Upgrading Your Wardrobe

I’m giving a fair warning now that this post might be a leaning a bit towards the girly side. It’s only fair. Men have the standard button-down-and-pants business casual outfits from childhood through old age. Women have to wear completely different things that different ages.

“Going to work” during grad school meant either going to a staff meeting, event, or holding office hours, all of which took place relatively late at night and in the comfort of the building I lived in. If I knew I was having an “important” meeting (aka parents were coming in), I usually threw on something nicer, but most of my time in grad school was spent in leggings and sweaters. For my internship, I did have to dress nice and I also had a pre-grad school job that required me to dress nice too, but I was only at those a few days a week, meaning I had some appropriate-for-work clothes when I graduated, but certainly not enough to survive a five day work week. And since I’m poor financially challenged, I had to get creative!

Before Graduation

For the job search, and for the job search only, you are going to need a suit. My mom and I decided to go suit shopping during the winter. I had never bought a suit before and honestly, I didn’t know where to get one. My dad kept joking that Gap Kids doesn’t sell suits. Thanks. So my mom brought me around to her favorite stores and showed me all the suits that were on sale. But you know what? NOTHING fit right. That could be partially because I barely fit into adult sizes, but also I was at my MOM’S favorite stores trying on the suits that she normally buys and she is a number of years older than me that I am not allowed to disclose. The suits were made for older women. Eventually I went to J. Crew and even though it cost more, it fit me perfectly AND they will do alterations for FREE if you have their credit card (and you get 15% off when you sign up for their credit card and you get a student discount). I know that was kind of ramble-y, but the point is even though you aren’t wearing this suit a ton, you’re wearing it during one of life’s least comfortable moments – an interview. So at least make sure you feel comfortable and confident in your suit.

Assess What You Have

Go through your current closet. You probably have a lot of items that can do “double duty” – be worn for a more casual purpose or for work. Plain t-shirts are great. Accessorize with a scarf, cardigan, or statement necklace (but not all three) and you can wear it to work! If you are in a more casual office environment, go through your jeans looking for ones with darker washes and no holes. For shoes, Old Navy flip flops might not work anymore, but a dressier sandal hiding in the back of your closet might be perfect for summer.

Go Shopping

Once you know what you already have, make a list of what you need and get out there! If you live near outlets, GO THERE! Look online for coupons for both outlets and “regular” stores. Don’t forget your student ID – a lot of places offer student discounts. You also don’t need to go to the expensive stores. A lot of basics can be found at Target!

KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid

This rule applies to everything. I’m not saying you need to create an entirely all-black wardrobe, but make sure the things you buy match with things you already own or each other. Buy things that won’t go out of style in three months. If you really want a trendy piece, make sure you don’t spend too much money on it!


Once you have your nice, basic, simple wardrobe, dress it up with accessories! This is an area you can have fun with. Plenty of stores have cheap, fun accessories. I’m a fan of usually everything near H&M’s registers. Accessories are a great way to showcase your personality in your outfit choice. It might not be the best idea to go all out and wear…say…a hat similar to the one worn by Aretha Franklin at the inauguration, but funky necklaces or bracelets are great. One of my favorite things to add to an outfit is this long necklace with a patterned heart pendant.

Anybody out there have any fashion tips for newbies like myself? I’m trying to not spend as much on clothes right now, but I do have a birthday coming up…

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6 thoughts on “Upgrading Your Wardrobe

  1. twyf says:

    This is a great post — I can definitely relate to the wardrobe issues I faced when starting my Student Affairs internships. My first was in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, so that required a business casual look. It took a bit of planning to figure out how to wear what I had (with the addition of a few new items) to keep from wearing the same outfits every week. When I interned with our Student Programming office, it was a challenge, but in a different way. I could wear jeans, but since I’m only a couple of years older than the undergrad students I was supervising, I wanted to look more professional. Cardigans, a statement necklace, and a low wedge heel usually did the trick, but if I wanted something extra, I would throw on a blazer.

    Also, look to see if there’s a Charming Charlie’s anywhere near you. Their accessories are fantastic and they’re priced for the “financially challenged” grad student. 😀

    • Thanks for the advice! The nearest one is just out of my on call radius, so it looks like I’ll have to save that trip for another weekend…so since RAs are arriving soon, maybe November? Haha…

      Also, I have low wedge heels that I LOVE. I can’t believe I didn’t talk about shoes more in this entry.

  2. Laura Jacob says:

    On the topic of shoes…being in grad school at a large university means walking almost a half mile from my car to my building! Even my cutest flats give me blisters. Luckily, it’s still summer, and my office allows open toed shoes (read: sandals). But I’ve also been packing a pair of flip flops for the walks around campus! Any suggestions to help with this are much appreciated.

    As for clothes, I LOVE New York & Company. If you sign up for their email list, they send out emails several times a week with deals and notifications of upcoming sales. If you time it right, you can get amazing deals. I once got $180 worth of clothes for $60! They have great basics in lots of colors, so once I find something that works for me, I buy it in two or three colors! 🙂

    • I have a love/hate relationship with flats. What I’ve started doing to break them in is wear them around my apartment/office with thick socks to stretch them out a bit. I also have some cushion-y medical tape type stuff that i use on my heels for shoes that are known to give me blisters. I definitely did NOT follow my own advice recently and have been wearing flip flops while trying to avoid the Big Boss Lady.

  3. […] codes can also vary. I have to be dressed like a real person during office hours, but once the clock hits five, I can run home and change into jeans. […]

  4. […] in the summer, I did a post about upgrading your wardrobe. It was not season-specific, but touched on some basic points. I think I did okay for summer. I […]

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