12 Women Share The Best Pieces From Their First-Job Work Wardrobe

Photo: Courtesy of Express.
If you’re getting ready to start a summer internship, or are preparing for graduation and hoping to land your first corporate job, you’re probably stressing out about the entire world of "workwear." You might live in denim and T-shirts at school, but even your nice jeans aren't necessarily cubicle-ready. Of course, the exact parameters will vary at each company, but generally “business-casual” offices are not so formal that everyone has to wear a suit, but you’re still expected to wear smart, tailored separates — but in any case, the clothes you're used to wearing likely aren't that.

You're also probably on a tight budget (do the phrases “for school credit only” and “student loan repayment” sound familiar?), so it's important to look for a few versatile foundation pieces that will dress up your existing wardrobe, and will last you until you've reached the C-suite. We talked to 12 fashionable professionals — including a stylist, a publicist, and a former lawyer — to find out their road-tested recommendations for a starter wardrobe, what they bought for their first jobs, what they actually wore, and why good shoes are an entry-level essential.

Click through for their words of sartorial wisdom, and some #girlboss finds at great prices.
1 of 12
Photo: Courtesy of LOFT.
Carole Park, Communication Manager
One time in my 20s, I didn't have a chic jacket to wear to an interview, so I went to Club Monaco and charged a classic black blazer that was on sale to my credit card, hoping that I would get the job and be able to pay for it. I did get hired in the end, and now consider that my lucky blazer. A tailored, lightweight style pulls whatever you're wearing together and adds structure; if you work in a less formal environment, just wear a T-shirt or tank underneath instead of a dress shirt or blouse."

Loft On Duty Blazer, $118, available at Loft.
2 of 12
Photo: Courtesy of Urban Outfitters.
Joanna Song, Fashion Designer
“When I moved to New York, I invested in a pair of Christian Louboutin stilettos. I thought the fashionable red soles would make me stand out in the crowd of new graduates. They made me feel confident, but they were torture on my feet. As a designer, I’m constantly in fittings, meetings, and running around the garment district, and I quickly realized my shoes have to have a comfortable arch and reasonable heel height.”

Urban Outfitters
Mary Suede Heel, $79, available at Urban Outfitters.
3 of 12
Photo: Courtesy of Zara.
Fatima Reyes, Publicist
"One of the first purchases I made when I started hunting for jobs and internships was a bag big enough to fit a folder with my résumé inside and a notebook. It was from Zara and only around $70, but on just about every interview I had that summer, my interviewers either asked me about it, thought it was Prada at first, or went to buy the same one! I still have it now — it’s black with top handles and a cross-body strap, so you can carry it two different ways."

Zara pleated tote, $39.90, available at Zara.
4 of 12
Photo: Courtesy of J.Crew.
Kelley Hoffman, Beauty Writer
“A Breton top is a great buy. It combines classic references — Parisian, nautical, artistic — and goes with everything. You can dress it up or down and wear it through any season. Nearly every famous fashionable person has some version of this striped shirt in her closet, so Google it with the names of your favorite style icons to find tons of outfit inspiration."

Saint James Unisex Meridien II Nautical T-shirt, $95, available at J.Crew.
5 of 12
Photo: Courtesy of Aldo.
Erin Fox, Digital Editor
“I highly recommend investing in a good pair of shoes. They don’t have to be expensive, just stylish. It's important to consider what your job might be like be when investing in new work shoes. Sitting at a desk all day? Heels are totally fine. On your feet all day? Loafers or oxfords. I've too often made the mistake of wearing the wrong kind of shoes to my internships, so please learn from my mistake. And yes, you can leave your heels at your desk overnight and change into them when you arrive in the morning."

Aldo Lucelle Flat, $50, available at Aldo.
6 of 12
Photo: Courtesy of Express.
Shea Daspin, Fashion Stylist
“Silky button-ups were a huge game changer for me. They look great under sweaters, with a blazer, or on their own with a half tuck and a belt. I remember buying about six different blouses and rotating them through my closet during my first office job out of college."

Express Original Fit Berry Contrast Piped Portofino Shirt, $49.90, available at Express.
7 of 12
Photo: Courtesy of Banana Republic.
Abbe Wright, Literary Editor
“Dresses — especially in fun, bright colors — were crucial for me when I was just starting out because they're so effortless. The bright colors made me look more awake and made me feel smart and pulled together. Avoid major statement styles (it’s hard to wear them on rotation often if they’re very memorable), and look for wrinkle-resistant fabrics in form-flattering cuts that aren't too summery or too wintery. When shopping, try to picture it over matte black stockings as well as with a nude sandal and bare legs. If it passes the test, it's a keeper.”

Banana Republic Shift Pocket Dress, $88, available at Banana Republic.
8 of 12
Photo: Courtesy of Forever 21.
Sarah Said, Media Intern
"I’ve found the clean-cut, boyfriend-fit blazer to be the perfect piece to dress up any look. I love wearing it with cropped trousers and summer dresses to my media internship, and paired with frayed denim on Casual Fridays."

Love 21 Contemporary Classic Boyfriend Blazer, $32.90, available at Forever 21.
9 of 12
Charreah K. Jackson, Editor & Career Coach
"Use those graduation gifts to invest in a good leather or faux-leather handbag and a well-made and sleek pair of pumps. These pieces will add instant polish as you slowly transition your wardrobe from college fun to chic professional. I got a pair of tan peep-toe pumps that always made me feel like a boss… I still remember wearing them to interview Sarah Jessica Parker at a press junket for the Sex and the City movie! I eventually retired that lucky pair, but always keep tan pumps in my wardrobe."

Nine West Tiessa Pointy-Toe Pumps, $79, available at Nine West.
10 of 12
Photo: Courtesy of Kit and Ace.
Alexandra d'Archangelo, Fashion Trade Show Director
“I would recommend a lightweight black knit top in a classic, flattering shape that’s not too boxy and not too tight. Silk or an inoffensive synthetic blend can be a great choice, so that the black stays black. It's very versatile, polished, and easy for travel.”

Kit and Ace Sleek Sleeveless Top, $118, available at Kit and Ace.
11 of 12
Photo: Courtesy of Ann Taylor.
Leslie Puckett, Grant Writer & Analyst
“I think wrap dresses are so versatile, especially for fairly conservative offices; they come in almost every color and pattern, they are a decent length, and they look good under both cardigans and blazers. When I was first starting out as a lawyer, I was too poor to afford a designer wrap dress, so I found some at stores like Ann Taylor and Loft. Over the years, I have managed to add a few Diane Von Furstenberg styles to my repertoire.”

Ann Taylor Brushstroke Pleated Wrap Dress, $119, available at Ann Taylor.
12 of 12
Nicole Lam, Stylist & Producer
“My first designer bag was a black Alexander Wang style. I loved it, wore it all the time, and always got compliments on it. I think a unique bag that you love, that matches your own style, but is still very functional is a worthy work investment.”

Alexander Wang Large Marion, $875 $614, available at Alexander Wang.

More from Shopping


R29 Original Series