How To Build a Professional Wardrobe: From College to Corporate

How To Build a Professional Wardrobe: From College to Corporate

by Robin Barrett Wilson March 03, 2017 0 Comments

Each quarter I have a new intern from the Textiles program at The University of RI.  My most recent intern, Nicole, is graduating this May and she is so excited about the next chapter in her life.  A topic that continues to come up; her wardrobe.  What to wear on interviews?  How to ditch the college wardrobe? How to look professional in the office without losing her personal style? With a limited budget how does she build a professional wardrobe that will fuel her confidence but not tap all her savings?  All great questions that I think about even now, 25 years into my career.

This week’s blog are Nicole’s tips on how she is building her professional wardrobe and saying good-bye to the college favorites (crop tops anyone).  I think she is well on her way to setting the fashion world on fire! 


Graduation is around the corner for me and I am about to start a new chapter in my life. The whole idea of change is frightening. A series of questions start to fill my mind about what the future holds. As I begin the interviewing process I find I am stressed about the question, “What do I wear?” To help ease my nerves, I’ve put together my personal fashion handbook for a 9 to 5 job. I believe these 5 items are essential for every professional women’s wardrobe.

 college to corporate essentials

The Black Pump

If you’re like me I find there is a ton of pressure that comes with picking the right shoe for an outfit. Now that I am moving into the corporate world it’s time for me to rethink my college casual look. For me I believe that the black pump will be the perfect shoe for my new corporate look. Black is timeless and seen as the most professional color, even though it isn’t “really” a color.

When I think about purchasing my first pair of pumps for work the movie Sex and the City comes to mind. I believe, Carrie Bradshaw, the ultimate fashionista character has inspired the way women dress. She was seen as a fashion icon by the way she set trends and carried herself. She was always dressed to the nines from head to toe and matched her extravagant outfits with heels. She was always seen wearing many different heels (her fetish) but the one that always caught my eye were the stilettos. Alas, I am not sure I can pull off the sky-high heels Carrie Bradshaw wears.  

Personally, heel size is one of the first things I think about when picking a pair of heels. Kitten heels tend to be my go to shoe for formal events (yes, I know they are about 1 1/2 inches.)  I’m pretty specific about heel size because I haven’t mastered my catwalk in a super high heel. Not being able to walk in heels, to me, looks very sloppy and unprofessional. Considering heels also vary in structure there are several styles to choose from;  pointed, rounded, opened and closed toe, it can get overwhelming. For me, I like to wear a pointy, closed toe black pump. Pointy shoes elongate your legs, which make you look taller and leaner. This classic silhouette will pair with any outfit year-round which makes it the perfect foundation to my corporate wardrobe.

Black Pumps

The Black Tuxedo Blazer

For some help on what to acquire for my new professional world, I reached out to my sister, who has been in her corporate job for 5 years.  The best advice she gave me, “layering is your best friend” when dressing for a corporate work setting. When I began to shop for my corporate wardrobe I started to question myself on appropriateness, image and overall comfort. I’m always super cold or hot throughout the day. With that in mind, thinking back to the advice my sister gave me, having a black tuxedo blazer in my wardrobe is a MUST. A blazer ads a chic, polished look to every outfit. This classic piece will meet my need to stay appropriately dressed while being able to adjust what I am wearing to my environment.  

Black Tuxedo Blazer

The Pencil Skirt

With various skirt styles available, I am opting for a pencil skirt.  I think it will be the the most flattering and versatile for my needs. This classic style works for all shapes and sizes and when paired with the right blouse is always appropriate for the corporate world. Be sure to watch the fit.  You don’t want a garment that is too tight or too loose.  Finding the right fit will ensure you look professional but are still modern in your wardrobe choices. I prefer my skirt hits just above the knee, making it a perfect length for the work environment. Finding a material that can be worn year-round is my choice, by adding tights in the fall/winter or a thinner stocking in the warmer months will stretch my investment.  If you are like me and LOVE following current trends you can experiment with colors or patterns to add a more fashion-forward twist.

Pencil Skirt

The Perfect Dress

When I think of  “the perfect dress”, I think of Chanel and the Little Black Dress.  This fashion icon, arguably the most influential throughout fashion history, introduced the LBD in 1926. Today the little black dress is a staple for every women’s wardrobe.    

My twist on the LBD is a go-to garment that will transition easily from a day at the office to a work-related events.  Since my aesthetics vary, finding the perfect corporate dress is not easy.  I tend to turn to the Internet first when trying to find inspiration for a certain look.  However, I didn’t have any luck there (I know, surprising).  Of course, when I’m not looking for something, that is when I find inspiration. It was a recent trip to Disney (yes, at 21, I still go to Disney) I was in the lobby of a luxury hotel when I stumbled upon a business event.  I was inspired by the women in the lobby dressed for their conference. 

Just seeing the different silhouettes, colors and patterns on women of all shapes and sizes helped me visualize what I should be looking for in my “perfect” dress. Regrettably, I am still searching for my perfect LDB. 

 Little Black Dress


The Modern Suit

At some point in your life you probably had to wear a uniform. Whether for private school or a part-time job (hostess, waitress, fast food restaurant) we’ve all been there.  I remember my first job, I had to wear this horrible red polo shirt that was unisex (right! I know, it says it all).  It was so unflattering and the material was itchy… the worst.

When I first thought about how corporate women dress I envisioned that horrible “pant suit”. I know that many years ago companies had stricter dress codes and pant suits were the norm.  I am so happy to hear that this has changed to better fit our world today. However, there are positions (banking, law, finance) that still require you to wear a “pantsuit”. Today, the suit, can be a thought-out mixing and matching of garments that still reflect a professional look. My idea of a suit is a collaboration of my style and keeping to the corporate dress code. Pairing black cigarette pants, a blouse and a chic blazer gives me the ability to mix and match colors and looks. My advice when it comes to today’s suit, go for separates that can work together.  This will give you tons of options and you can show off your personal style. 


The Modern Suit

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Blog by Nicole Martino

Nicole is a senior at URI with a major in Textiles.  She will be graduating in May with hopes of landing the perfect job at a Retailer or Design House in NYC.



Sets Developed on Polyvore

Robin Barrett Wilson


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