Professional Dress for Women Part 3: Getting Started and Where to Shop
This is the finale of our three-part series on professional dress for women with Misbah Khatri. In the first article, we covered insights of confidence as your most important accessory, determining the proper fit for your body type with a great tailor, and looking to your fashion icons for style inspiration.
During our second article, we examined the essentials of your core wardrobe. These are the foundational items which establish your persona.
While those articles are helpful to set the stage for dressing professionally, they deliberately left out something important . . . how to start.
Becoming confident, having an amazing tailor, and knowing the core items for your closet are essential. Yet, to finalize your professional self you will need to know where to shop.
Improving your presence requires practice. None of us wake up one day and say, “I am going to dress amazing, network, and land an incredible job.” Those goals take time and practice, and that is why you should start now. There is no time to waste.
Starting will look different depending on where you are in life.
- If you are a student then dress up for class, this doesn’t have to be business formal, but don’t go beneath business casual
- If you are looking for a job then make sure to dress professionally each day, even if you are just running errands
- If you are trying to elevate your career then make sure, as cliche as it sounds, to dress for the role you desire
You want to become comfortable in professional clothes. The challenge is to transition from everyday attire to a business wardrobe. Too many people think they can immediately “turn it on” for an interview, yet they are awkward in their interview clothes as they never dress professionally.
Interviews, networking, and events should simply be an extension of who you are. Be that person dressed up to build your confidence. Some people might make comments, but would you rather be known as the person who always looks great or the person who may or may not be dressed appropriately?
It will be a commitment to dress nicely each day; however, goals are achieved through hard work and discipline. The more you set a standard of excellence, the more it will become a habit. Soon you will be confident and become a focal point that inspires others.
By now you should realize, Misbah is intense! She motivates others through her actions which include how she appears. It is not an ego thing to want to look nice, as Misbah said,
“although it feels like everything is about you when dressing professionally, in reality, it is about others.”
You are creating a persona that matches your talents and is perceived correctly.
Do not be one of those people who wishes they would have attempted to reach their goals. Take the time to truly become disciplined and rise above mediocrity by elevating your appearance.
Where to Shop
Here we go with the fun part!
Disclaimer: Misbah is speaking from the perspective of someone who lives in Houston, if that is not you, don’t worry as many of the stores are national brands and you likely have great boutiques in your city.
You should know your style and the core items you are looking for if you read articles 1 and 2. Now you can find an exciting place where you live to spend the day looking for items that match your style and body type.
For Misbah, she heads to Rice Village and will watch who is going in and out of stores. She is looking for people who have similar styles. If you are a 25-year old new professional then don’t try to dress like a 50-year old executive and vice versa, it will just look silly.
When you find stores with your style, speak with the people who work there, most will be more than happy to help you.
I commented to Misbah, "this sounded like a lot of work," and she instantly replied, "it is but it’s an investment." The idea of investing in yourself came up as these trips to Rice Village for Misbah have helped shape her professional identity and led to her becoming a successful consultant.
Identifying a few ideal places will take some work but the end result will be a set of stores where you feel confident as you build a wardrobe which highlights your style. Some places to try are:
- Buffalo Exchange: another reason to start now is because it will take effort to find great pieces at non-traditional stores
- Salvation Army: there are some great finds here if you are willing to look
- Zara: a good place to start but make sure to find quality items
- Nordstroms Rack: Misbah routinely shops at outlets which receive the main store overflow, look for the store brands and not the outlet brand, there is a difference
- Brooks Brothers: these items might be more expensive, but view them as pieces for long-term use
- Wish: located in Montrose, be selective for amazing discoveries
- Francesca’s & Target: both are perfect for accessories
- Banana Republic: most of the stores have employees who are more than happy to help you, this would be an ideal start for when you are defining your style, fit, and cut
- J. Crew: a store to fill out your core wardrobe, they also have a student discount
- H&M, Ann Taylor, and The Loft: three stores where you can find the basics needed for your style
- Forever 21: this is where Misbah was slightly embarrassed! She confessed to shopping here, but only rarely and specifically for pure textile pieces, if she finds a real silk shirt she will buy it
- Charlotte Russe: another store which will have pure cotton or silk, just be judicious in your selection
The above stores will easily get you through the foundations of your professional style. As you build your wardrobe, some stores will become your favorites as they complement who you are and who you are becoming.
While the above will set you on a path to domination, Misbah brought up another good point. Your intimates. She mentioned this is a topic which needed to be addressed but isn’t spoken about often. Your intimates are so important and they should fit properly. Make sure to get fitted at a nice place that is professional. I remarked, "so not the van outside the store :)"
She replied, "NO!" Go to a real store that will help fit you for a proper bra. Also, a nude bra is one that matches your skin color, not someone else. Again, a legit store will be able to help.
As you shop for your intimate items, buy yourself something nice that is just for you. Sometimes it is nice to wear a sexy item which will make you completely confident. However, don’t lose your professionalism. For example, there is a fine line between stalkings with a nice design and fishnets. Guys will talk and you don’t need to mess with your reputation.
At Your MBA Purpose, we ask, who do you want to become? Do you want to be the person who takes charge of their surrounding? If so, and you are a woman, you know you will need to work harder than most men. Let’s be honest, much of the professional world is still a boy’s club.
Yet, you can succeed, be a boss, and maintain a high-level of femininity. Misbah is living proof, although she is still in her twenties she has accomplished much, radiates professionalism, and is consistently put together. You can take on this same role by following her advice:
- Confidence is your best accessory
- Develop a professional support system which includes a tailor, hairdresser, and makeup artist
- Find others you admire online and in your personal life as inspiration for your style
- Build a core wardrobe of necessary clothes and accessories
- Start now! Your appearance will need time to marinate and develop
- Find stores that match you
A special thank you to Misbah for allowing me to interview her and for all the amazing advice she has selflessly given me over the past two years. I look up to her as professional inspiration and as a friend.
For even more resources, below are bloggers Misbah follows for inspiration:
Misbah Khatri is a consultant at Alvarez & Marsal. She is a motivated and organized leader who raises the level of excellence within companies as well as individuals.
Before joining Alvarez & Marsal, she was a student leader at C.T. Bauer College of Business.
During her MBA program, she was named Outstanding Student upon graduation and was President of the Bauer Chapter of the National Association of Women MBAs.
She is a rising star in the consulting world and continually elevates any project she touches.