When I was in graduate school I worked as a grad assistant, which is wicked awesome as it pays for your tuition and you get a monthly stipend, which pays amazingly! But I digress. One of my professors had applied for a grant and we worked together on this giant project that did the following things:
- Worked with ladies and gentlemen who were of lower economic status who were working on degrees or just attempting to obtain better paying jobs.
- Educated people on how to save money on clothing and still look professional.
- How to be more eco-conscious of the impact of your clothing.
- How to dress professionally and why (impression formation).
- How individuals in the past made do in hard economic situations (which was pertinent because this was during the recession that started in 2009).
- Took out these individuals and with a $50 budget went to Goodwill and purchased them a small professional wardrobe which we then altered to fit them.
Now, I could write a book about this experience, but instead of boring you with my academic knowledge I will get more to the point.We looked specifically at the Make Do and Mend campaign of the 1940’s during World War II. This was a campaign started by the government that targeted mostly women and asked them to conserve their clothing, materials and raw goods so it could go into the war effort. Now opinions about war, or all the politics aside, when we hit the great recession of 2009 a lot of people found themselves without work. People who were graduating from college found themselves coming out into a working environment that was less than desirable with mountains of debts now to be paid off and because of this many people in my generation, or people who found themselves unemployed, were hit very hard financially.
Now, they say the job market is turning around, but 5 years later I know my household is still experiencing the effects of the economic downturn. So what does this have to do with creating a wardrobe? While I worked with this project one of my brain children was how little clothing can you own and still get away with something that passes as a wearable professional wardrobe? My answer? 6 garments.
These pieces allowed for a total of 12 outfits that created a different enough style every day that with some rotation of garments and a few accessories, you had a working professional wardrobe that could be rotated every 2 and a half weeks. If you look at the pieces I chose, I chose very classic pieces, an a-line skirt in navy with a matching blazer, a pair of charcoal dress slacks, a short sleeve oxford, a turquise blue cardigan, and one trendier styled dress top in grey and white, with a pattern.
Now, to be fair this collection isn’t the most exciting visually and if we are only talking about traditional professional dress it actually looks kind of boring, but bear with me for a second because the principal is the same even if you don’t like these pieces. Classic pieces comprise the look above. Classics are refereed to as such because they never go out of style. Season in and out they can be paired with new pieces, new colors, and new trends and look great. The key is to buy these pieces in neutral colors like black, grey, brown, taupe, navy or white, so they can be interchanged over time.
If you were to buy only the basics for a starting professional wardrobe my biggest suggestion to you is to spend good money on quality garments to get you started. Alternatively, look at second hand or thrift shops to also find quality garments that may just need a button re-attached or a hem altered and take them to a dry cleaner alterations shop and have them cleaned professionally and altered to fit your body.
My top 10 picks for the most versatile wardrobe to own in classic styles and colors:
- Button up blouse in a solid color (short sleeve or long)
- Nice fitting pair of dress slacks
- Tailored suit jacket – if you chose this jacket to be the same color as your dress slacks it becomes a suit.
- Classic cardigan
- Quality and properly fitted pair of jeans
- Properly fitted skirt in a neutral or classic patern(if you wear them)
- a nice top that could be worn alone
- Little black dress in a style that flatters your figure and can be dressed up or down
- Good Fitting Bra
With these 10 garments you can constantly change the look with little money at second hand stores or shopping sales finding colored cami’s that are in season, belts, scarves, tights, glasses, handbags, wallets, clutches, jewelry, shoes, and anything else your amazing mind can come up with. Imagine the above pieces paired with the following accessories. Here are three different groupings representing 3 very different personal styles, or if you’re like me, you love variety so you’d have all of these in your collection (money permitting).
The great thing about fashion is that it is available at all different price points, so you don’t have to be a millionaire to be able to afford a nice looking starter wardrobe. With places like goodwill you could put together a wardrobe that starts at $50. I will say when I put together my own wardrobe to get started I followed sales and picked up these pieces over time, I spent about $300 total on all 10 pieces and I picked up accessories here and there as I saw them, or I made my own. Most of those pieces are still in really nice condition and I’ve had them for going on 4 years now. The higher quality the garment, the better chances of having it last for a long time! Get creative! Be Positive! And remember it’s all about you feeling confident, so find your own mix of wardrobe pieces that say something about you!