Now that you know where to shop for co-op, the next step is figuring what to buy when you get to the stores. The best (and cheapest) way to build your work-wear wardrobe is to stock up on basics, then have statement pieces or fun accents on hand, ready to spice up an outfit. Regardless of your dress code, you can never go wrong by sticking to the basics. No matter what co-op cycle you’re on, each article of clothing you wear is as important as the next.
1. Blazers: It may sound a little cliché to say, but you should own a blazer or two if you’re working in an office setting. A black blazer is a staple and it’s essential to every working gal’s wardrobe. If you’re bored with plain black, dabble lightly in the color family. If you’re on the fence about bold, bright colors, pastels are always an option. Still too risky? Then you can never go wrong with a classic navy or a cool gray. Once that gets old, consider new styles. Slightly oversized blazers work like cardigans, boyfriend blazers take away from you feeling like it’s to tight, and peplum blazers add a girly flare if other blazers are too straight forward.
2. Cardigans/Sweaters: If they aren’t already, cardigans need to become your best friends. They are the perfect staple item because of their versatility. You can easily dress up or down any outfit with a cardigan of any style, color, length, or knit. They can be worn on any co-op cycle; some are thin enough to cover your shoulders in the spring/summer and others are thick enough to keep the chill away in the fall/winter. Pullover sweaters are also very versatile. You can wear them on their own during spring/summer, or you can layer them over button ups for extra warmth in the fall/winter months, easily creating two outfits for the price of one.
3. Button Ups/Blouses: Button ups can be paired with literally anything and they can be dressed up or down! Like sweaters, you can wear them alone or layered. If you choose to wear it alone, consider wearing one with a light pattern, making it the statement piece of your outfit. Wear airy fabrics (silk, chiffon, etc.) during spring/summer cycle. If it’s a basic, solid color button up, add a statement necklace or a scarf. For layering, the possibilities are endless under blazers, cardigans, pullover sweaters and sweater dress or tucked into skirts, slacks and whatever else you can think of. You can have fun with blouses by choosing lightly patterned ones, and you can wear then the same way you’d wear a button up.
4. Dresses: In the spring/summer months, dresses of appropriate length and fit are great alternatives to pants. Basic skater dresses can be paired with any of the pieces mentioned above. For a bit more security, shift dresses are modest enough to be worn in the office. Midi dresses are also an option as they fall well past your knees.
5. Pencil Skirts: A pencil skirt and a crisp button up is basically a uniform for the office. While it looks great, it may not be the most comfortable outfit for a full workday. You can still achieve that same professional and uniformed look without the claustrophobic pairing. Try a light pullover sweater with the pencil skirt, or even a patterned blouse. For the girly girls add a peplum top to the ensemble. Since pencil skirt don’t usually come far above the knee, play around with different lengths; try one that goes past your knees, one that isn’t extremely fitted, or one that has a tiny slit in the back or front.
6. Slacks/Dress Pants: Slacks and dress pants are easy to wear but can easily go wrong if incorrect in size, length, and style. You don’t want pants that are too tight that you can barely walk or you’re afraid to sit down because they may rip or a button may pop loose. They should be long enough to cover your ankles, but short enough that you aren’t tripping over them all day. The style is completely up to your body type and your shoes. Straight leg slacks probably work best for most flats and wide leg slacks pair better with a shoe with a slight lift.
7. Coat/Jacket: In Philly, the winters can be harsh. If your co-op is during the fall/winter cycle and you’re traveling to work on public transportation, great outerwear is crucial. Coats are supposed to keep you warm, but they don’t have to be bulky and unflattering. If you plan on wearing your coat every day, make sure you pick a flattering cut that will suit your body type. After you choose a style, pick a color that will match most or all of your outfits. Since you won’t wear your coat around the office, you can have a little fun with your selection.
8. Flats: The most sensible shoes for work are definitely flats, especially if your commute to work includes taking public transportation. If your co-op is a desk job and you only have to walk to and from the bathroom, then, by all means, wear heels if you would like. However, if you’re running (or walking) around the office or the city all day, you don’t want to worry about tripping and falling. Get a variation of flats so you can play around with them each day; loafers, oxfords, ballerina and pointed toe are all options.
9. Ankle boots: If you’re stuck somewhere in between flats and heels, turn to ankle boots. Especially in fall/winter when you probably don’t want to wear flats outside, ankle boots are perfect for work outfits. Ankle boots can pair with dresses, skirts, and boot-cut pants. It’s perfectly fine to have a million pairs of black shoes.
10. Purse/Tote: A good quality bag is definitely an essential. You don’t have to buy one that’s crazy expensive, just make sure it’s durable enough to make it through your hectic work schedule. A purse or tote in a neutral color will work the best with all your outfits, so you don’t have to worry about switching it out everyday. Darker neutrals are best to avoid awkward stains that you may attract on your way to work. Although you want a bag that’s big enough to hold all of your essentials, you don’t need a mini suitcase on your arm. On that note, try not to fill the bag up with everything imaginable, only the necessities!
11. Scarves/Belts: Many Her Campus Drexel staff members who have been on co-op have agreed that scarves are one of their favorite accessories to wear in the office. If you aren’t allowed much flexibility in your outfit, you can always pick up the slack with scarves. Also, they keep you warm under the blasting AC in the office. Another way to liven up an oufit is through belts. You can belt tops, sweaters, and dresses. This is also a good way to include mixed media. A leather belt around your pencil skirt gives the uniformed look more edge and fun.
12. Statement Jewelry: This one is another given. Statement jewelry is the best way to take your outfit from boring to interesting. If you’re not into big necklaces, layering dainty necklaces gives the same effect. You can play around by mixing metals in your ring and bracelets. However, you don’t need a cocktail ring on each finger and it shouldn’t sound like you’re playing a tambourine every time you move your arm.
A great deal of time and effort doesn’t have to be put into your outfits for work; it should only appear so. If you don’t know how to begin building your wardrobe, start simple with a couple basics. Then, you can only go up from there. Continue to build by adding in more statement pieces. Soon enough, you’ll have an adequate collection of options and getting dressed will be one less thing you have to worry about!