guide to work wear: business casual + professional

Hello hello!

For the very first post on The Classic Madison in 2021, I am bringing you a much requested post- a guide to work wear! I have accumulated a good amount of business casual and professional clothing over the years for Model UN competitions, interviews, internships, and various jobs. I think it's important to collect these items over the years as you see them, rather than start a new professional job and have to buy an entire wardrobe. So if you are in high school or college right now, please consider stocking up on pieces as you find them (especially if they are on sale!). 

I am not a professional when it comes to business clothing because I don't even have a full-time job yet, but I have experience professional dress in varaious settings and experiences. Like I said, every office has a different interpretation of business professional, casual, and everything in between. I interned at one company that was a perfect blend of casual and professional, asking that we rarely wear pants and stick to dresses, skirts, and work shoes like heels or professional flats. But I've had others that said we can wear just about anything except for jeans. But then you might work for a place that requests a blazer and skirt or trousers with every outfit. My best advice is to dress nicer than usual on your first day (or at your interview), i.e. wear a dress, wear a blazer with your outfit, choose a skirt over pants, and then ask more about the dress code as you get the position and start working for the company.

I can't get through this post without mentioning the fact that many of you are working from home. I am hoping that when I find my post-grad job I can go into the office, but working in the office remains uncertain. Even if you have to work from home, maybe my work wear guide can help with what to wear for Zoom meetings or give you inspo when we are finally back to work. I personally cannot wait to work in an office (I might change my mind in a few years haha!) but I love the structure of working in a place separate from home. If you are struggling working from home still, I suggest wearing outfits that are similar to what you would wear in the office and find a space to do your work (this could apply to school work too!). Until then, stock up on work wear and outfit ideas with this post! 

// from left to right, top to bottom //
one // two // three // four
five // six // seven // eight

The first step of creating a business outfit is deciding if you are going for a one piece look (with a dress) or two piece (top + bottoms). I recommend finding a few solid colored and neutral staple blouses that can be worn with various pairs of pants and skirts, and ones that can also go under a blazer. Find blouses in shades such as white, cream, black, gray, and brown, and then add in pops of color with prints and solid colors. Your base should be simple tops and then add in more fun tops as you learn about your company's dress code and expand your business wardrobe. Most of these satisfy business casual and professional, but for business professional you would need to pair it with a blazer, dress pants, or a suit. Sometimes business casual leans into business professional and vice versa, but it depends on the company and environment you are working for. I love blouses from Tuckernuck and Loft

one // two // three // four // five
six // seven // eight // nine // ten

Blazers are super important for building a business wardrobe. Start with a solid color of black, navy, or gray, and then add in patterns and statement colors as you need more. I also recommend purchasing some sweater blazers ( such as the gray one on the bottom row) and blazer-type jackets such as a blazer cape, professional coat, or sleek fashion jacket. The classic blazer will satisfy both the business casual and professional attire, but leave the super patterned and fashionable blazers and sweater blazers/jackets for business casual. Blazers are pricey, but if you pick one that is well-made and of a quality fabric, it will last you years! Great places to get your staple blazer: J.Crew, Banana Republic, and Express

one // two // three // four // five 
six // seven // eight // nine // ten 

Regardless of the company dress code, dresses are fantastic to include in your professional wardrobe (and you might even have dresses that already align with those standards). I recommend finding a few fitted "suiting" styled dresses such as dress number eight, as well as some A-line, sheath, and more flowy dresses. The A-line, sheath, shift, and suiting style dresses are great for business professional, and the flowy and A-line dresses are great for business casual. There is some lee-way in both of these though, just depending on the company you work for. Boutiques are great places to look for unique dresses, but you might even have some work-worthy dresses already in your closet! 

one // two // three // four
five // six // seven // eight

Skirts are one of my favorite pieces for taking an outfit to a business level. For any type of business attire, you will want to find a skirt that hits right at the knee or lower (sometimes you can sneak one right above the knee with tights). I recommend finding one good quality pencil skirt (Banana Republic and J.Crew have great options), and then find more comfortable A-line and midi skirts depending on the level of professionalism in the work style. Patterned and colorful skirts go great with those simple staple blouses I talked about earlier. I put some colorful skirts in this post, but many places have staple neutral toned skirts you will want to purchase too. I recommend J.Crew, Banana Republic, Express, and Ann Taylor (oh and J.Crew Factory always)

one // two // three // four // five 
six // seven // eight // nine // ten

Pants are a bit tricky between business casual and professional. For business casual, you can get by with wearing straight-leg and skinny style pants (such as one, three, four, five, six, seven, nine, and ten). But for business professional you will want to find a pair of dress slacks that can go with suits. This is where going to the store and trying on options helps. I honestly don't have the best advice when it comes to pants, because I mostly have worked in business casual environments where straight leg and skinny pants are okay as long as they are not jeans. Just ask the company what they consider appropriate pants for work before wearing a pair you aren't sure about.  

One of my favorite parts of work wear- the shoes! I personally love heels and would honestly love if we lived in a different century where wearing heels to go to the grocery store was acceptable. I recommend finding a few pairs of comfortable, neutral heels (and even block heels!) that can go with a lot of your wardrobe. Also find a pair of comfortable loafers or flats that are professional and can keep your feet comfortable throughout the work day. Then add in some patterned and colorful shoes depending on your dress code- I love my leopard loafers because they still look professional but are trendy and fun! If you are able, some places allow boots and ankle boots- I love these patchwork ones from Sam Edelman with a trouser style pant and smart blouse. 

To help you with putting these outfits together, here are some of my work-wear combos and then collages of items in this post! Jewelry and accessories are optional but can help an outfit go a long way if it is allowed in your dress code (I love adding headbands and statement earrings like hoops). 

// feminine flair //

// retro inspiration //

// business casual vibes //

// print in business casual //

// working 9-5 //

// classy combo //

// little black dress //

dress // coat blazer (swap for a short blazer in the warmer months!) // heels 

// soft neutral ensemble //

// trendy mix //

Check out a few business-type outfits I wore throughout the year! I also share a lot of more professional outfits on my stories when I am interning or doing an interview so be sure to follow me along on Instagram. 

If you still want some inspo, be sure to check out this post I did back in the summer on workwear! I also recommend browsing Poshmark and consignment stores for staple pieces. If you search for brands like J.Crew, express, Loft, Sole Society, etc. you can find some great things! 

I hope this post provided you with inspiration and ideas for your work attire! I love workwear and seriously cannot wait to wear it on the daily. It sometimes can be hard to find you workwear style, but I promise that working can be made more fun by wearing clothes you love! 


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