When I was in high school, I was well-known for being “the tutu girl” because I wore colorful tulle skirts and knee-high rainbow socks all the time. I didn’t want a professional wardrobe, and I swore that I wouldn’t own one. However, I wanted to be prepared for internships, college interviews, and job interviews, so I invested in professional clothing: blazers, button-down shirts, nice skirts.

What I learned is that a professional wardrobe — with some toning and careful consideration — doesn’t have to be boring and drab. There are subtle ways to make it your own.

The most important thing to consider is what kind of professional wardrobe you need — and want — to have. Some careers require a full suit-and-tie kind of look while others are “business casual,” allowing for more flexibility. Think about what kind of opportunities you want your professional wardrobe geared toward. Working in a nonprofit office? Paralegal assistant? Publishing associate? Chemist? All of that matters. Do your research on what kind of attire might be required and start there.

Once you’ve done your research and know the basics, try to find some unique ways to incorporate personal style into your outfits. If you need the wardrobe for a specific position, make sure to find out the company policy before making those changes. Some companies are fairly laid-back about personality being displayed in your outfit — such as boldly colored hair — while others are not.

There are a few easy ways to add some pizzazz and personal flair to a professional outfit:

Wear a statement accessory:

You can have a colorful pair of shoes, a large necklace, or even a sparkly headband. One of my style icons, Kait Kendall of Katiebowhead on Etsy, started her signature bow bracelets as a way to incorporate her style into her work outfits. The bracelets are cute accessories that don’t get in the way of professionalism, but they still allow you to dress your own way.

Photo by Alaina Leary
Use a pop of color:

If your outfit mainly consists of neutral colors, add one or two items that allow for a pop of color in the overall outfit — like a pair of red high heels or a dark green tie. This is a simple way to work personal preference into an outfit for the office, regardless of the type of clothing required. It even works with the most professional of outfits.

Revamp tried-and-true standards:

This is my favorite way to add just a tad of personal touch to a work outfit. For example, women often wear dresses and blazers in professional settings, but they don’t often wear tulle. I added a layer of tulle skirt underneath my dress and blazer to add just the tiniest bit of flair to a professional outfit without crossing any lines. Revamping standards can take a little bit of guesswork, and you may really need to read up on your company policy — especially if there are specific rules around open-toed footwear, sleeves, and so on. Once you find your own way to add something fun to an everyday business outfit, it makes getting dressed for the occasion more enjoyable.

If you’re going to be donning professional attire day-in and day-out for an internship, job, or volunteer work, it’s well worth it to read up on company standards so you can figure out ways to personalize your outfits.

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