What To Wear If You Only Have 3 Work-Appropriate Pieces In Your Closet

I have a very “relatable” closet. I own a few nice, expensive “investment pieces,” like bags that I wear every day, but for the most part, it’s full of basic staples, old stuff I can’t bear to throw away, Forever 21/H&M impulse buys, and quirky vintage stuff I think I’ll wear again but probably won’t. Upon first examination, 99% of my clothes would not work for work. And when I say “work,” I mean an office in the traditional sense where you can’t rock a nose ring and there’s such a thing as pantyhose — not the creative types of offices I’ve always worked in, where I’m mercifully spared from this type of pomp and circumstance. However, lately, I’ve been trying to look more pulled-together and “office-y:” not because it’s required, but because it makes me feel better.

Cue the sound of my closet door opening, and uh-oh. Summer dresses in crazy patterns, torn jeans, and so much stretchy stuff. It’s like Urban Outfitters exploded. On top of that, appropriately to my industry, I’m broke. What to do? Well, I decided to isolate the, oh, three or so lone traditionally “work-appropriate” things I own, and mix and match them with my oodles of non-work-appropriate stuff. Because when the broke get desperate, the desperate go shopping in their closet! Or something like that. To stay true to life, I used the same bag in every set, because in real life people wear the same bag every day.

Outfit 1: The Black Blazer

My basic black blazer swoops in to save the day every time I feel like an outfit is a tad more backyard-barbeque than work. It’s Calvin Klein, but I got it for $20 many years ago at Mustard Seed in D.C., a veritable Promised Land of second-hand shopping. The matching turquoise belt helps pull together the girly summer dress, and the personalized necklace keeps everything from being blah. I’d pull it together with one of the two actually nice bags I own: They both match the outfit, but the blue one accommodates a laptop. Click here to see the clothing items.


















Outfit 2: The Pencil Skirt

Another way-back-when purchase, probably for a job interview: a pencil skirt from Banana Republic with gold buttons. You could probably wear nipple tassels with this skirt and still look professional — though I wouldn’t recommend it. For starters, I’d pair it with my cheap-o, but cute, INC Concepts blouse: It’s identical to the 3.1 Phillip Lim one pictured here, except, you know, $19.99 or so. It’s always fascinating, and a little painful, to realize that one of your pieces of clothing is a designer knock-off (reminds me of the Miranda Priestly cerulean quote from The Devil Wears Prada).Then I would throw on an equally cheap-o green cardigan and cheap-o green sandals, plus some interesting jewelry, and voila! The reason green and gold work best here as opposed to another pop of color is that the contrast to black-and-white is stark, but pleasant. Red would have looked too vampy for work and hard to pull off. Blue, in any shade, would have been too somber. And silver accessories would have appeared too drab here. Click here to see the clothing items.


















Outfit 3: The Pleated Wool Skirt

My actual pleated wool skirt is from H&M and is so heavy it works best with tights in the winter — the one pictured here is more summer-friendly (especially considering we all have super-freezing over-air-conditioned offices). I’d pair it with a basic black tank top, with a lace top worn over it for a little interest, and make the whole thing more work-appropriate with a black cardigan. Then I’d dress it up with a statement necklace and my favorite headband, and pair it with some wingtip shoes so the whole outfit isn’t overly girly. Click here to see the clothing items.

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    • Somnilee

      This is amazing! While still a student, I have an incredibly hard time managing the line between looking like I fell into/out of numerous “cheap-o” shops (sigh, the life of a student) and looking like I’m going to a funeral/a bank interview. Thanks for showing how to mix the two.

    • Stephanie Chen

      That first outfit is great! Also, I love how versatile and flattering a pencil skirt can be.

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