Welp, here we are. Four years of undergrad, maybe an internship or two, and a hefty tenure in the service industry under your belt. Finally, you’ve landed your first “adult job”, and with it, you must learn to navigate new expectations regarding how you dress. Whether we like it or not, jobs have dress codes that will vary from industry to industry, but it’s never a bad idea to have some universally work-appropriate pieces to pull out when you need to leave your comfortable lounging clothes and trek to the office. But how do you curate a new wardrobe without sacrificing your own personal style and without going broke in the process? Come along as I take you through brands that can help you get the perfect “work chic” aesthetic at every price point. 

I would also like to mention that even though I state we are “curating a new wardrobe”, this does not mean that we are going to buy thousands of dollars and numerous pieces. In an age that is so used to overconsumption, being aware of what you are buying is key to not only saving money but also being conscientious of the environment. You likely already own pieces you can incorporate into your work style. Finding a few nice pieces to elevate your outfits is the goal.

Establishing Your Style

First, we have to establish what aesthetic you feel most comfortable in. There are numerous ways we can start this process: the easiest way is to take a look at your closet and try to pick a few descriptors that fit your overall style. For example, my style is colorful, focuses on vintage silhouettes, and tends to skew a bit more preppy. Based on these parameters, I’m going to be looking for items such as high-waisted slacks, vintage blouses, and dress shoes. Huzzah! Step one is complete. 

Step two is finding the proper inspiration. Sometimes the best cure for a morning where you “don’t have anything to wear” is a nice mood board. I for one love to find photos to gain inspiration for possible outfits. 

But Mercedes, where does one find such a thing?

Goodness. Hold your horses, I’ll tell you.

Finding inspiration from open searches via Google generally yields boring and outdated results. But as with most of my issues, Pinterest is the solution. With the descriptors that you chose for your specific style in step one, start to search for them on Pinterest. Hopefully, you will be met with a plethora of inspiration. Make a board where you can save all of your favorites in one place and refer to it when needed.

Ultimately, the goal is to feel good about what you are wearing and be comfortable with what you choose. If you know that you prefer skirts over pants, don’t force yourself into a pair of slacks that’s going to cause you to be upset with your outfit by noon.

Images via Pinterest.

What Industry Are You In and How Does That Affect What’s “Appropriate”?

Each industry and each specific job will carry a different expectation of what is considered “appropriate” workplace attire and what is not. Those going into HR may not be able to wear what someone working within the fashion industry can. It’s all about reading the room, establishing the parameters, and working within those to fit your personal style. 

But Mercedes. how do you know what is appropriate if you’ve never worked at this job before? 

Fabulous question! I will now provide you with an answer. 

Sometimes you simply won’t know until you get a feel for the environment in which you work. That’s okay! This process is not an overnight solution to your work anxieties. But, there are educated guesses that we can make to ease your mind.

The first method is to use past experiences as a road map. Have you had an internship in this industry before? What were you wearing to that? Better yet, what were your superiors or peers wearing? Even if it was a year and a half ago, you should have some sense of what was being worn in the workplace. Have you ever been to an event regarding this industry? Conventions, guest speakers, or even what your interviewers were wearing when you first started the job application process can all be utilized to create an overall picture of what you want to look like. Based on this, ask yourself what the basic “uniform” is. Are a nice pair of jeans and a blouse appropriate or does your workplace prefer skirts and slacks? Are sneakers alright or do you want to put on a nicer pair of shoes day to day? While you will get a better feel once you start the job, try to create a baseline to work off of.

A fun method I’ve been using is looking up “A Day in my Life as a _________” with your respective job filled into the blank. Let’s be honest, older employees are not posting work vlogs to YouTube or utilizing Tik Tok as a means to connect with their peers, so when you do find these types of videos, it will generally be people closer to your age– if you are a 45-year-old reading this article, kudos, I’m sure you’re quite tech-savvy and I applaud you for being so progressive. What are these people wearing? Take note of what the industry looks like currently and you can create a generic image of the ideal worker in your position.

Look in your closet and see what you already have. We all have various basics that we can dress up or dress down. Hell, I know that I even may have a blazer or nice sweater that I can incorporate into my work wardrobe. There are so many ways to reimagine what we already have in order to reduce how much we buy, thus saving us money and saving the planet all at the same time.

Without further ado, let’s get into some great brands to look into when you need some inspiration or you find that perfect statement piece for your first day of work. I have placed these brands on a spectrum from least expensive to most expensive for simplicity’s sake. 

Less Expensive Price Range

Target

Images via @TargetStyle on Instagram.

Like most people, I am always impressed with the range of different clothing that you can get from Target. Target is a great place to get basic pants, blouses, and sweaters all for a reasonable price. From jeans to slacks, I feel like I always hit a home run when I am on the hunt for comfortable pants that also look nice and won’t break the bank. We all know where our local Target is, and because they have a wide range of stores across the country, you can go into a physical location to try on what you want. That way, you never end up with something that doesn’t quite fit right. Not seeing something you like? You can always check their website for a wider array of sizes and styles. Target also carries a large selection of shoes for every preference and comfort level. Their accessibility both in terms of price and physical storefronts makes Target a winner in my business casual style book.

You can shop their full site here.

GAP

Images via @GAP on Instagram.

I’ll be honest, Gap has really upped their game since I was a wee young lass shopping in the Gap Kids at my local mall. There are numerous basics at affordable price points for you to build a wonderful base for your work outfits. For example, high-waisted pants continue to be very popular season after season, and while a pair of black slacks may seem simple and boring to you, getting a pair that fits you well can make or break a good work outfit. There is nothing worse for your clothing confidence than an unflattering pair of trousers.

Having fun with interesting silhouettes is a must if you don’t want to fall into the lull of just getting up and putting clothes on every day for work. Gap gives you the option to be excited about what you’re wearing, without it being distracting or uncomfortable to do so. Sometimes, you just need a simple black top, but a fun neckline sure as hell helps you to look more put together and helps you to express your style on a day-to-day basis!

You can shop their full site here.

Mid-Point Price Range

Old Navy

Images via @OldNavy on Instagram.

Old Navy is a wonderful resource for budget-friendly pieces that are both cute and appropriate for work. This is made infinitely easier by their “Wear to Work” section in which they have curated options for you so that you don’t have to sift through casual clothes that you would not be able to wear in your workplace. Like some other brands on this list, they have physical stores, making it easier to go in and try on what you want, while also providing you the convenience of an online site if you need more sizes and styles.

You can shop their full Wear to Work section here, as well as explore the rest of their site.

More Expensive Price Range

Big Bud Press

Images via @BigBudPress on Instagram.

Big Bud Press is a great brand for high-quality pants, jumpsuits, and button-up shirts amongst a large range of other funky and colorful pieces. The brand is unisex, size-inclusive, and utilizes local production to ensure that safe work practices are enforced. Their trademark is bright colors and good quality so that you can incorporate statement pieces into your everyday outfits. They also carry a large variety of basic designs for those who need a more subtle look. Big Bud Press also has a wide range of bags, hats, and accessories to complete your look. They are one of the best places to get high-quality pieces without sacrificing your style in the workplace! On top of that, you can incorporate these pieces into your daily routine even outside of work. It’s truly a win-win.

To shop their full site, you can visit them here.

Madewell

Images via @Madewell on Instagram.

Madewell has long been a staple in Gen Z wardrobes, and it’s almost the opposite of Big Bud Press in the sense that it is the perfect place to find neutral staples for your work outfits. I absolutely love their blazers and skirts, and they have numerous styles that can fulfill any silhouette you prefer. They also have various options for matching sets, which is a great opportunity to either wear the pieces together for a more formal matchy-matchy outfit or mix and match to create a new look. That way, instead of just one outfit, you’re getting several for the price of one. While Madewell is one of the more expensive options on the list, there are ways to get the most bang for your buck. Similarly to Target, there are numerous Madewell stores across the country which allow you to easily go in and try on the pieces you’re considering, which will hopefully lead to less textile waste when you get bored. 

To shop their full site, you can visit them here.  

Dr. Martens

Images via @drmartensofficial on Instagram.

In the past, I feel like the most daunting part of putting together an outfit is picking a good pair of shoes. But where do you even start when you want to get a nice pair that you can wear to and from the office? I always believe that Dr. Marten’s provides a multitude of styles that will make your outfits look put together and provide you the comfort you deserve. While heels are fun, the novelty wears off quickly. Sometimes, a work shoe such as a loafer is a great option for both style and utilitarianism. Various funky designs mean that you can pick both subtle and eye-catching shoes for any outfit.

You can shop their full site here

9 to 5. What a way to make a living. The bottom line is that you should be happy with what you’re wearing, because when you’re happy and confident with how you’re dressed, your job will be a much better experience. Good luck with your new position and if I must say so myself, you look great.

About Mercedes Ohlen

Mercedes was The Crescent’s Editor-in-Chief from 2022-2023. She graduated from Tulane with a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology and a Bachelor of Arts in Communications. She enjoys going to the movies, fashion, and writing about the great city of New Orleans. She will be pursuing a career lifestyle journalism, publishing, or a job within comedy upon her graduation from Tulane. No topic is too obscure, and no story too niche. Roll Wave!

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Mercedes was The Crescent’s Editor-in-Chief from 2022-2023. She graduated from Tulane with a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology and a Bachelor of Arts in Communications. She enjoys going to the movies, fashion, and writing about the great city of New Orleans. She will be pursuing a career lifestyle journalism, publishing, or a job within comedy upon her graduation from Tulane. No topic is too obscure, and no story too niche. Roll Wave!