Skinny black pants
Do not wear leggings to the office. Okay, I wear leggings to the office sometimes but I work for The Internet. You should do what I say and not what I do on this point. Skinny black pants are God’s gift to women (and okay, men). They are slimming and go with, literally, everything. My two favorite outfit combos are these with a loose button-up shirt or a slouchy tank-top and blazer. The Zara pants look like J-Crew but are way cheaper. They are also thicker and last longer than cheaper options.
A tuxedo shirt
Nothing fits the career girl niche better than a tuxedo shirt. It’s a historical men’s item, reimagined for a woman. Wear it with pants, tuck it into a skirt, or wear it under a short-sleeved or tank dress. It’s extremely versatile and always makes the wearer look classy.
This sheer, dotted J-Crew version is insanely cute and shows how it can be a great casual wear item if you dress it down.
A beautiful dress coat
In college you can wear a North Face all year as an appropriate jacket. Even to dress up events like church and winter formal. When you enter the working world, you need to invest in a nice dress jacket. Choose wisely and you can wear it for the next five years. (Also, buy it in the spring if you can, you’ll save at least half of the price.) A simple mid-thigh or knee-length coat in black, red, or grey will likely last through the changing trends so you don’t have to buy a new one each year if you can’t afford it.
Spring and fall jackets are much easier since they don’t have to be warm–you can buy much cheaper. Like this gorgeous H&M trench that’s only $30.
A power jewelry item
This is a ring, a necklace, earrings–whatever–one specific piece that makes you feel good or inspires you. When I was growing up I was obsessed with magazines. I read them all and absorbed a devotion to heavy advertisers by proxy. They were beautiful glamazons, adult women living in a big city and going to work at a fancy office. This was the future I wanted, and it came with a David Yurman ring, apparently. My mother gave me an expensive (not Yurman expensive, lets be real) cocktail ring when I was in college. I always wear it when I want to imbue myself with the energy of these women and have some physical reminder that I hope to be one of them.
A chic blazer
When you’re dressed well, you work well. A blazer is such a business-y piece that it’s hard not to feel the part of successful career girl when you wear one. And your energy will match this feeling. Paired with a tank top or t-shirt underneath, you still feel pretty instead of old and stuffy. A black and grey blazer are staples, as well as one in a fun color. It’s my goal to own a hot pink one.
A bag your laptop fits into (but isn’t a laptop bag)
Yes there are chic laptop bags. But most of them are hideous. I also don’t like to look like I’m carrying a laptop. I like to look like I’m carrying a cool bag that happens to have a laptop in it.
Tip: I buy all my bags at higher-end discount stores like Nordstrom Rack and Opitz (a Minneapolis chain). They’ve got nice discounts on them but they’re last season’s product. Since most people use bags for more than one season, I really don’t care if mine isn’t the newest one out there. My current bag is a $300 Tano bag I got for $81 for no reason other than the weather changed and the big stores didn’t want so much black leather.
Second tip: don’t buy a Coach bag. It’s a made-up American brand.
A work-appropriate LBD
This needs to be a little higher in the top and longer on the bottom than a little black dress you’d buy for a party, but it’s going to be just as comfortable and versatile. There’s something about the color black. A black dress is what you should always wear when you need to get something done.
I love this Forever21 dress because with tights it’s totally work appropriate, but in a pinch you could take your tights off in the bathroom and show off your legs at happy hour.
A knee-length A-line skirt
There’s something so beautiful and feminine about a knee-length A-line skirt. It’s something our mothers and grandmothers have worn. It’s not the right look for when you need to take charge, but when you need confidence, there’s no boost like walking through the city in one of these.
Some girls don’t like wedges. I don’t understand the hate. Wedges give you the powerful feeling you get from heels, but you can wear them all day because they’re more comfortable. You can also run faster in them when you are going to miss the train. My girl Ella has Loub wedges (that she got at a consignment shop for 60% off retail) and even though I’m not an expensive shoe person, I’m jealous — those are some ass-kicking shoes. A cheaper Aldo version works just fine.
A blue button-up shirt
I’ve always been obsessed with button-up shirts. They just feel so fresh and polished. I feel I am at my best while wearing one. I like layering them under sweaters or tank tops, or wearing them open over jeans on a casual weekend day. When you need to feel productive at work, there’s nothing like actually rolling the sleeves of your button-up up to alert your mind: it’s make it work time.
Bonus non-closet item: a portfolio
A leather legal pad holder. You’ll feel fancy and prepared every time you go to a meeting because you have an adult way to take notes and you know you’re not going to have an Elle Woods moment.