7 Workwear Wardrobe Essentials for the Female Professional

what to wear to work

Floral Faux Wrap Dress | Black Pumps | Black Satchel | Black Sunglasses | MantraBand Bracelets ($25)

A couple weeks ago I got a question on Instagram that really hit home for me. I got asked what my 6-8 workwear staples were. Genius! Why hadn’t I thought of posting this before? So, if you’re just starting to build your business professional wardrobe, this is for you!

As someone who goes to work in an office Monday through Friday, I feel you. My day job is near and dear to my heart. And I have so much freaking love for every single one of you that does it just like me. It ain’t easy. Not only that, but looking cute in a professional workplace can be a challenge. That said, it makes a difference and can give your career the boost you’re looking for. Trust me. And it doesn’t have to come with a high price tag.

So what are my staples? I combed through my closet to search for the pieces that have been with me the longest and have gotten the most wear. These items are essential to any girl’s professional wardrobe. I’ll be completely honest in saying sure, they’re maybe a little bit boring. But building a collection of cute business casual pieces takes time. Give yourself a break and start with the basics. You’ll get to the stylish dresses and funky blazers later.

1. A Skirt Suit. 

Why did I specify a skirt suit? I talked about why I don’t believe in conforming to male standards a little in this post. You’re a girl, embrace it. Don’t pretend to be something that you aren’t. While pants might be a little better suited (pun intended) for colder months, my go to outfit for an interview is a skirt suit. This is the one piece I’d recommend investing in.

Sometime, going on interviews feels like you’re doing the summer wedding tour. Back to back meetings, a thousand questions asked and answered, and 30 resumes printed on fancy paper. You’re lucky to remember your own name at the end of it let alone that of the interviewers. But make them remember you.

My favorite suit is by J.Crew and they have a version of it every season. You can buy the blazer and skirt separately which is nice in terms of sizing too. I searched so many stores to find a suit that didn’t make me look 2 decades older than I really am when I first graduated. The fit of this blazer still keeps it young and classy. Plus, the pencil skirt is much better than pants (at least on my body type).

I’d recommend getting black too. While it’s a little boring, you can easily dress it up with any color button down, blouse, or even a cute ruffled top underneath. The bonus? After you land the job, you can wear the skirt and blazer separately to work. In corporate America, no one wears suits every day unless you’re in banking, real estate, or maybe sales so this is how to get the long term wear out of these pieces!

PS. if this J.Crew suit is still too much of a splurge item for you, try NY & Company or Express until you save up. Both are always running promotions and have affordable prices to start. Fun fact: 80% of my business casual was NY & Company when I worked in consulting!

2. Black Pumps.

Find your favorite brand and buy some classic black pumps. These come in handy all the time. Whether you’re pairing them with that skirt suit I just mentioned or a  wrap dress. You can wear them out on date night or with your favorite pair of denim too. The possibilities are endless. Black pumps will travel with you to more than just your cubicle! Here are my favorites (I’m loving the D’Orsay cut lately):

If you’re looking for a steal, these are under $50 with a modest heel! A mid-tier option are these suede heels by J.Crew which are currently on sale. If you’re looking for a splurge and are a little more comfortable taking a few slight risks with your fashion at work, I’ve had my eye on these studded pumps!

3. V-Neck (or Crewneck) Sweater.

I never embraced the preppy look until I graduated college. I was too busy shopping exclusively from the Free People catalogue. While I still don’t think I would have survived college in the Northeast, I’ve been known to layer a button down and sweater time and again. Especially after this move to Chicago. If I learned anything by surviving my first winter in the Midwest, it’s to layer up. My go to is the J.Crew Factory v-necks (come in 7 colors) and crewnecks. They’re a lot more affordable than J.Crew and the exact same quality. If you’re first starting out, get the grey.

Also try Old Navy (but size down) if you’re on the hunt for a deal! And there’s always the occasional sale at the regular J.Crew!

4. Button Down Top.

These can be worn alone, under blazers, layered with your favorite v-neck, or effortlessly half tucked. Nordstrom has really stepped up their button down shift selection over the past few months too! This blue one was a classic and this one under $50 is such a great deal plus it comes in 5 prints/colors! Buy basics like these until you’re comfortable in your new workplace to start mixing and matching with the more unique pieces!

I’ve also been wearing Frank and Eileen shirts for years but if you’re just starting out, I’d wait to splurge on them. I own my fair share of J.Crew Factory too and I love them all equally!

5. Basic Blouse.

This is my favorite blouse of all time and it’s only $28. You can pair this with jeans, leggings, business slacks, skirts, and even that suit I was talking about. It’s incredible how often this thing comes in handy. After having the white for a season, I bought the olive and the pink color earlier this year. If neither of those sound appealing, it comes in 5 colors total (colors are always coming in and out of stock though) so there is bound to be something for everyone!

6. Tote Bag.

As someone who regularly has to bring her work home with her, I can’t tell you how important it is for my work tote to be able to fit my laptop. Sure, stylish satchels like the one I’m carrying in today’s post are amazing but on a daily basis, I’m usually toting around a much bigger bag. Here are a few of my favorites at all price points including the one I’m using right now for work IRL!


This two toned tote comes in a few colors (seen here) and is under $50. If you’re looking for something a little more high quality, I like this beige one which is still reasonably priced if you plan on wearing it every single day.

7. Dress.

So admittedly, this is my favorite of these 7 workwear essentials. I also can’t tell you how many coworkers have complemented me on my selection of dresses throughout my career. As I mentioned above, take your time building up this area of your wardrobe. You’ll want to find dresses that are classic. Pieces that you won’t grow out of in a couple years. I typically look for items by Eliza J, Adrianna Papell, or Tahari. While all 3 make a variety of dresses for different occasions, I really like the cuts and styles of each of these brands. As I survey my closet, almost every single work dress is by one of these three. Here are some ideas!

Every now and then Kate Spade will have a cute one too. If you live near a Kate Spade outlet, check there first though. Some of my favorite dresses (and purses come to think of it) have come from the outlets. Once you’ve stocked up on the basic dresses, try some fun prints!

Okay ladies, so how did I do? Do you want to see more workwear outfits from me? I’ve been sharing my daily work OOTDs on Instagram Stories as much as I can so you can always follow me there for more real time inspiration. I’ve also shared a few tips on how to make what you already have work for the office!

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17 thoughts on “7 Workwear Wardrobe Essentials for the Female Professional

  1. Such a lovely dress! I like it when women show some class in the workplace and you really do!

  2. Wow this is such a great post idea! I love that someone asked on Instagram. Also I am right there with you on having so much respect for those that work 40 hours a week and are social influencers too. It’s so hard sometimes!

    @trendyinindy || trendyinindy.com

  3. Thank you so much for telling me you were going to write this post and then actually do it, it means a lot!!! You did a great job and this is SO helpful 😊 I appreciate it so much!

  4. I have never really worked corporate, so this kind of wardrobe is foreign to me. But you sure know how to rock your unique style in the workplace. I love these essentials!

  5. Great tips and totally agree on the need for a few investment pieces with trying to save on the everyday ones (e.g. At jcrew factory). A tip on dresses – I’ve found GREAT brands at marshalls or tj maxx – perfect simple wrap or shifts that are high quality and don’t break the bank! Only problem is no online shopping :) also agree with your point on embracing your feminine side (if that’s your style)!! Great post jenna!

Let me know what you think!