I hope your week went better than mine. Last week our dishwasher started leaking and an hour later, I realized that the water had started seeping into the room downstairs, which had been converted into the closet of my dreams. What used to look like a small boutique now has no ceiling, the carpet is drenched in two inches of water, and all of my clothes are wet and ruined. Talk about a nightmare!
This, of course, brings new meaning to the phrase “I’ve got nothing to wear.” And with the economy looking the way it is, it will take quite some time to buy and restore an entire new wardrobe.
In the meantime, there are some clear-cut essentials that I—and most women—can’t live without. These Top 10 Wardrobe Musts will be my first priority as I assemble a new wardrobe. They’re timeless, tasteful, versatile, and absolutely vital to any professional woman. Read on and see if you’re missing anything from this list!
1. A Pencil or A-Line Skirt in Black or Charcoal Gray. This is a sophisticated basic that can be paired with a sharp button-down and blazer, or a pretty silk blouse. Just add pumps and pantyhose and you’re ready to go! While I like the sleek lines of a nicely fitted pencil skirt, an A-line style may better suit women with larger bottom halves.
2. A Sheath Dress. A simple, form-fitted sheath dress is a gorgeous option for work, and can be jazzed up with accessories if you’ve got an after-work rendezvous. I recommend having at least one sheath in a solid black or dark neutral to offer maximum versatility; you can pair it with a colorful bag or bangles if you like. Ann Taylor is a great place to look.
3. A Great Suit. No businesswoman worth her salt is without a fabulous suit. Navy, black, or charcoal gray are your best options, color-wise, and a lightweight wool will help see you through the various seasons. If money’s tight, select a suit that can easily be broken down and worn other ways—for instance, you can pair the suit pants with a nice blouse on its own, or throw the blazer over a sheath. You can’t go wrong with basic black! Single-breasted blazers are great, and it’s worth paying extra for alterations to guarantee a perfect fit. Double-breasted blazers don’t work for everyone, so keep looking if you’re not convinced. Hint: Check out Lord & Taylor or Banana Republic for nice, reasonably priced styles.
4. Black Trousers. Black trousers are basically the “jeans” of the working woman’s wardrobe. They go with everything, and when you’ve found the right fit, they look terrific. The key is to find something classic. It’s fine to get trendier styles later on (such as wide-legged, cigarette-style, etc.), but you must have at least one pair of versatile, straight-leg trousers. Have them dry-cleaned to avoid wear and tear and snags.
5. A Button-Down Blouse. It doesn’t have to be white (although the white button-down offers countless options—just ask Carolina Herrera), but it does have to be good-quality and properly cut. That means no gaps between the buttons, no wrinkles, and no tell-tale bra straps showing. Grab the iron or pay for dry-cleaning, wear a seamless bra so lines aren’t visible, and check out Rebecca & Drew if you’re busty and need a custom-fit blouse that isn’t too tight. Pale hues and/or stripes are classic and flexible, and can be paired with trousers, a pencil skirt, or under a suit.
6. An Elegant Bag. Your work may not require you to carry a briefcase, but you should still have one perfectly polished and tasteful handbag or case that you bring to the office. Black or brown high-quality leather is always a sophisticated choice, or you can experiment with crocodile, provided it’s subtle and impeccably done (think Hermes, not Crocodile Dundee). The bag should also be roomy enough to carry your work files and other essentials (Filofax, iPhone, etc.) comfortably. A sleek tote or satchel is your best bet. Look for charming details like bold gold hardware to add a dash of personality, but avoid anything too cutesy—funky monograms, Juicy Couture hearts and crowns, that sort of thing. And don’t worry about carrying anything too luxurious or “status”—if your company’s going through lay-offs, it might be bad taste to show off that new Chanel 2.55.
7. Classic Pumps. The workplace isn’t the right setting for your six-inch stilettos, ultra-trendy wedge heels, or anything you’d wear out to a nightclub. Nor is it the place for your scuffed-up sneakers or flip-flops. Invest in a nice pair of closed-toe black pumps with a modest heel (about two inches). The extra height will give you a little power boost, while still being comfortable enough to survive a day on your feet.
8. Tasteful Trench. Audrey Hepburn, eat your heart out. Nothing ruins a fantastic power suit like throwing a bulky parka or nylon windbreaker over it when you run out to grab lunch or meet new clients. In winter, consider a sophisticated wrap coat in a dark neutral. For spring and fall, a classic trench adds the perfect finish to your look. Go for tan (like the famous Burberry version), black, gray, or chocolate brown. You’ll instantly feel glamorous and polished. (See the photo of Julia Roberts in Duplicity for inspiration.)
9. A Cashmere Cardigan. Cashmere should be on every woman’s wish list, but it’s also particularly handy for the office. Not only is it timeless and luxurious, but it’s also great to have for in-between weather. We all know that the office thermometer can be fickle—and changed every 5 minutes according to your co-workers’ preferences—so it’s smart to have something stylish to slip on if you feel chilly. You can also pair your cardigan for a silk blouse or button-down in lieu of a blazer.
10. Stockings. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Pantyhose, unless you have the tanned, blemish-free legs of a supermodel, are a must in the workplace. Be sure to stock up!