June 20, 2013

Ask Allie: Young Professional Summer Capsule Wardrobe

I began graduate school this January and was able to hide in coats and jeans during winter months, but now it's getting HOT. Do you have any tips for building a spring/summer capsule wardrobe for a college graduate student? I want to become a little more sophisticated than my sweat pants and flip flop undergrad days, but am not sure which direction to go.

I just graduated and got a job in an office where the dress code is business casual. While I can wear jeans on Friday, the rest of the week I’m supposed to wear pants, dresses and skirts. It’s hot out, how do I look business casual and stay cool?

I’m new to the workforce and have no clue where to start when trying to find clothes that are right for summer and right for an office and right for me – I am 24. I don’t need to wear a suit at work, can get away with khakis or even jeans but sometimes I need to look nice for a business meeting or corporate visit. Oh, and I have a limited budget. Help!

The summer does make it harder to look professional but still keep your cool. A lot of it has to do more with the fabrics and silhouettes you choose than how much skin is covered. Because no matter the number on the thermometer, showing a lot of skin is never appropriate at the office. Cotton, linen, fabrics that catch the breeze – this will help you keep your cool while looking professional. Even though it’s hot outside, it’s usually chilly indoors so having a couple easy layers to put on once inside keeps you looking great no matter the temperature.



All three of you mentioned relatively relaxed dress codes, so I considered the one I have at my current job. We are allowed sleeveless as long as it doesn’t expose bra straps, and they are okay with sandals and open-toe shoes as long as they are not flip-flops. A tee shirt is even acceptable if in a refined knit, tailored, and in good condition. If your office is more formal, it’s easy to find alternatives that cover the tops of the arms, are closed-toe, or an more polished fabric (switch tees for silk or synthetics). I decided to create a capsule that is youthful and age-appropriate yet still appropriate for an office.

Suiting separates are a smart wardrobe addition, even if you aren’t expected to wear a suit to work. You never know when you may be asked to travel on business, represent your company at a conference, or speak in front of clients at a meeting. I chose separates in ponte knit, which isn’t as stuffy as classic suiting, and works better as individual pieces in a business casual environment. Along with this, also have a pair of classic pumps on hand – while they can be worn on a daily basis to work, they are ready to go for a business meeting or even for a weekend wedding or social affair. Get them reheeled when necessary, polish regularly and they can provide you with years of stylish wear.

As you can see, I chose a collection of brights with black and white accents. In summer, brights are more acceptable and solids are always more versatile. The black and white keeps it looking clean, modern, and classic; black immediately gives an air of formality and will tone down cheery hues and give a business vibe. The same holds true for a pair of classic pumps with an almond or slightly pointed toe and is why I constantly recommend a pair in everyone’s wardrobe.

When shopping, keep in mind that these are clothes for the office – while a casual or business casual dress code is in effect, nothing should be overly tight, cleavage should be under wraps, skirts should be around the knee, shoes shouldn’t be too wild (too high, too big of platform, crazy colors or fabrics, etc.).

It’s better to err on the side of conservative until you have a better feel of the true office culture and dress code. Don’t base your assumptions on the look of the receptionist who greeted you for your interview or even the attire of the manager who interviewed you. Get to know your department, your clients. I know at my company, each department dresses a bit differently depending on if they meet with clients, have offsite meetings, have to lead meetings, or are holed up in a cubicle all day long looking at two monitors. Don’t buy your whole wardrobe before your first month is through.

Links below the collage are similar items at reasonable prices.  Some of the pieces used in the collage are no longer for sale or too pricey for an entry-level employee; collages should be considered inspiration only.


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