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9 Steps for Building a Top Woman’s Work Wardrobe Capsule

September 14, 2020
A work wardrobe capsule makes it easy to look your professional best. (Source: Shutterstock / NYS)

A work wardrobe capsule makes it easy to look your professional best. (Source: Shutterstock / NYS)

If you’ve been working from home for a while, you might be reading this in your jammies. We get that — who wants to dress up to sit at the kitchen table work station? Still, some people are returning to work and others are working from home but with more time on video calls. Whatever your work status, a top work wardrobe capsule (or “work uniform”) makes looking your professional best easy, affordable, and time-efficient. No idea where to start? No problem; we’ve got the tips you need to start building that capsule today — without sacrificing your personal style.

1: Identify your unique style or theme.

We all have pieces that make us feel our confident best. Maybe it’s a particular color, a silhouette, or a signature accessory. Identify what makes you “you” and use that as inspiration while you build your work wardrobe capsule. The idea here is not to replace your style but to weave it into your “uniform” in a disciplined way.

2: Get rid of anything in your work wardrobe you haven’t worn in six months.

We all have too much that we don't wear. (Source: Shutterstock / Pencil case)

We all have too much that we don’t wear. (Source: Shutterstock / Pencil case)

Sure, make allowances for seasonal pieces, but otherwise, set aside non-desirables to be given away. Part of the value of a work wardrobe capsule is the feeling of liberation that comes with choosing from among a smaller number of pieces. Just think: You don’t feel overwhelmed with choices and you can still feel great about what you’re putting on.


3: Start with a great jacket.

If you prefer a longer jacket style, go for a textured neutral or subtle print. (Source: Shutterstock / Look Studio)

If you prefer a longer jacket style, go for a textured neutral or subtle print. (Source: Shutterstock / Look Studio)

Whether you’re sitting on a Zoom call in your sweats or standing in front of 100 people, a well-fitted jacket ups your professional look significantly. Use it over everything from pants and skirts at the office to jeans for a weekend cocktail hour.

As every jacket has a shape and a fabric, go classic with one feature and fun/personal with the other. For example, try a classic, fitted blazer style but in an unconventional color – maybe a dark red print or lime green linen. Not the blazer type? Try something slightly more unconventional, like a mandarin collar, and pair it with a more traditional color palette. If a longer jacket resonates, go for mid-thigh length in a richly textured neutral or subtle print. You can even belt it for a more tailored look.

4: Invest in a fitted pair of pants.

To anchor that work wardrobe capsule, find a pair of pants that really fits – then get two pair if you can. Pants should be flattering and versatile, while also fitting comfortably around your waist without a belt. For most of us, a relaxed or slightly tapered leg looks best. A wide leg-styled pair of pants in a lighter fabric offers comfort, elegance, and movement. You can wear your pants with a button-down, T-shirt, or silk chemise and jacket on top. Steer clear of more extreme designs – significantly cropped or tight-fitting pants can look ill-fitting, dated, and unprofessional. Go for neutral colors here: black, charcoal, navy, grey, fawn, or even a pearl pink.

5: Add a white button-down shirt.

The white button-down can be as unique as you are. (Source: Shutterstock / Anfisa Che)

The white button-down can be as unique as you are. (Source: Shutterstock / Anfisa Che)

A quality white button-down brings professionalism and style to any work outfit and doesn’t have to look like your father’s favorite Oxford. Make sure it’s collared and has at least a few buttons; after that, it’s all you. Go traditional with a tailored fit in a cotton blend, or veer more feminine with a cinched waist or tunic style. For summer, try a sleeveless linen version. For added color, add a loosely-tied scarf or favorite pendant necklace.


6: Bring on the wrap dress.

The wrap dress is a design powerhouse that looks good on everyone (Source: iStock / Bogdan Perfiliev)

The wrap dress is a design powerhouse that looks good on everyone. (Source: iStock / Bogdan Perfiliev)

Diane Von is considered a masterpiece for a reason. It’s stylish, versatile, comfortable, and looks great on everybody. Often, the wrap design – which cinches at the waist with a string tie – is enough in itself to draw the eye. No need to overdo it with additional accessories. Pair with heels, flats, or boots and you’re good to go.

7: Keep it cool with a trench coat.

A trench coat can add that punch of color to an otherwise neutral-toned look. (Source: Shutterstock / Dybrovskiy)

A trench coat can add that punch of color to an otherwise neutral-toned look. (Source: Shutterstock / Dybrovskiy)

A veritable workhorse for your work wardrobe capsule, the trench is timeless, attractive, and oh-so-useful. Worn over pants, dresses, or suits, it just works. Keep the styling classic, though if you fancy, go for color. Jewel tones can look great and work through seasonal transitions. Pastels add a nice touch for your spring and summer looks. A word of caution, though: If you’re topping a longer skirt or dress, make sure the trench is at least as long. Short over long equals tacky.

8: Step out in the right shoes.

Shoes can be a great way to easily change the spirit of an outfit, so we’re all for including an additional pair or two beyond the basics. Start by building up your capsule collection around a great pair of boots, pumps, and flats. And we can’t say it enough — go for quality materials, design, and craftsmanship. Better shoes are generally more comfortable, last longer, and just look better.

Stick with neutral tones to start. Boots can be ankle-length or knee-height; flat or with a relatively low (1 to 1-1/2-inch) heel. Pumps should also have a relatively low heel, no more than 2 inches high. In order to make your shoes a little more versatile, try two-toned variations, like black and beige or gray and rust.


9: Suit up, if you desire.

Including a suit in your work wardrobe capsule is optional. But if you’re inclined, make sure the fit is top-notch. Go for a midweight fabric (stretch wool or twill, for example) and lean toward classic, tailored styles. If you can, consider a professional suit fitting.

Finally, it’s important to note that all the pieces here work together in almost any combination. Try a few variations, see what appeals, and rely on these for your go-to work uniform. Feel free to add a scarf, different shoe, or unique lip color to make the look your own.

For inspiration on where to shop for your work wardrobe capsule, check out the great brands featured on our Women’s Apparel page.