Professional Dress for Women Part 2: Your Core Wardrobe

Your core wardrobe is the beginning of your professional presence.  A killer closet full of foundational items can set you on a path to immediately taking charge of any professional setting.

Before we move to your necessary items, let's recap.  In the previous article, Misbah provided insights that all women, and men, need to understand when building their professional persona. 

Here is a quick summary:

  1. Your most important accessory is confidence!  Make sure to find and wear items that add to your overall confidence which will immediately have you standing out in the crowd.
  2. Build your professional support system with a great tailor, hairdresser, and makeup artist. They will help you realize your ideal style, size, fit, and cut for your body type.
  3. Look to your fashion icons, whether online or in-person, to elevate you sense of style.  At first, you will emulate others, and soon people will look to you for advice.

Now that we have the basics down we can move to building your core wardrobe.  These are the essential items for you to create a professional look to find you dream job or elevate your current career.

Your Core Wardrobe

If you are just starting your professional career, you might not have essential items.  Perhaps you are just starting business school or come from an industry where your daily outfit consisted of a lab coat.  

Before becoming a successful consultant, Misbah was in a lab daily.  As she says, there were no heels as they would be a safety hazard.  She wore a lab coat and didn't want to wear anything too expensive as she was working with corrosive chemicals.  

Perhaps you never needed to think of professional dress outside of your jeans for school, work clothes for a lab, or another job that did not require professional attire.  Whatever the case, if you are new to your career or stepping up your game, it is time to look in your closet and make sure you have the fundamentals of a pristine core wardrobe.

Keep in mind, you should know your style before making investments into your core wardrobe. The previous article deliberately described your style, size, fit, and cut first because it will establish your look.  Take the time to identify your style before investing in quality work clothes.  One of Misbah's mistakes was buying items she thought would make her look professional, but they didn't match her style.

Those items are still sitting in her closet.  

The phrase "investment" will be brought up routinely in this article. Your core wardrobe is an investment in you which means you should take the time to really understand your style before spending money.

Let's look at the basics to set the standard for your style.

  • Black pants: these are essential and should be made of good wool.
  • Navy pants: wear with items that don't match the black pants.
  • White shirt: this should be a nice cotton shirt, also make sure to take care of your clothes so they last.
  • White blouse: keep it professional.
  • 3-4 blouses: have some in solid colors with others in patterns, the key is they exude professionalism.
  • Fun blouse: you can express yourself!  Don't just wear dark colors.
  • White button-down: use this item when you are headed to more professional events/clients.
  • Good blazer: a blazer can immediately improve an outfit, going to a networking event in jeans and a blouse might be acceptable.  The moment you throw on your blazer you are business casual chic.
  • Neutral cardigan: a cardigan in the Fall or Winter is a necessity.
  • Trench coat: find a coat that can be worn in your climate.  Houstonians will need something thinner than someone up North.
  • Pencil skirt: being a woman in industries that have been traditionally dominated by men doesn't mean you hide your femininity.  You can be elegant and a shark at the same time.
  • Black flats: your go-to shoe for work.
  • Black and nude heels: make sure these are comfortable, one of Misbah's best tips is to purchase multiple pairs in different colors.  Buy different pairs in varying colors when you find heels that fit, look great, and elevate your confidence.

Your clothing is the foundation, yet you should also think of your accessories.  These are the items that can give you the little extra boost of confidence and take your style to a higher level.

Your Core Accessories

Let's look at the basics of accessories.

  • Professional bag: you will want a leather or canvas bag which can hold your laptop but isn't a piece of luggage.  This is one of the most important items.  Something in a mono color and a little fun with the color choice, just make sure it isn't distracting. Also, this is huge, along with all of your accessories be smart with your choices.  If you are a consultant walking into a client site in oil and gas, leave the $3,000 bag at home as people are worried about their jobs.  Be aware of where you are going and what will represent you and your company best.
  • Belts: choose quality leather belts that match your pants and shoes.  If your pants have belt loops, then you should wear a belt to look complete.  Misbah explained the importance of details.  As you move higher up in a company or industry, people will be looking at you to see if you are detail-oriented.  If you forget to wear a belt, will you forget something vital on an important project?
  • Jewelry: keep it simple and don't be distracting.  This means if your items make a lot of noise, don't wear them.  People underestimate the little things, and simple jewelry can create a complete package that puts you a step above everyone else. 
  • Perfume: again, simplicity is your goal.  A little goes a long way.  If people can smell you coming and going you are using too much.

The above are items you should purchase for your basics.  Over time you will add to your wardrobe and truly define your style, yet you need a foundation to set a standard of excellence.

As you are building your core wardrobe, think of these items as long-term investments. These are not items you just buy for fun and might or might not wear them.  No, these are pieces that were selected to build your professional presence.  They should be high-quality and taken care of properly.  Your goals should be set high, and the way to reach them is through dedication, hard work, and investing in yourself.

Treat your core wardrobe as one of the essential investments.  For those in an MBA, your time at school, money towards tuition, and long hours networking are an investment for your future. 

The same could be said for your core wardrobe, these are the items that are going to establish your professional presence to employers, colleagues, and friends.  Who do you want to be remembered as?  The person who puts time and effort into their professional self to reach incredible heights or someone who settles for mediocrity and makes excuses for why they are not where they want to be?

The choice is yours.

Summary 

Maybe you came from a career that did not require a professional dress code, are just getting started as a student, or looking to be promoted.  Moving to a new role or transitioning careers requires you to put yourself together in the role you want.  Be cognizant of how you are perceived to grow professionally.  

It is often said at BizLatte, you are in control of your life and have the ability to do great things.  Take the time and invest in yourself to reach your goals.  When you put in the effort you will be amazed at where you can go and the things you can do.

In the final article, Misbah will explain how to pull all the advice together to get started.  We will look at where to shop, how to score amazing deals, and establishing yourself as the person people admire.

Stay tuned!


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.