is AMAZING. I think it depends a bit on the season, though, if you find anything good.

    I’ve also gotten some good stuff at Winners. But I also work in a place where the dress code is basically non-existent, so I wear jeans and hoodies 24/7 anyways while the fancy stuff languishes in my closet.

  178. Baska*

    A good way to start would be to look into “capsule wardrobes” — the idea is that you have a few select pieces that all match with each other and that you can mix up in interesting ways. Look for classic (not trendy) base pieces, all in the same base color category. (So it could be black/red/teal/white, or navy/burgundy/ivory, or brown/green/orange, but stick to just one of those palette.) Accessories should also fit in that rough color scheme. While the base pieces should be classic and timeless — at least while you’re getting started! — you can go a little more wild with the accessories and accents, which will presumably be cheaper. Think scarves, costume jewelry, etc.

    If you’re someone like me who doesn’t like to think about clothes all the time (which might be you, if you’re a “jeans and hoodie”), you can come up with a “default” that you wear most of the time. For me, that’s black slacks, a solid-color camisole (usually red or turquoise, sometimes black), a solid-color overshirt or cardigan (usually black, but red or white if I’m wearing a black camisole), black work-appropriate shoes, and a necklace that matches the color of either the cardigan or the camisole. Yes, I have some fun patterned tops, and I have a few dresses and a couple of blazers and even a suit, but probably 80% of the time I default back to what I just wrote. It’s just easier for me than waking up every morning trying to put together an entirely new outfit.

  179. Just Elle*

    I used to be completely fashion illiterate (girl engineer will do that to you). When I first made a conscious decision to look more put together, I went to White House Black Market and it was AMAZING for getting me started.

    The sales people act as stylists (for free) and at every location I’ve been to are super genuine and helpful. My first visit, they pulled countless outfits for me, gave me feedback on what looked best on me, and helped me put together a ‘capsule wardrobe’ so that every top went with every bottom and I didn’t have to worry so much about matching.

    Its a touch expensive, but they have sales all the time. That first time I just bought everything on the spot, and an entire new wardrobe with blazers, cardigans, tops, bottoms for 2 weeks was $1000. I could have easily come back during a sale and gotten it all for much less, but at the time it wasn’t worth the hassle. Now I pop in occasionally when I have a coupon or theres a sale to add one piece at a time to my wardrobe.
    They have a good mix of ‘dressy jeans’ looks and also more on the ‘professional’ side.

    I would recommend you go on, like, a Tuesday evening though. Just a time when the store is a little less busy and they have more time to spend 1-on-1 with you.

    1. Just Elle*

      Wanted to add, for what its worth, changing up my wardrobe has been life changing. 10./10 would recommend the investment.

      Sure, I was really good at my job before so it wasn’t exactly holding me back. But my confidence is SO much better now and I’ve gotten a very noticeable uptick in invitations to participate in higher level meetings, present, etc. I love that now when I walk into a room of Important People, no one looks at me like ‘whos that girl’. To be fair, it might be because I’m more confident now so I look like I belong, compared to before. But if the placebo is working, go for it.

  180. Frequent reader infrequent commenter*

    It sounds like you can keep the dark jeans and I’d echo others here by saying to forgo the sweater in lieu of a blouse/blazer. Also, I didn’t see a mention of what shoes you’re wearing but I’d avoid sneakers and lean towards ballet flats, boots, heels (in other words a dressier shoe).

    I’m an attorney and we can dress business casual on Fridays. For my office (business casual means different things depending on your office), if I wear a shirt/blouse that I would wear on Monday-Thursday (something I could pair with slacks) and jeans, I’m dressed appropriately. It also means that I don’t have to buy a separate “Friday” wardrobe.

    With regard to where to shop, the Loft (especially the outlet) and NY&Co. offer lower cost options for blouses. Once I figured out what size I wear in Calvin Klein, I look for that brand on Thredup (it lets you sort by brand too!).

    Last tip, and this is coming from someone who would prefer to live in workout clothes and thinks wearing jeans on a weekend is dressing up, I took a more fashionable friend shopping with me to figure out what sort of styles worked for me. Now I stick to those basics. I consider it my work “uniform” and stick to the same cut of slacks (I just bought them in different colors and quite frankly, no one will notice if you wear black pants everyday), a blouse, and a cardigan. It’s my easy work uniform.

  181. Quinalla*

    Slacks and a long or short sleeve blouse and/or sweater/cardigan is what I do now, though we are allowed to wear jeans when not meeting with clients so often I wear jeans. I also have feet issues (foot pain, large size feet, flat feet, etc.), so I’ve completely given up on any fancy shoes except for interviewing, weddings, etc. I wear all black walking shoes (essentially tennis shoes) and my feet are so much better off now.

    When I started almost 20 years ago, I wore polo/golf shirts or button up shirt and slacks, but keep in mind I’m in engineering, so I was trying to dress like the guys. I still have some of these more masculine outfits that sometimes I wear with newer clients or when on construction sites as I get completely different reactions to people who don’t know me based on what clothing I wear, it’s equal parts comical and infuriating. When I’ve been on jobsites in more feminine attire, a lot more people assume I am lost or need help or that maybe I’m the architect, but no way am I the engineer. When I dress like people expect an engineer to look, I get much less of that. And I’m not even wearing heels or anything, its basically same pants but not a polo/button down but a more feminine blouse. Ridiculous :)

  182. Eukomos*

    One of the things I feel switches me from real causal to “business” casual is swapping hoodies for cardigans. It’s not a huge change but wearing something that isn’t sweatsuit material makes me feel more formal. I’m also very fond of dresses for the office, they’re comfortable, reduce the number of choices you have to make in the morning, and people always think you look kind of formal in them even if it’s a stretchy jersey dress you bought at REI for days when you feel bloated.

    1. Eukomos*

      Also, shoes are an important part of feeling business-y! I got a pair of desert boots, a pair of loafers, and some ballet flats to wear to the office and it really elevated my look, which had previously been ratty Converse-heavy.

    1. Eukomos*

      Pencil skirt, heeled sandals, and sleeveless blouses. For guys, sitting there sweltering and vividly imagining a hike through the arctic maybe?

    2. New Job So Much Better*

      I hope you at least have one of those little fans you can plug into your computer.

  183. Kat*

    Pinterest is a great site to get inspiration.

    My business casual wardrobe consists of: 1-2 pairs of dark jeans, 2 pairs of ponte stevie dress pants from Old Navy (super comfy ), 1 ponte flippy skirt from loft, 5-7 blouses/short sleeve blouses, and lots of cardigans. Then for shoes, I buy black flats that I rotate and I have a few pair of casual sneakers/shoes like Toms, Keds, etc.

    Some great places to shop: Loft, Old Navy, Nordstrom Rack

  184. Sk*

    I’m working on upgrading my business casual look right now! What I wore before was fine, but I’m in my 30’s now and want to up the game a bit. This would be my advice for finding a style that still feels like you but also professional.

    1) I started by making a Pinterest board, searching through all kinds of boards and search terms, and pinning any business casual looks that caught my eye.
    2) I went to my board and almost immediately saw a consistent style in what I picked. Perfect! I noted the similarities between all the photos – button downs, oversized sweaters, shirts tucked in, rolled pants cuffs, statement jewelery, lots of camel navy and black, oxfords, etc.
    3) I formed a basic color palette, this is mostly so that when I buy pieces I know they’ll work with most other things I own. Definitely lean more neutral and throw in one or two bolder colors for personality.
    4) Start with buying the basics: a couple pairs of neutral trousers, a couple neutral button downs, and a black blazer. Make sure they fit you well and are made of high quality material. Those 5 items will already give you 8 outfit combinations!

    From there it’s just about slowly filling in your wardrobe. When you go shopping have your Pinterest board, color palette, and list handy so you can make sure you’re hitting your style and get the maximum usability out of your purchases. You really don’t need that many work pieces as long as they can all be mix and matched.

  185. Robin Ellacott*

    My office is like yours… no dress code, no public contact, but professional office work.

    I used a sort of formula when I was in a junior role but wanting to be seen as professional. I’d wear jeans quite a lot, but always sleek dark wash, black, or coloured jeans, never pale denim or ripped. And I had one piece every day in my outfit that I coded as dressier: a blazer, a shirt with a collar, a skirt, etc. I felt like the blazer elevated the jeans, or the button up shirt made the cardigan look more office-y, and anything with a skirt looks ok as long as it’s not too short/clubwear/frilly.

    I think you’re on the right track with generally not wearing t-shirts with writing or hoodies.

    Most of my jeans and cardigans in my early office days were from Old Navy or H&M, but for blazers I looked for a better fit (cheap blazers often LOOK cheap, though not always) so I’d find them on sale racks in stores I normally wouldn’t have considered affordable.

    Mostly for shoes I wear ballet flats or wedges in the summer and riding or ankle boots in the winter. I walk to work and live in a rainy, temperate city.

  186. BusinessCasualTips*

    In between my first professional job and college I worked at Banana Republic for a few months (PRO TIP: they have 40% off sales frequently, do not pay full price!) It was great because I got a discount on clothes and they had a pretty clear dress code that has served me well translating into business casual. Here are the rules (from what I remember):
    1. In general, wear slacks/dress pants. 1 pair of black and 1 pair of navy pants (for Banana I loved their sloan pants but most stores have similar stretchy sorts of pants) was able to serve me on almost any occasion
    2. No knit tops. This means don’t wear anything you would call a “t shirt” with some exceptions. Express Portfolio tops tops look great on a lot of people but never on me. Usually I’d just find some flowy blouse, button-up, or sweater to wear
    3. You can wear jeans but they must be dark, free of any sort of holes/distress etc. and IDEALLY paired with a blazer
    4. Dress up a tank or sleeveless top with accessories like a scarf or necklace. This also works with more casual tops in general.
    5. Footwear: No canvas or sneakers or flip-flops. Relatively dressy flats (I sometimes could get away with lacey TOMs), boots, or nicer sandles that have a heel straps (nothing “outdoorsy”) like a Teva or Birkenstock
    6. No t shirts with graphics on them, no spagetti straps, no hoodies, no midrift showing, no underwear showing, nothing that shows a ton of cleavage

    Obviously individual offices vary and I expect some people to disagree with the rules, and some things are a little sexist/normative. I personally disagree with several, but I think it was a good starting point/guidelines before learning an office culture and seeing where you can bend or break rules.

  187. lurker*

    Late to this party, but here’s my current work wardrobe for FWIW (since it seems like it might work with LW’s environment and aesthetic):

    – Bottoms: a few different colors (black, charcoal gray, dark plum) of “Daily Ritual” seamed ponte knit pants from Amazon
    – Tops: Several different woven or dressier-looking knit tops in colors I like, mostly from Kohl’s Elle and Simply Vera Wang lines
    – Outer layers: a couple of knit blazers (black, charcoal) from Torrid (other retailers have similar models if you’re too small for Torrid), and a couple of cashmere hoodies from an end-of-season sale on the Macy’s web site

    (Of course not everyone can afford cashmere even on sale – but I wear them multiple times per week all year round so figure I’m getting value for the money, and the high-end fabric makes me feel professional while still wearing a hoodie! Button-down cardigans in less expensive materials would work equally well.)

    If you go with blazers and pants from different sources, wear different-colored pieces together. (If I wear the black Amazon pants with the black Torrid blazer, the combination of two slightly different black fabrics looks weird — but if I wear the black pants with the charcoal blazer or vice versa, it looks like a deliberate and valid outfit choice.)

    1. L.S. Cooper*

      Knit blazers are the BEST. I have one in my cube that’s made of a sort of terrycloth-like material, so super casual, but means it’s not out of place at my office if I need to add a layer for warmth or formality.

  188. Coco*

    What is your budget? I like Uniqlo a lot because they are pretty conservative (high neck ) and they are v reasonably priced.

    1. Elvira&Elymra*

      I second Uniqlo. Almost all of my business casual is from there, as I find it fits well (I’m a 12/L/XL there) and the cost is acceptable. I got two pairs of chino-type pants, wide-leg gauchos, and two tunics for $150 yesterday, which along with 2-3 other things in my closet, are almost a full weeks’ worth of outfits.

  189. WorkUniform101*

    Sloan pants by Banana Republic in several different colors, then mix and match thrift shop blouses. Optional cardigan. Caslon Luna flats from Nordstrom are my go-to shoe options. I also have them in several colors.

    I haven’t deviated from this uniform for literally years and no one seems to care or notice. Mixing in different thrifted blouses adds just enough interest and I’m not blowing my budget paying full-price for something that might be slightly out of my comfort zone.

  190. Eva*

    My theory with work clothes is to get as much mileage from the smallest investment of money and time possible (why I don’t thrift) and to have them be utterly unnoticeable to my coworkers. I encourage you to consider black business slacks. I like JC Penney’s Worthington brand (go on a sale day and they are under $25). Benefits are they fit the dress code in those offices where jeans are considered too casual; the fit is generally more comfortable than jeans; the same pants can be business casual (paired with a shirt) or formal (with button down/blouse and suit coat); and you can use them in your non-work life for dressier looks too. Stick to all black pants, get black open top flats for summer and black closed shoes for winter, and the only choice you need make each morning is your top. For tops, go with solid or simple patterned short sleeve shirts – no writing/cartoons, no plunging necklines, no backless, no strapless or spaghetti straps, no crop tops (doesn’t sound like that’s OPs style, but it appears to be a thing among young people again). Stick to wash and wear – no ironing, no dry cleaning. For warmth/winter, get solid cover ups to put over your short sleeve shirts – they are more put together than hoodies but less dressy than suit coats.

  191. Confused*

    If anyone has suggestions for business-business, I’d love to hear it! I mostly dress business casual but sometimes I’m pulled into last-minute meetings with more conservative organizations! I’ve never had to dress too formally for work. As for what people in my workplace wear, about 90% of the men wear suits and ties, the other 10% wear maybe button downs and polos. For women, it’s all over the place! If you put all the women in my office in a lineup there would be no theme in formality whatsoever. I feel like suits would be a bit much for me, I only see women in senior leadership wearing them, and I’m 30 and pretty solidly mid-level. I also look terrible in suits since I’m plus sized. Happy to hear any suggestions.

    1. Oblique Fed*

      Dark slacks, nice top/blouse/ironed button-down/shell or sweater in a solid color or restrained print for business casual: keep an emergency blazer that will complement the slacks in your office (maybe with a scarf) to turn it formal for those “just pop into this meeting” occasions. If you are not banker-level formal you might be able to do twinset plus scarf or twinset plus restrained necklace (simple pendant, maybe pearls) instead of the blazer. Leather shoes that you keep clean and polished. Good leather bag/attache/portfolio. Restrained accessories and makeup if you wear it. Source: I used to be a business consultant and am plus-sized also and hate/look terrible in suits.

      1. Confused*

        Thanks! I usually wear pretty similar stuff but need to start keeping blazers/jackets at work!

  192. Oblique Fed*

    For maximum versatility that will work in a wide variety of business casual offices, I have several pairs of dark neutral (black/gray/navy) slacks (ponte knit, almost as comfy as sweats, don’t wrinkle, look professional) and a rainbow of twinset cotton sweaters from Lands’ End. You can get them on clearance quite cheap at the end of the season. Wear the short-sleeved one under a blazer and add a scarf for more formal, wear it with the matching cardigan and wear a funky necklace for more casual. Wear with dark jeans instead of slacks for a step more casual still. I wear cushioned, comfy ballet-flat style shoes to work daily (Clarks has good choices, so does Sketchers on the more casual end.) This is available in a wide size range and can be quite affordable if you can wait for seasonal clearance/coupons. With dark jeans (even dark wash, not the super skin tight kind, no rips), a blouse or what I’d describe as a “nice top” will fall into business casual a lot of places too. If you don’t have luck at thrift or consignment shops in your area, seasonal clearance can be another great place to get pieces – I got a lot of really nice pieces with “mall designer” brands (Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein) for fractions of retail by shopping at the Dillards “extra 40% off all clearance” sales (usually held in July and at the New Year, get on their email list to get notified.)

    One additional thing: make sure you know how to (and are willing to) clean and maintain any pieces you buy. I personally don’t iron unless it’s like the end of the world, so I don’t live in the world of the “crisp cotton shirt” even though those look really nice and it’s a look I admire on people who aren’t me. Don’t get dry clean only or handwash only clothes if you’re a “throw everything in one load and let the Shout Color Catcher sort ’em out” school of laundry (no judgment, I am one of them). Even a relatively casual garment can be dressed up by being clean, well-fitted, pressed if it should be pressed, and in good repair. Even a really expensive one will look like crap if it’s wrinkled and kind of dingy or obviously doesn’t fit.

    1. 1234*

      I love your last paragraph. While I am generally a “Shout Color Catcher” person, I do have things that I willingly maintain and bring to the dry cleaners.

      Have you tried steaming clothes instead of ironing them? My old “in law school, had to dress for court” roommate had an iron and ironing board for her work clothes. Meanwhile, I bought a steamer and she realized how it got most wrinkles out with less effort and started borrowing my steamer. :D

  193. LizardOfOdds*

    Lots of good ideas here. My standard wardrobe for work is similar to others; jeans + tee or tank + cardigan. I bought a few really nice cardigans that dress up virtually anything. Some days I wear jeans + Nirvana shirt + cardigan with some flats, other days I’ll wear jeans + linen tank + cardigan and flip flops, etc. Mix-and-match is key, so I stick to a neutral color palette with just a few pops of color to maximize the mix-and-matchy.

  194. Natatat*

    I am a little older than you (31) but also work in an office with a non-existent dress code and people dressing all over the map. My balance of not looking too casual/young but not over dressing is:
    Summer: knee length A line skirt in chambray or cotton fabric (not business-y dressy pencil skirt), blousy top (although TBH I often switch the blousy top for a simple nice tshirt – solid colour, no logos), cardigan , slip on sneakers in neutral colour so they don’t look too young (I commute by bus so flats are not comfortable enough and sneakers are fine in my office)
    Winter: dark jeans, simple neutral boots with no heal, blousy top, cardigan

  195. Charlie St James*

    I’m a busty lady so I swear by the Harper top from Torrid. I own at least five in different sleeve lengths and patterns. They’re sleek and forgiving, and look good with jeans or dress pants. They’re pullovers but they button all the way down so they look professional while still being easy wear.

    1. L.S. Cooper*

      I am so obsessed with the Harper tops! The material is really lovely, and they look professional without being too formal.

  196. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

    Lots of people have given you specifics, either about things they wear or things you could wear, so I won’t duplicate that here. Instead, I’m going to speak in generalities.

    First, ignore what’s “fashionable”. It changes every year and every season anyway. Focus on style instead. Style is about what looks good on you, and what you feel confident wearing. Occasionally your style will overlap with what is fashionable, which means it will be easier for you to find things you like when you shop.

    Which leads into my second point. Figure out what you like. This covers a lot of things. What colors do you like? What types of clothes do you like to wear (dresses vs. skirts vs. pants, pullovers vs. button downs)? What fabrics do you like (woven vs. knit, smooth vs. textured, natural vs. synthetic)? What makes you feel confident? What do you feel comfortable in? What do you look good in? (If you aren’t sure, what gets you a lot of compliments when you wear it?)

    Finally, if any of this advice feels really, gut-level wrong for you, ignore it entirely. (Applies to both general and specific advice.)

  197. JSPA*

    Is there someone whose style feels like something that might fit you, and that you could emulate? Or a vision of yourself, that you can give a name to? Let’s name her Penelope. Also name the person who’s going overboard in that direction. When you shop (thrift or otherwise), ask yourself if the item looks “a bit Penelope” or “too [the other name]” or something else entirely. You’re not seeking “perfect penelope”–especially if she’s a real person–don’t be weird and become her clone!–but rather, plausible penelope.

  198. CG*

    Other people have already said amazing things, but I just want to plug dark jeans (or chino-type slacks), flowy tops, and knit blazers as a wardrobe option. Those are my go-to, and it’s comfy but looks great.

    1. zora*

      yes, this! there are some great knit blazers, or even moto-style jersey jackets that are super comfy but look a little more upscale than a hoodie.

  199. somebody blonde*

    Very simple: start upgrading your shirts to be not t-shirts and get a jacket that’s roughly the same level of comfort and warmth as your hoodie. If you’re wearing sneakers to work, replace them with comfortable flats. That’s really all you need to do!

  200. L.S. Cooper*

    This is more general advice than just for business casual, but I get complimented on my wardrobe at both work and in public, so I assume I’m doing something right.
    Figure out what your “character” is, and dress for that. I don’t mean values, I mean if you were a character on a TV show, what would that character wear? Or, what would your ideal TV character self wear?
    For example, I want to portray an image of being smart, casual, quirky, but still dependable and put together. So my look is my natural curly hair, thick glasses, a top (usually sleeveless) made from some crepe-y or other fancy-ish material, a sweater or casual blazer, skinny jeans (cropped), and casual shoes (nice sneakers, birkenstocks, low-heeled booties, knee-high boots, etc.). I also sometimes go for a t-shirt sheath dress or a jean skirt, but that’s rarer. I also have a skirt that’s slightly reminiscent of a Victorian walking skirt in terms of construction that I would like to wear all the time, because it’s very swishy and has pockets.
    I’m not trendy, per se, but people do notice that I have a distinct style, and I hope that part of what leads them to compliment me is the fact that I’ve carefully curated my style to represent who I am. I think that’s part of the important step to developing a style, vs just a wardrobe. I could have a lovely, work-appropriate wardrobe of items that all looked terrible on me, if it was made entirely up of clothes that felt wrong on me.

  201. JackOkeefe*

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  202. 1234*

    Seconding finding that sense of style or character as someone said above. Mine says “all black New Yorker most days with some fun colors every now and then.” I am almost always wearing black of some sort and while people make fun of me for it, I say that my clothes hides stains well because I’m so messy/clumsy. It also happens that things, especially shirts, that I find flattering on me only tend to come in black or a color that I find unflattering on me. As one of my colleagues says “it’s not my style but your clothes suit you and they are appropriate for what we do.”

    While most of the people who commented before me have given you suggestions for wardrobe on a budget, I will admit that I spend $$$ on clothes. However, I don’t have a lot of it (picky and don’t like a lot of things and current “trends” never suit my body) and I wear the majority of it, except for things like fancy dresses or “interview clothes.” I tend to shop The Runway section of TJ Maxx, Nordstrom Rack, Nordstrom (sale section only) and Bloomingdales (sales only). I have also bought a few things on TheRealReal and find that you can get a great deal for items NWT. I’ve also found their measurements to be accurate.

    Brands that I like (and some are very work appropriate, others less so) include Sandro, Maje, Reiss, Helmut Lang, (LOVE their suit jackets and found great deals on Poshmark – did not pay full price) and Karen Millen. DVF pretty much is the queen of wrap dresses, if that suits your body. Although a large portion of their stuff is a bit too “matronly” for my tastes, Hobbes London makes great work clothes. I have a jumpsuit from them that my coworkers love and it works well with a blazer over it. I do prefer European brands because they are cut slimmer in the hips, which suit my body shape.

    1. AnonyMousse*

      Seconding the recs for European high street brands. I find Karen Millen and Reiss to have much better quality of fabric than comparable US designers while having the most stylish professional clothing designs. They both have a lot of inventory sales through professional sample sale hosts in NYC so if youre based in NY, definitely check that out.

    2. GS*

      Great list there – I had a lot of fun this afternoon googling some of these euro brands I hadn’t heard of :-)

  203. Jules*

    I have a Gwynnie Bee subscription! It’s like the Netflix DVD model for clothes. I get three pieces out at a time, wear them, send each piece back whenever I want, and recieve something new in its place. It allows me to try on a huge variety of styles that I wouldn’t think to buy for myself. I get tons of compliments!

    1. BetsCounts*

      second and third for gwynnie bee. they have ‘collections’ like weekend fun or 9-5 and that is a great way to filter the HUGE selection. their plus size options are extensive.

    2. Lavender Menace*

      Holy crap I didn’t know this existed. I have Stitch Fix and I like it, but sometimes I’d like something just for a time, you know? I’ll have to check this out!

  204. ViHarra*

    Marshall’s, TJ Maxx, Ross have decent prices ans the clearance racks have great buys. Thrifting is good as well, but upscale ones can be pricey. Also you may want to invest in a good blazer-Ann Taylor, Brooks, Loft, MM La Fleur, Boss(if you like spendy stuff) and it will last forever.

  205. JennyFair*

    (I haven’t read through the comments)

    Your default wardrobe sounds pretty gender neutral to me. Is that intentional? I guess my concern here is that you might push yourself in the direction of girly clothes when what you’re really wanting is professional clothes. It’s definitely not necessary to go the dresses/skirts route, if you don’t want to. Since you tend to wear dark jeans, a button down shirt, many of which have super fun prints now, might be something to try.

  206. LibraryIT*

    It is so hard to figure out a good work wardrobe! It definitely took me a few years post college to really figure out a good wardrobe that wasn’t too casual or too dressy.
    My advice:
    1) Buy some decent staples that can be dressed up or down. Good pair of dark wash jeans/trouser cut jeans, black blazer/jacket, gray or black trousers, a jean jacket, etc.
    2) Get some comfy tops. Find a style that works for you – are you a nerdy t-shirt person? a blouse person? a mix of both?
    3) If you like dresses, get a couple of fun dresses that are not too fancy (think something you would wear to a park, not something you would wear to a wedding).
    4) Mix and match your pieces. Jeans, t-shirt, jacket; trousers, blouse, sweater; dress, jean jacket.
    You don’t need a lot of clothes – most people won’t remember what you wore the week before. And if you have a few staples it is easier. Jeans will go with t-shirts and blouses. A dress can be more professional with a blazer and more casual with a sweater. Keep the base pieces neutral and in the same color palette if you can’t afford a ton of clothes (black/gray is the easier to stick with, but a brown/tan/khaki palette also works). If you like color, get bright tops.
    And for shoes – get one or two pairs that will work with all your outfits.
    Also, you don’t have to buy this all at once! Maybe for a while a black blazer is your go-to piece and eventually you add in a grey sweater for variety.

  207. Elvira&Elymra*

    Um – sorry – somehow my computer thwarted me and sent me to the wrong post? No deleting so I guess this is where it stays.

  208. Katefish*

    I was working from home every day and now go to court 50% of the time, which is about as big of a gap as you can get in women’s fashion. One thing I’ve really liked is a rental service (I use LeTote). They send you items you like and you can buy them at a discount or return them. I need workwear for a four seasons climate so it’s actually nice to return stuff if it’s too expensive/not my favorite/not all weather.

  209. zora*

    It depends on your style and what you like to wear!

    For a while my go to was jersey or a-line skirts, tops, and long cardigans. But lately, I’m more comfortable in pants. Old Navy rockstar jeans come in different colors, so they aren’t as blatantly jeans, but they still feel like them.
    And I like blousey tops, with v-necks, and a simple cardigan over. I especially love finding tops that are jersey, so they basically feel like I’m wearing a t-shirt, but the color or neckline makes it look a little nicer than a tshirt.

    I mostly shop second hand, so I like Goodwill and local thrift stores, so I look for professional brands there, like Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, Joie, but I spend way less money. I’m getting more into shopping on ThredUp lately, but that does require having a little disposable income/good credit, bc I have to order about $200-300 worth at a time, and only about half of it fits, and the rest I send back. I’m still spending WAY less than retail at the end of the day, but I do have to float a few hundred dollars for a few weeks. But I know what my favorite pieces are, so I can search for those name brands and sizes on ThredUp and get some great options!

    I’d also recommend not buying too much at once, start small. Maybe the items for 2 new outfits. I find it takes me some time to figure out exactly what I like, what colors, fabrics, cuts work best for me, so it’s worth it trying some things out until you find your favorites, and then try to duplicate them. When I buy a bunch of stuff at once, I find I get carried away and end up with a lot of things that seem fine, but then I never wear them. I’m learning to be a lot pickier and just buy/keep the things I really really love and will wear frequently.

    That said, if you really love something and it’s available in multiple colors, BUY IT. I especially do this with shoes, if I find a pair I love, I buy more than one, so I can wear a different pair each day.

  210. Random Though*

    start with tops… get a few sleeveless, a few short sleeve, a nice cardigan, and a blazer. you can wear all of this with jeans so it’s a gradual transition. over time you can invest in at least one pair of black pants, 1-3 pairs of blue/green/gray/khaki pants, and a pencil skirt, if you’re comfortable. if you like dresses, a black sheath dress is a basic that you can wear with a cardigan or a blazer.

  211. A Medical Librarian*

    You are in a really good position to do this! If you were starting a new job with a dress code, you might have to get a lot of clothes all at once. Since you are in a job without a dress code, you can add pieces slowly over time. That will hopefully allow you to invest in higher-quality basics and continue to supplement with your current clothes and cheaper fast-fashion or thrifted pieces. I started by following several fashion blogs written by professional women (mostly in law and politics). Seeing what they wear and where they shop was very helpful at figuring out how to build a professional wardrobe.

  212. Que Syrah Syrah*

    If you’re in the Pacific Northwest: VALUE. VILLAGE.

    I just transitioned back into white collar work after nearly 10 years in the grocery industry, at a job I know I’m going to absolutely love and thrive in. That said, before the ink was even dry on my offer letter, I looked in my closet and said, “…holy ****, I HAVE NO WORK CLOTHES.” My work clothes had been jeans and t-shirts for years; I had NADA. Literally just the suit I had interviewed for my new gig in; that’s it.

    Value Village has wonderful name brands – Ann Taylor Loft, Worthington, Liz Claiborne, DKNY, tons of designer names – for $5-$7 A PIECE. I put together an entire designer wardrobe of about 30 pieces for under $200. It was LUDICROUS, and it took me about 2-3 hours to do it, but I love the pieces I bought I have ample clothing for work now.

    It can be done! If you’re in Seattle, get thee to Value Village!

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Never heard of Value Village but sounds like my kind of place!
      I love places like that, but sometimes it’s tough to find pants that will fit me as I’m a difficult fit.

    2. Lavender Menace*

      I live in the PNW right around the corner from a Value Village, have never been inside, and had no idea that they had such nice stuff! I’ll have to take a visit.

      I have a love/hate thrift stores and places like TJ Maxx/Marshall’s only because I hate shopping and those places take a lot of sifting to find stuff you like, but when you find those gems…sometimes it’s worth it.

  213. MissDisplaced*

    Dress slacks in neutral colors: black, gray, brown, tan, navy. A couple of dressier tops that go w/pant colors—button down or pullover, a cardigan or two that “go” with the pants, and perhaps a black blazer you can use to make “suit.”
    This is my go-to base capsule most days. I prefer slacks (and I buy multiple colors of same pant), but you could mix in basic pencil skirts if that’s your thing.
    JCP has carried my perfect dress pants for a few years and on sale or with coupons they’re like $22. Tops I get all over, even nice designer silk ones from Ebay for $10-$15 if you’re willing to look, (nothing classes up your look like real silk!) Thread Up might also be a good option. Target has some options too, but I find quality lacking there so it’s more for a uber-trendy piece. Ross/TJMaxx/Marshals have good finds.

  214. NoLongerYoung*

    One hint is – walk through Nordstroms, and a few other high end places, and look at the display garments. Try some on if you like. What is appealing? The combos? the fabrics? The colors? The cut? Do they flatter you? Look at the jewelry and accessories – what’s the appealing things for you? (hate the idea of a bangle? love the long necklace?).

    If you go FROM the higher end place, knowing how a fabric feels, how you want something to fit or hang… and then go thrifting – you will be able to walk down a rack and just “touch” (at least, for me) and know if it is something I’d like to try on. Is it a quality fabric? Is the lining and sleeves well cut? how does it fit me?

    Then head to forever 21. I can’t wear their clothes, but their inexpensive accessories are great. So are Target’s.

    And yes, then fill in the gaps from the thrifting and the bargain hunts.

    But having an idea of the sort of “look” you are after, getting super high quality basics at the thrift stores… (and go to the upmarket areas for them, and on a Monday afternoon is good – all the donations done on Saturday get stocked out… and yes, people do donate as close to home as possible…

    I got a $2000 burberry raincoat in (insert name of one of the really expensive real estate places in the US)…at the charity shop for a religious school. But their gig was – they would actually have a shop person run out to unload the bags from the back of the Mercedes/Bentley for the donator, and just hand them the receipt – the donator never had to leave their car. They’d just pull up and hit the release for the hatch. So they got great stuff because largely, those ladies just had to make room for their next shopping trip…. and have the maid put the bags in the car for them.

    I was always able to find something there. I miss seeing the doctor around the corner… the only time I loved going to the dentist!

  215. S*

    Since your office is casual, I’d keep the (clean,unripped, basic style) dark jeans and start swapping tee-shirts for blouses or button down shirts

  216. chickaletta*

    First, start by shopping in the stores/departments where the work wardrobe exists. Most department stores and women’s clothing stores have a section for work. Until you become better at piecing outfits together, this is where you want to confine yourself in the store when shopping for work.

    Second, pick a nutral base (black, tan, or navy), add a couple other colors that look good on you (you can stay conservative or go bold with one color, up to you) and stay within that color range on everything. Trust me. It will do several things: a) ensure everything looks good on you b) ensure most things go with most things 3) dressing will be a lot easier in the morning when you’re in a rush.

    Other than that, avoid light denim, anything that a pajama could be made out of, anything torn, and super-trendy looks (I ask myself if it will look dated in a year, if yes, I don’t get it). Also, aim for quality over quantity. Five well-made shirts are better than 10 cheap ones.

    To avoid going to far into business vs business casual, just don’t wear a complete suit. A suit jacket with jeans – sure. Slacks with a cardigan or jean jacket- yep. And keep jewlery basic unless you’re trying to dress up a t-shirt (dressy jewlery can look good with jeans and a simple shirt, but if you’re wearing slacks and a silky blouse, keep the jewlery minimal to keep from looking overdone.)

    1. Lavender Menace*

      I’d say avoid light denim for now, but I have picked up a few pairs of lighter-wash denim jeans. With the right pieces, they can look dressy too – especially in a business casual office where t-shirts are OK.

  217. VideogameLurker*

    I don’t know how wide spread they are, but Sear and JCPENNEY have nice professional looking clothing. JCPenney has sale coupons you can stack on things they have on sale (and clearance!), And if you have a card with them, you can earn points for rewards you can apply to your purchases. It may not be as cheap as thriftstores, but they make stuff that looks good. I admit, I tend to wear dark pants and solid colored short sleeves with a v-neck, those layer well with turtlenecks or three quarter sleeves. But I also work in schools with small humans age 5-13…

    1. Lauren*

      I love JCPenney’s for work clothes, and they always have really deep-discounted sales and the clothes are really decent quality.

  218. Aanonymous*

    I would recommend checking out the blog and Instagram page for Putting Me Together. She does a great job of explaining how to build an affordable capsule wardrobe as well as how to dress pieces up and down.

    I wear dark jeans, a blouse with a blazer or cardigan, and sandals (not flip flops), ballet flats, or boots depending on the season. I have good luck at Old Navy, Target, Kohl’s, and JC Penny’s.

  219. LJackson*

    You don’t have to be uncomfortable to look pulled together and professional. Think about what you are comfortable wearing and elevate those pieces. A cardigan or cool jacket instead of a hoodie, dark jeans instead of light… dress pants in a cut that resembles your favorite jeans.
    Shoes, wear what is comfortable. If it is an athletic shoe look for something cool or retro. If you find a flat works then think about a driving shoe or a colorful/metallic flat.
    Think of scarves as a way to set yourself apart. Offices are cold and scarves are a light weight way to add personality and keep cold air off your neck. I buy them everywhere from Target to the Banana Republic outlet.
    If you are comfortable wearing dresses, find a few casual t-shirt dresses to mix in with the other pieces.
    Try on different brands/styles and see how they fit you. Once you know what works on your body it gets easier.

    I wear casual dresses with scarves every day. I also wear running shoes because of a foot issue. My go to uniform is dress, scarf, and cardigan/jacket. In a sea of jeans and t-shirts I look appropriate yet feel like I’m in pajamas all day.

  220. Lauren*

    A set of dress pants: one khaki, one grey, one black, and one pair navy. JCPenney’s has a great selection (and sales) of petite dress pants if you’re short (I’m 5’1) and I never have to take them to get hemmed-add a belt for a more polished look; one black pencil skirt (knee length) and a modest, little black dress. Those are great base items to start with. Silky material blouses for summer. Dressy tank tops are fine as long as they’re modest and entirely cover your bra straps. They’re normally called “shell tops”. But more dressy tops, in general (so no t-shirts), but button-up collared shirts are really not necessary. I personally can’t stand them. Modest, knee-length dresses and skirts. Again, tank dresses are fine as long as there’s no bra showing. Polish your outfit by adding a necklace and earrings, a belt if you have belt loops, and a watch.

  221. Liz*

    I heard advice on the What Not To Wear show that an outfit with 3 distinct pieces always looks more pulled together than one with 2. For example: dark jeans and a tee is kind of basic, but then if you put a nice belt, cardigan, casual blazer, or a statement piece of jewelry with it, suddenly its an outfit. It’s obviously not a hard and fast rule, but it works pretty frequently. And I second the thrift store advice!

  222. I usually lurk*

    Google “French tuck” for shirts. I usually do a t-shirt in a nicer material or a pattern (from Anthropologie, Target, etc.) but I half-tuck it into black skinny jeans and then pair it with nice sandals (and a pedicure) or leather booties. I work in advertising, which is casual but hip, and this hits the mark for a work uniform pretty well.

  223. Emily*

    When you start shopping, look for pieces that will work to dress up some stuff you already have. So, wear a t-shirt with nice trousers instead of jeans, or wear your jeans but with a nice knit top instead of a t-shirt. You don’t have to completely erase your sense of style or what you have already, just work on moving it in a slightly dressier direction.

  224. Karen S Eugenio*

    LOFT! I do still buy a few things here and there from ThredUp but I can buy new LOFT items, when they are on sale, cheaper than I can pay for used versions.

  225. CanCan*

    Get some dress pants in dark neutral colours – comfortable and not very “skinny” – black, grey, navy stripe. Pair with nice blouses. Closed-toed shoes (flats are ok). A nice cardigan. Definitely no a hoodies/sweatshirts. A t-shirt with no writing may be ok, depending on the style/colour (e.g. floral/pattern – yes; plain white, or anything that might be good for hiking/sports – no).

    With dress pants, I think you can even get away with wearing the same pair every day (or rotating 2 pairs). If they’re neutral colour, nobody will notice or care. Not so much with skirts.

  226. Allison*

    I also work in an office without a dress code. I suggest adding some nicer blouses/tops to your wardrobe and wearing them with your dark jeans. I find that if I have mostly blouses, it’s easy for me to swap the jeans with slightly dressier pants or skirts if I need or want to dress up a little more. Because I don’t currently have a dress code, my closet goal is “can easily look nice on a casual occasion and could transition to a business casual workplace with minimal purchases.”

  227. fancypance*

    I am terrible at putting together and buying outfits, and tend to wear just a bunch of black and gray and look totally drab is left to my own devices. Several months ago I found this website: which has changed everything for me. I buy her seasonal e-books which recommend about 25 items with which you can make 100 outfits. The are various themes of style books to suit your lifestyle. Most of the clothes I already had (like a black T-shirt, jeans, etc.). Her free blog posts are helpful as well. There are other capsule wardrobe sites, but this one is my favorite.

  228. Lauren*

    Hi New Grad!

    I’m an old grad, middle-aged lady working as a Project Manager in Telecom R&D. We are a CASUAL company.
    That said, I don’t wear shorts to work, but, I ALWAYS wear jeans. There were a lot of good suggestions for more formal business attire – and it NEVER hurts to have one non-jeans outfit for… whatever.
    But, to keep things business casual, I suggest dumping the hoodies, sticking with your dark jeans and starting to stock up on solid colored tees and blouses.
    Why? Because you can accessorize the h*ll out of them cheaply.
    Scarves, fun ‘statement’ necklaces (Charming Charlie is ALL on sale), big pins, etc. change up the look of a tee and jeans totally, plus you’ll still have a viable, easy weekend wardrobe. Also, be on the lookout for a blazer or two you like. Jeans and a blazer over a tee always looks sharp.
    PS – Macy’s has an excellent cashmere sale every year – around November? Just look online. If you can score a cashmere hoodie (check the men’s dept too), that’s luxe enough to read as more ‘polished’.

    Also, girl, you got this. You’ll develop your own style shortly and I’m quite sure you’ll nail it.
    Good luck!

  229. Zillah*

    OP, one other thing to keep in mind: don’t just buy things because they look nice. When you’re deciding whether to buy something, think about whether you’ll genuinely be excited about wearing it or if it’ll just sit in your closet. My test is currently “if this was the only clean thing left in my drawer, would I be annoyed I didn’t mobilize to do laundry yesterday, or would I think ‘I’ve gotta do laundry at some point today?'”

  230. Jessa*

    I know this thread is already long, but something I did was book an appointment with a stylist. It cost me $100, she spent a couple hours going through clothing at Winners (which is I think the Canadian version of TJ Maxx). I tried on many, many outfits and she explained which shapes, cuts, colours to stick with based on my style and body type. I felt like I was on a fancy tv show and now really understand what fits me and which colours to look for (I had recently gained a lot of money and it was also a huge boost to my confidence). It has cut my shopping time WAY down and I get tons of compliments on my clothes. Might not be an option as a new grad but for anyone with a bit of disposable income, this was really worth the money to me. I think I spend less money on clothes now because I don’t buy anything on a whim and then change my mind two weeks later. I know what fits and just buy clothes I like and know will work.

    1. Lavender Menace*

      Oh yes, I forgot to say this! If you’re in the U.S., you can do this at Nordstrom, too. The appointment is free and the stylist will pick out things in your style and slightly outside. The caveat is, of course, Nordstrom can be quite expensive so I’d do this when I was prepared to get a couple staples/core pieces of the wardrobe.

  231. Lavender Menace*

    I work in an office like yours – non-existent dress code, where you can find the entire range from yoga/sweat pants and flip flops to suits. Most people live in the ‘casual to business casual’ range (jeans + tee -> khakis and button down/polos). I have a young looking face and I am also a woman of color, so my personal style ranges towards ‘smart casual’: jeans but nice shoes/boots and a nice/dressy-ish top. (I do wear t-shirts, with or without writing or graphics, occasionally.) I like looking nice but I hate spending too much time thinking about clothes, and I hate shopping. A lot of my personal experience is based on avoiding shopping as much as possible (for which you, unfortunately, have to pay).

    My tl;dr is: Go slow, get to know your body well, identify what you like and don’t like (shape, color, pattern, cut, price), and then zero on on getting only things that fit in those categories. Buy only things that you really like or love, and it’s better to have a few high quality things vs. lots of cheap things.

    When you don’t have a lot, it’s tempting to go on a binge and just acquire a whole bunch of stuff at a cheap price point. I advise against that. First, in my late 20s/early 30s my body changed quite a bit, so a lot of the stuff I bought didn’t quite fit the way I liked 2 years later. Secondly, it took a while for me to settle on a new style for my new life stage, so some of the earlier cheap stuff I bought didn’t suit that. And third, better quality stuff will last longer and fit better, so you’ll actually save money in the long run. So I’d go for the highest quality pieces you can afford, and hit up thrift shops in affluent areas for good quality stuff at better prices. It’s better to have fewer pieces that you can mix and match to make different outfits than it is to have a lot of low-quality stuff. Also, no one notices when you repeat (or rather, they do and they don’t care because that’s normal) so don’t worry about that.

    Try Stitch Fix, or another shopping box like Trunk Club. I like Stitch Fix because they send me stuff that’s my style but also juuuuust slightly out of my comfort zone – stuff that I really like but would not have thought to buy myself. They also give you a style card so you can figure out how to put together outfits (which I was woefully bad at when I started, although I’ve gotten better). I put together a Pinterest to help my stylist figure out what I like and that has greatly improved what I get, to the point that they are so spot-on that I usually buy the entire box (and have had to adjust my box to every other month so I don’t blow my whole wallet lol). That’s actually how I get the majority of my tops and pretty dresses.

    For other things like jeans and shoes, because I hate shopping to make things easier on myself I experimented with some brands and styles and figured out one that I liked, then just buy that. I basically wear like four styles of shoes (ankle boots, knee boots, flats, and Keds) and have narrowed it to specific brands in those styles and I know when those brands go on sale, so that’s when I buy them! I keep my shoes simple so I can wear the same shoes with everything, so I don’t have to have a thousand pairs of shoes. For jeans, same thing – there are like 3-4 brands that I like and I just buy those. I do have a taste for expensive jeans so I usually buy one pair at a time, and I go to Nordstrom Rack or I wait till they go on sale at Nordstrom and get them there. I started out with like 3 pairs of jeans and slowly expanded from there, but you don’t need lots because nobody notices paints, lol.

    What I’m starting to learn now is that accessories can really dress up an outfit and take it from nice to cute, so I’ve been focusing on building a small stable of accessories that I will realistically wear with lots of things (again…hate thinking about clothes). Scarves are great in the fall/winter, and are so easy – you can do jeans, boots, a plain long-sleeved tee and a nice scarf and look put together. Those long necklaces that are currently in style are also nice for dressing up plain tees/shirts and you can get cute ones at Target or Kohl’s or some other low-to-midpriced retailer (Kohl’s has sales on them all the time). I also have a few waist belts that can help define the waist, and you can get those inexpensively on Amazon.

  232. MCMonkeyBean*

    If jeans are allowed in your office I don’t think there’s any reason to stop wearing them, and dark jeans in particular tend to look a bit on the nicer side. It’s easy to dress them up a bit with some accessories.

    Personally I would stay away from hoodies though. A few nice button-down blouses dress up jeans nicely, or if button-downs don’t work for you I would say a nicer top with a cardigan. If you do like button downs, most of mine are from JC Penney or the clearance section at Express. New York & Company and JC Penney are my go-tos for business casual tops without buttons. The Worthington brand in particular at JC Penney has a lot I really like. The shape of the shirts are often similar to a t-shirt but it’s just made out of a nicer looking material. I skip the cardigan most days but if you’re trying to look particularly nice it’s an easy way to add that touch to your outfit.

    Big statement necklaces can help too. Almost all of mine are from NY & Company, mostly added to a purchase to meet the requirements for a spend $X to get $Y off coupon :) Note: New York & Company is the type of place that jacks up their prices with the assumption that you’re going to use a coupon. ALWAYS look for a coupon online before you buy anything from there!

  233. FiDan*

    I tend to do nice jeans/chinos with a button down or pretty blouse and more formal trousers/skirt and tights with a t-shirt/cardigan. Basically, one half casual and one half dressy. Sneakers are acceptable in my office, but I only wear my nice “fashion” sneakers (not the kind you’d wear to the gym or running). And I only wear dresses if I’m lucky enough to find one with pockets. I can’t live without pockets.

  234. Sue Perez*

    I swear by the website classy yet trendy. Its a capsule wardrobe that has helped me look more professional. You don’t have to buy the exact items she has but it gives you a great base on what to buy. Many people in the group thrift their items.
    In the summer I tend to do the work wear capsule and the rest of the year I do the french minimalist capsule.
    I hope this helps.

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