No one prepares you for the transition from college to life as an employed adult. Sure, I’d had internships while still in school, but navigating the flow of a 40-hour workweek was an adjustment. One of the most difficult changes? Developing a work wardrobe when for four years I’d relied on not much more than jeans and sweatshirts.
I didn’t have the budget to replace everything and start over, so I had to be strategic: adding a blouse that would dress up my jeans, finding comfortable heels that would work at the office. But, despite my best efforts, looking back now, I can see that I made some mistakes along the way, and while my bosses were never anything but kind and supportive, I’m sure that they noticed the details I didn’t.
Luckily, as I’ve grown into working life, I’ve learned crucial lessons along the way that have helped me better navigate the sometimes confusing world of office dress. Below, I’m highlighting seven dressing mistakes I look back on with regret, but I’m also explaining the changes I made to fix them. While every company has a different dress code, there are still rules that translate whether you’re on the clock in NYC, San Francisco, or somewhere in between. See them all below, then shop pieces to help you dress for your 9-to-5.
MISTAKE: Feeling too stuffy in professional clothes
FIX: Dressing them down with cool basics
For one of my earliest interviews, I remember showing up in a shapeless gray business dress and flats, an ensemble I’d never put together willingly, and it showed. Since then, I’ve learned that there’s an art to pulling off business clothes. Styling them with more fashion-forward pieces is an important part of making them you.
Available in sizes 34 to 40.
Available in sizes 35 to 41.
MISTAKE: Not knowing how to pull off athleisure
FIX: Learning the art of high-low
While I know a sweatshirt or casual tee may not work in every office, over time I’ve learned that sporty pieces are a staple in my everyday look. The key is being very picky about which pieces (think tailored) and styling them with more professional items so they don’t feel too casual.
Available in sizes S to L.
Available in sizes 14 to 24.
MISTAKE: Considering heels the enemy
FIX: Finding styles that are actually comfortable
After a few too many traumatic experiences with foot-killing heels, I swore them off. Over time, I’ve learned to find value in lower and chunky-heeled styles, finding the fits that work best for my feet instead of swearing them off completely.
Available in sizes 6 to 10.
Available in sizes 4.5 to 11.5
MISTAKE: Not knowing the value of a tailor
FIX: Finding a tailor I trust
One of the most underutilized tricks in the fashion game is a good tailor. Almost every time I compliment a co-worker on how amazing a piece looks on her, she mentions the fact that she got it tailored to her body. It instantly adds polish and makes an ensemble feel more put together.
Available in sizes 34 to 42.
Available in sizes 14 to 22.
MISTAKE: Wearing jeans too often
FIX: Memorizing go-to non-denim outfits
When in doubt, it’s my habit to always fall back on a pair of jeans, but as years have gone on, I’ve challenged myself to be more adventurous. An easy way to mix things up is to switch one item in a uniform. Go for trousers or a midi skirt instead of denim to mix things up.
Available in sizes 14 to 18.
Available in sizes 2 to 8.
MISTAKE: Not investing for the long haul
FIX: Pick and choose forever pieces
For the first few years of employment, it can be hard to find the budget to invest in your wardrobe. But, I wish I’d started being more selective earlier. Picking investment pieces that will last more than a season without falling to pieces actually saves money in the long run.
Available in sizes 0 to 12.
Available in size XL.
MISTAKE: Not getting creative enough with what I already own
FIX: Putting together more adventurous outfits the night before
While I admire the women who can mix and match their wardrobe with abandon, I find I’m usually in too much of a rush to style things in unexpected ways. Over time, I’ve tried to put outfits together the night before, and it’s helped give me time to be more creative with my wardrobe.
Available in sizes XS to XXL.
Available in sizes XS to 3X.
I hope that what I’ve learned from my mistakes inspires your weekday dressing too.