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Ask Allie: Casual Capsule Wardrobe for Post-college Orientation

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I'm starting an internship and I'm really excited about it! But first, I have a 10 day orientation in North Carolina. The internship directors told us to dress “casual” but to me (as a very recent college grad) that's whatever t-shirt is clean and shorts that have seen better days. I want to pack everything in my carry-on and I'm assuming I'll need clothes to wear for nights out! I really need help figuring out what to pack!

For such an event, if they say casual, then you can stick to casual. Some clean-front chino shorts, denim in good condition, and casual knit dresses with sandals or even sneakers will be fine. However, I know you will need nicer clothes also for your internship so why not buy pieces that do double duty – work casual now and more polished once you’re at the office? This capsule wardrobe is for a warm climate, a casual environment but with a touch of polish. I usually stick to brights or black-based collections so I switched this one up with navy as a base and accents of soft neutrals and pastels.  Add casual tee shirts to the mix to keep from looking too dressy for your orientation.

casual capsule wardrobe warm weather after college or casual workplace

Shop The Look: short | skirt | bag | sandals | sneakers | bracelet | necklace | ankle pants | boyfriend jeans | striped knit top | sleeveless top | drapey top | drapey tee | wrap dress | tee shirt dress | cardigan

Shoes really set the tone for an outfit. The dresses seen here are both made out of jersey knit; pair them with heels and they could work for the office or a summer outdoor wedding. But paired with flat sandals in a neutral color or even a pair of sneakers (TOMS, slip-on canvas shoes, or any type of tennis shoe that is on trend right now) it’s perfect for a casual orientation or weekend out with friends. The same holds true for cotton ankle pants, a denim skirt, or tops in dressier fabrics.

Denim is expected for a casual setting, but don’t get too casual with a bunch of rips and tears. I chose boyfriend jeans which are more comfortable than fitted jeans and give a casual vibe. They’d work great with a simple tee, but can be polished up when you half-tuck a silky or drapey top with them, or style with a crisp Breton tee. A denim skirt is great because you can dress up with a cardigan and the sandals, or pair with sneakers and even a logoed or band tee for casual cool.  Considering your workplace once your internship starts, you may be able to wear the denim skirt with pumps, tall boots, blouses and blazers.

Solid cotton chino pieces with clean lines are a great way to look casual and polished. A pair of shorts with a bit longer of a hem (these are 7”) are still stylish but more appropriate for an environment where you will be interacting with supervisors. Ankle or cropped pants are more casual than long pants and look adorable with sandals or low-profile sneakers, but once you’re in the office can be dressed up with a pair of pumps or pointed toe flats. Don’t be afraid to embrace color for these pieces; color can often be more versatile than khaki or black and will dress up simple knit tees and tanks you can buy cheap at big box retailers.

When it comes to tops, it’s okay to wear simple solid or striped tees, but consider buying pieces with an interesting detail that can dress up for a night out, or transition into your career wardrobe. A sleeveless top in a silky fabric will look great untucked with the shorts or half-tucked into boyfriend jeans, but come the fall you can style tucked in to trousers or a pencil skirt. A blouse with built-in drape adds interest without being too revealing for your situation. Pair with any bottom in this capsule wardrobe and come fall style with ankle pants and pumps or work trousers and low heels.  A lightweight cardigan is a great piece; it can get cold in air conditioned places and is small enough to tuck into a bag. Once you’re working in an office, this will become a wardrobe staple you’ll pair with pants, skirts, and dresses.

Keep jewelry to a minimum, the more shine the more dressy an outfit can look. However, if you buy accessories consider buying fewer pieces but ones that are a bit better quality. I have a necklace from Kendra Scott and a bracelet from Gorjana; both brands offer costume (not real metal) jewelry, but it’s better quality that will hold up nicely and bring your outfits up a level. A long necklace can make a knit tee look polished and adds weight to loose tops and dresses to show your figure without being revealing. A simple bracelet in silver or gold is often all the shine a look needs; I have this bracelet and it has survived several months of being stuck in doll houses, junk drawers, and purse pockets. A watch is a great alternative and has function as well as style. Even though they’re costume jewelry, treat them well (don’t get them wet, store in a jewelry box or even a Ziploc bag) so they can provide you with many seasons of stylish wear.

Shop the Capsule Wardrobe:


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  1. I live in the mountains of N.C. (Read: the cooler part) and it is still in the 80s now. It wouldn’t be unusual to hit 90’s in the Piedmont or coastal regions in August/September. I know I don’t get out my fall wardrobe until mid-October. With that said, nix any unnatural fabrics like polyester–you’ll roast! I have worn shorts as a teacher, but they are Bermuda length, neutral like khaki or navy, and paired with a nice shell. Capris/culottes/cropped pants are a better option until you see what people are wearing. I’d also add a colorful cotton or linen skirt to mix with the tops. Also consider packing heeled sandals for meals out or more formal occasions.

  2. While this is a perfectly fine casual capsule, I must disagree with a couple of items in the context of a work orientation. I’d nix the sandals for some flats that cover your toes, and I wouldn’t under any circumstances wear shorts to work. Just no. I’m not being an old fogey, I work with interns all the time. If you show up in shorts for a work event, you’re going to be the “remember when that girl showed up in shorts?” story.

  3. Just to be safe, I’d go with jeans with ZERO distressing. I know it’s a small thing, but those details can really count in first impressions. I also echo the comment below about shorts and sandals. Sure, bring them along, but don’t bust them out unless you see others wearing them.

  4. I think when you go South that casual attire, at least among the professional class, runs a little dressier than you’d expect — think sorority wear.
    In that regard I think this is a good capsule – the striped knit shirt could go with a blingy necklace, the tops are draped and feminine, the dresses classic. I’d keep the non-denim shorts, they’re a step-up the casual chain. If this is a summer orientation, or even early September I might include a white cardigan sweater.

  5. Hi Alison,
    I was wondering if you have ever done a wardrobe for someone going on vacation to an all inclusive resort for 2 weeks using only a carry on suitcase?

    1. The navy tee in the picture was out of stock by time I went live, it was a linen muscle tee and very similar to one I had from LOFT (http://www.loft.com/slouchy-linen-tee/368656?skuId=18580426&defaultColor=&colorExplode=false&catid=cat1220002&priceSort=DESC). The link is supposed to be for this tee from Lucky, which I felt gave a similar feel though with longer sleeves: http://www.luckybrand.com/linen-heather-tee/803049692973.html?cm_mmc=Google+CSE-_-Women|Clothing|Tops|Knits|Tees|Short+Sleeve+Knits-_-pla|c-_-803049692973&utm_source=Google&utm_medium=CSE&utm_campaign=803049692973&KPID=803049692973&pla=pla_803049692973&mr:referralID=fa6b6c91-4748-11e5-9549-005056947d48&gclid=CjwKEAjw9dWuBRDFs9mHv-C9_FkSJADo58iM2XAl3EHjbPwrFrmhMiaEW4qrWBGaZohi6uxnyZXcxBoCufTw_wcB

  6. Even if it says “casual” in my industry that would not mean shorts until you really, really know your norms. As an intern, I wouldn’t risk it. Maybe throw them in the bag because they don’t take up too much space, but I would replace them with cropped trousers in the capsule. Also, I work in an industry where we must have closed toe shoes – and those sneakers read way too casual for work to me. So I would save the sandals for evening, skip the sneakers entirely, & swap in a pair of comfy neutral flats. I would also swap those jeans for a darker pair – even for casual they read too casual to me between the color & the rolled up hem. I love the rest though! I would probably throw in an extra cardigan or jacket or two because I’m always cold in AC.

    1. I disagree, I did a similar orientation after college and everyone was in shorts and flip flops but once the internship started everyone was in nice work clothes. We had to do a lot of teambuilding events outside it was kind of like summer camp some days and other days we were inside on computers.

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