Wall-length built-in wardrobe with men’s and women’s clothes and shoes

How to Create a Fresh Professional Wardrobe for Internships and First Jobs

Planning for success at a new job or internship includes creating a personal style that helps you feel the part. Here's how to build a professional wardrobe!

Finding your style as a young professional can be difficult and a little intimidating—because odds are your college style was more laidback most of the time. If the jobs you held as a high school or undergraduate student involved food service or general labor, your wardrobe may be full of T-shirts with logos and comfortable shoes for the Saturday brunch rush, while the rest of your wardrobe is probably packed with clothes that you love but wouldn’t be appropriate for an interview, internship, or professional career. Save your slinky backless dress for a night out dancing and keep your favorite baggy sweatshirt in the drawer for a lazy Saturday. Let’s lay out the basics for your new professional wardrobe that will work for any office situation!

Professional wardrobe basics

Building a professional wardrobe from the bottom up can seem daunting, but if you stick to the basics to start, you can learn what you like and don’t like, what holds up in the wash, and what feels both flattering and comfortable during an eight-hour workday. Searching through an online clothing boutique is an easy and hassle-free way to stock up on high-quality clothes that will fit your new lifestyle. Look for pieces in neutral colors to start until you can figure out the general style of other people you work with. You can either emulate their style or move a little bit outside the box with brighter colors and textures. Start with a few shirts in the colors of your choice, but always buy at least one white and one black, as these are the easiest to match with.

Now what about bottoms? For pants, ankle length looks professional and elegant with Oxfords, heels, or flats. If you’re more of a skirt person, buy yourself at least one shorter skirt (but no shorter than knee length!) and one longer one for colder weather. Also, consider that air conditioning usually makes offices much colder than outside. Plan to purchase sweaters or blazers to match your outfits so you don’t become the office popsicle. Many people keep one or two sweaters or blazers exclusively at the office for whenever they need them.

Related: 7 Things to Do on the First Day of a New Job

Pay close attention to shoes

Shoes are such an important part of any outfit, professional or not. The right pair of shoes can make you feel like you’re on top of the world, and the wrong ones can ruin your day—maybe even your whole week if you end up with blisters. Finding shoes that give you comfort and confidence while matching your new professional vibe can provide you the boost you need to do your best in a new role.

Now, the eternal question—to heel or not to heel? As Carrie Bradshaw says, “I’m not afraid of heights—have you seen my shoes?!” While heels may not be the most practical choice, they can certainly make picking out an outfit for work seem like an exciting prospect. If you aren’t inclined to wear heels, you can still find shoes that make you feel like a corporate rockstar even while you’re doing paperwork on a random Tuesday.

Again, consider temperature, especially in the summer when you might find yourself wanting to wear sandals or slingbacks on a hot day. If you’re prone to cold feet, the office air conditioning is going to turn them into ice cubes in no time. Stick to pumps or loafers with no-show socks to keep your feet a little warmer. And again, try neutral colors for your first few pairs; you can branch out into some statement shoes after you gauge the vibe of your new workplace.

Professional attire for entrepreneurs

If your plans after graduation don’t involve working for someone else, you’ll still need to find a professional style that makes you feel great and ensures that others will take you seriously as an entrepreneur. While this doesn’t necessarily mean you need to bop around town in a suit intimidating people, you should find a personal business style that fits what you do and keeps you comfortable as well. If you’re working freelance jobs, you can opt for sleek lines and structured tops, perhaps with well-tailored chinos or skirts. If you’re starting your own business or running a restaurant or bakery, use the traditional uniforms of those industries to inspire your professional workwear. Structured black and white pieces, perhaps mixed with some subtle prints and simple accessories, can pay homage to the origins of your industry without forcing you into a pair of boxy chef pants.

Related: How to Ace the First 6 Months of Your First Postgrad Job

Remember: Your new company wants you because of your talent, not because you’re a spiffy dresser. If you don’t have the budget right now for a brand-new professional wardrobe, it won’t affect your job performance or the way your coworkers view you. Find a thrift store and use that to get by for the first few months. Just find pieces that make you feel good in your body and your profession. No matter what you wear, you deserve to feel great at your job. Find a wardrobe that boosts your confidence and helps you express yourself in your new workplace. Wear your favorite colors, break in your new shoes before your first day, and be the brightest you can be!

Find more helpful advice to start your new job on the right foot in our Internships and Careers section.  

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About Tess DiNapoli

Tess DiNapoli

Tess DiNapoli is an artist, freelance writer, and content strategist. She has a passion for yoga and often writes about health and wellness but also enjoys covering the fashion industry and world of fitness.


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