First of all, congrats! You’ve survived early morning classes, finals weeks, and cranky roommates to earn your college degree. And most likely, you’ve skated through the last couple of years with a casual wardrobe that was more about comfort than professional style. Now that you’re staring down a slate of job interviews and a new phase of life, it’s time to ditch those cozy clothes and stock up on boring workwear, right? Wrong!
Transitioning your campus staples into the workplace is not only possible, but it’s fun and financially smart. By layering your look with a few new pieces and the addition of strategic accessories, you can get more mileage out of your current closet and project confidence in your new role.
From its humble beginnings as a glorified undergarment to universal casual wear, the basic t-shirt is truly a wardrobe building block. Think of your t-shirt collection as the DNA of your professional look — almost any outfit can begin with the perfect tee. Of course, there are some caveats. Are we suggesting you wear that eight-year-old high school softball t-shirt to the office? Not exactly. Look for high-quality fabrics in neutral or solid colors that are free of printed graphics. Whether fitted or loosely cut, unadorned women’s t-shirts can be easily paired with a variety of outer layers.
In winter months, or in workplaces that blast the air conditioning, add a women’s cardigan to your favorite tee for instant dress code compatibility.
For a more formal outfit, try a crisp button-up shirt or structured blazer. Long-sleeved tees are also an option as stand-alone winter pieces. With short and long-sleeve garments, feel free to experiment with necklines and fits until you have a suitable t-shirt arsenal. Something as simple as swapping a traditional crew neck for a boat neck can make a big difference in your look.
Scarves are sort of magical. With a few loops of fabric, you can dress up even the most casual of tops. We love adding colorful scarves to crew neck sweatshirts and cozy sweaters. Remember that t-shirt and cardigan combo? Yup, you can throw a scarf into that mix too!
A few tips and tricks for ideal scarf style: Pair heavier scarves with bulkier tops and lighter scarves with t-shirts or other lightweight tops. Avoid combining multiple patterns — for example, if your sweatshirt has stripes, stick to a solid scarf. Be sure to consider the weather and indoor office temperature.
Flannel shirts are a mainstay of college life, from drafty dorm rooms to at-home virtual classes. When it comes to flannel into the workplace, keep it fitted to the body — oversized flannel shirts, while the coziest, are best kept to loungewear and pajamas.
Chambray is another casual favorite that delivers neutral style with a bit of vintage flair. Like flannel, you’ll want to make sure your chambray shirt fits you well and doesn’t cross over into pajama territory. Pair both tops with skinny, ankle-length dress pants, or denim jeans for a modern, streamlined silhouette.
Whether or not denim jeans are acceptable work attire depends on your specific workplace, industry, and role within the company. That said, the trends seem to be shifting toward more casual dress codes for many in-person offices. (Yay!) The most important factors when transitioning women’s jeans from student life to a professional setting is the fit and wash.
Low-cut flares with a distressed wash bring a much different vibe than high-rise skinny jeans in a dark navy wash. The former might be fine for class and cocktail hour at a college bar, while the latter might be more appropriate for a day at work. If employees aren’t given a strict dress code, it’s always a good idea to talk to HR, ask coworkers about unspoken rules, or just feel out your new environment for a bit. At the end of the day, it never hurts to err on the side of “overdressed.”
If denim is cleared with the boss, think about how to balance its casual feel. We love a pair of dark skinny jeans with a cashmere sweater and ankle boots. Pairing sweaters, turtlenecks, and blazers with jeans keep denim looking professional.
Let’s give a round of applause for leggings! The original athleticwear/office space crossover, leggings are versatile, comfortable, and stylish for a business casual setting. You can’t go wrong with the autumn-approved trio: leggings, a cozy sweater, and boots. (Bonus points for adding a great pendant necklace). For a more modern and youthful vibe, pair leggings with a chambray shirt and chunky white sneakers.
Before any new career phase, take a realistic look at your closet and be prepared to make some adjustments. By slowly incorporating a few higher-quality elements like sweaters, cardigans, blazers, and dress pants, you can continue to wear your favorite campus pieces as well.