conservative office style Aug 3, 2016

Working Girl Wardrobe Essentials

working woman fashion blogger

I’ve gotten tons of questions this spring and summer about how best to create that capsule collection of workwear must-haves, so today, I’m sharing an updated version of my Working Girl Wardrobe Essentials.  Whether you’re a recent graduate new to the workforce, interviewing for a new job, or eager to up your style game at work to land (or keep!) a recent promotion, these are the staple items every working girl should have in her closet…


1.  Classic dark suit with mix-and-match pieces (Brooks Brothers and J. Crew also have great options)

2.  Non-iron button front shirt

3.  Cardigan Sweater

4.  Crisp navy blazer

5.  Classic trench (affordable alternative here)

6.  Timeless black wool coat

7.  Sleek tote bag

8.  Classic pumps (same style, lower heel option here)

9.  Pointed-toe flats (great affordable option here, additional options here)

10. Simple gold knot or pearl earrings

pencil skirt and blazer for work

I’ve owned a lot of suits, and this Theory number continues to reign supreme in my closet as my very favorite classic, dark suit.  Of course, when you start making the big bucks you can invest in higher-end suits like this D&G suit, this Armani suit, or this St. John suit.  However, if we’re talking working girl “starter” wardrobe, Theory’s suiting is a much more reasonable price point, is great quality, wears like iron and comes in classic, timeless cuts.  As mentioned above, I also really like the quality suiting options at J. Crew and Brooks Brothers, for that basic, staple starter suit that every working girl should own.

For those of you who work in creative or casual environments that don’t have to wear something this business formal everyday, I still think it’s really important to have at least one dark suit in your closet.  You never know when you may suddenly get tapped to make a client presentation, attend a more formal conference, or be brought to a higher-level meeting.  You want to be armed and ready for those unexpected moments!

theory suit navy blazer and skirt


TRENCH: Burberry  |  JACKET: Theory  |  PENCIL SKIRT: Theory  |  SHIRT: Brooks Brothers  |  SHOES: SJP Collection  |  BAG: Henri Bendel  |  NECKLACE: Dogeared  |  EARRINGS: Majorica  |  LIPS: Nars (Bansar)


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24 Responses to Working Girl Wardrobe Essentials

  1. Natali says:

    Oh my, if somebody knows how to rock workwear, it’s you!

  2. Jessica says:

    Blue blazers are always worth their weight in gold!

  3. Sophie says:

    Great pieces, love your trench!
    I post every Monday and Thursday, I would love it if you checked out my blog!

  4. Kathy says:

    Before I retired I had several suits from Jones New York and Evan Piccone…..very nice labels at the time. Are they still a good brand or has their quality deteriorated? I haven’t purchased anything from them for a while but their prices back then were just under the Brooks Brothers pricing.

  5. Rach says:

    You are the queen of workwear! I love this capsule and a new trench is on top of my list!

  6. Carson Chalmers says:

    Any shoe suggestions for NYC gals working in financial services? Chanel flats are only so comfortable when walking to and from work everyday

  7. Love your workwear staples! The trench and black wool coat are definitely timeless pieces.

  8. Thuy says:

    I discovered SJP shoes through you and I hope to upgrade my black and nude pumps to SJPs in the near future. I’m in between jobs now though so it doesn’t really make sense at this time. My current black ones do me well. My nude ones, though, look bang up. I also love J. Crew and Brooks Brothers for suiting. Haven’t tried Theory but I’ll look into them now 🙂 Thanks!

  9. Sarah says:

    Do you think cropped pants are professional for meetings in finance?… Still trying to figure out what’s appropriate 🙂 and I first started with brooks brothers shirts but I felt like their button ups were always puffy no matter what. With a skirt or pants. I haven’t found one that’s worked yet. Do you have that problem with their button downs? I’ve had the tailored ones too

    • Kathy says:

      I would never try to speak for Mary but the financial industry trends toward more conservative so in the opinion of this older retired woman, I’d leave the cropped pants for off duty. Mary has show a pair or two of culottes which are full enough to pass for a midi-skirt. But beyond that, I suspect your employer would prefer you leave the crops at home….especially if you are going to or presenting at a meeting. You never know what the other attendees’ dress codes are if they are from outside your firm and you want to make a good impression on them.

    • Mary Orton says:

      Hi Sarah, It really varies across companies and geographies, so completely depends on your particular company’s culture. I worked in finance for several years in NYC (a very business formal environment) and a nice pants suit with a cropped leg (like the Theory one I featured in the working girl essentials in this post) was completely appropriate as long as they’re worn formally (i.e. with heels and a nice blouse). However, in my opinion, the pants need to clearly be formal, wool suit pants, and not just casual cropped pants that you try to dress up by wearing heels and a blazer with them.

      It’s also important to note that NYC is more fashion-forward in general, so I can’t say across the board that if you work in finance in Chicago, for example, a cropped suit pant would be completely acceptable. I also know that this is a more recent evolution, and that if you work with much older women or people that are super “old school” they may frown upon it. The best thing to do is to look at what your female superiors are wearing, and/or ask the advice of a female superior whether she finds them appropriate. If you’re not sure, always err on the more conservative side, with a full-length pant. : )

  10. Liv says:

    Great essentials. Thanks for sharing!


  11. sarah says:

    Great selection, love your outfit 🙂

  12. Flo says:

    So glad that you are back to basics! Truly essential knowledge to refresh or educate today’s working woman! Thank you Mary! This post will be shared in my office!!!

  13. LaVisioneer says:

    I own the London Fog trench in black. I get so many compliments on it! Plus, they make a petite version which is perfect, as the waist on regular trench coats is too low for me. It’s a little warm though; anything above 60F it’s a little too heavy to wear for me.

  14. Christophe says:

    Whaou 😲
    Classy perfect outfit ! I love it

  15. Monika says:

    Gorgeous trench! If I could I think I would have all the trenches in the world, haha 🙂


  16. Kelly says:

    This trench is gorgeous and I love your list!

    xx Kelly
    Sparkles and Shoes

  17. Lewan says:

    Wow nice!

  18. Ventiuno says:

    Blue blazers are always worth their weight in gold!

  19. Olesya says:

    Love this suit

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