For the longest time, I didn’t enjoy getting dressed for work. It felt repetitive because I was mostly sticking to neutrals, and I was wearing the same boring, overly-formal combos. I work in an office, but the dress code is business casual, which allows for more personality, color, and texture.
This fall, I decided to turn things around. After going through my closet, I kept two blue blazers (one fitted, one slightly oversized), a cream-colored dress, three simple blouses, one blue and one grey long-sleeved tee. Then, I went shopping with a plan and a budget. I bought five items and spent just under $300. Although I only got a few pieces, they really pull the rest of my closet together and give me options to choose from. And while they might not seem like bargain items, I’ve already wasted too much money on clothes to repeat the same mistakes. As for the thrifted pieces, I got them at a high-end vintage store, and I think they are totally worth the price.
Here’s what I bought:
1. A thrifted, colorful, fitted blazer ($55)
It’s mostly dark grey with some cream flower pattern, teal/green leaves, and large, muster-tone roses. Too colorful for you? It’s loud and fabulous! It’s actually very office appropriate, fits me well, and goes with all the tops, the grey dress, and the two skirts. I see myself having it on hand and wearing it to meetings week after week.
2. A grey wrap dress ($55)
This was also thrifted, and I am glad I bought it for two reasons: I love how it looks with my blazers, plus I am considering taking it to the tailor and having it made in other colors as well. The cut is extremely flattering, and I can tie a bow in the front or in the back of the dress, depending on the look that I am going for.
3. A short, teal suede skirt ($45)
This is so fun and soft and literally goes with any top and blazer, but really hits it off with the colorful blazer and my old oversized blue one. This one shows a little bit of leg, but that’s fine. The subtle bell silhouette works with both flats and boots and has a hidden elastic waist, which means no zippers and a bigger lunch.
4. A black faux leather a-line skirt ($45)
I got this hoping it will last me a long, long time. I’ve seen it on women of all ages, and I’ve promised myself I’ll take good care of it. It is really feminine, classy, and gives those Dior-new-look vibes. It looks fantastic with the fitted blazers and all of my tops and blouses, and I can’t go wrong wearing it to meetings and conferences.
5. A burnt orange wrap dress ($90)
This is definitely the most expensive item out of the lot, but it literally lights up my face. The dress has a flattering neckline and fun bell sleeves, with some dark blue flowers scattered around. The contrast with the blue blazer is just gorgeous. It could also work well with a black blazer, which I intend to get down the line.
I followed these strategies to stick to my overall budget:
I selected a color palette.
If I was going to do color, I knew that I had to choose a palette. I went with black, white, cream and grey as my base colors, and added blue, teal, burnt orange and mustard as accent colors. All of these work well together, and knowing which colors to look for made shopping so much easier. I really wanted some patterns and prints, and I deliberately got the two very colorful items that don’t go together, because they do go with everything else. The idea was to keep things interesting and fun.
I went for the silhouette that suits me best.
To be perfectly honest, I only wear skirts and dresses to work. I am pear-shaped and don’t feel comfortable in work pants or skirts or dresses that are too tight — I prefer A-line dresses and skirts because they accentuate my waist and balance out my bottom half. So I shopped accordingly. Although I tend to stick to knee-length skirts and fitted blazers, a few inches above the knee is tolerated, especially with a slightly oversized blazer.
I looked for particular items and fabrics.
I knew that my wardrobe desperately lacked skirts, and I intended to get some that matched the blazers and tops that I own. The same went for dresses; I wanted them to match my blazers. When I first started looking, I was scared of mismatching fabrics, but I got more relaxed as I realized that this is the perfect time to mix something shiny with something soft, like a light, silk-like material with something heavy like suede or faux leather.
I was mindful of the versatility, maintenance, and the office thermostat.
Since my overall list of items is very limited — 3 blazers, 2 skirts, 3 dresses, 3 blouses, and 2 tees — I had to make sure that I can go as long as possible without repeating outfits or doing laundry. I could probably get away with washing only those two tees to make it to two weeks. Since my office stays quite warm during the fall and winter months, I avoided getting sweaters. Temperature-wise, I am okay in a blazer, or even going without one.
I found the right balance between online shopping, thrifting, and retail.
Online shopping is an excellent way to find exactly what you want. I could have spent days at the mall looking for a teal suede skirt, but I found it online in three clicks. I honestly ordered about ten skirts, but kept only the two. Thrifting was an adventure in itself, and both of my thrifted items are from brands that retail for much more than what I paid for them. Lastly, I saw the orange and blue wrap dress in a store window, and since it matched what I was looking for, I went inside and tried it on. Real old-school shopping.
My closet is ready and set for fall.
All in all, I am so glad that I made an effort to change things up. Fall is just around the corner, and I finally have cute clothes to wear to work. My wardrobe is planned out, fully functional, and ready to go. This is as stress-free as I have ever been about my fall wardrobe, and I feel good knowing that I didn’t spend a fortune.
Annika Fordell is a writer, a mom and a lawyer living in Europe. She enjoys catching up on her favorite TV shows, swimming and having a cookie with her coffee.
Image via Unsplash