How To Create A Capsule Wardrobe For Work (When There Is A Strict Dress Code)

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To start, I’m going to give you a quick outline of the dress code requirements at my job:

  • Black bottoms at all times
  • Skirts must be no shorter than one inch above the knee
  • Black top (any non-black shirt must be covered by a black cardigan or jacket)
  • No patterns of any sort
  • No tank tops
  • Nothing sheer or see-through
  • Closed-toed black shoes (no sneakers)

As you can see, this severely limits the options when it comes to dressing for work. On the bright side, it’s very easy to throw something on in the morning without spending hours planning your ensemble for the day.

Here is a basic capsule I composed for work, which follows all of the guidelines above.

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Tops

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Now, when the only place you can incorporate color into your outfit is the top, you better make sure you grab as many colored tops as you can! Of course, they must all be work appropriate and have no patterns or extreme embellishments. As you can see, all of the colored tops I have are tanks, because I am required to layer another black piece of clothing over them.

The Dark Blue V-Neck is from H&M. The layered Chiffon Top is from Chicwish.com. The White Top with the flounced hem is also from H&M. I get a huge chunk of my work wardrobe from them, simply because of the variety they offer and the modernity of their clothes. The Cobalt Top is originally from Rebecca Taylor, but it is no longer in stock. Cobalt is huge right now, so finding other tanks in this color should not be a challenge. I found a similar item at Forever 21.

The Aqua Tank Top was originally posted on Amazon, but that is another shade that is not difficult to find. Check out this aqua Forever 21 tank. The gray top is available for purchase here. The Pink Collared tank can be purchased here. Last, but not least, the red top is available here on Shein.com.

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Of course, you won’t want to wear a cardigan or jacket every single day at work (especially in hot climates, like where I live). Grab a few black shirts made from varying fabrics and with different sleeve lengths.

Cardigans and Jackets

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Cardigans and jackets will become your very best friend. In an environment where you can only wear color when covered by a jacket, these are the greatest thing to have in your closet. There are four types of cover-ups that I recommend:

  1. THE OPEN KNIT CARDIGAN. Cozy, loose-fitting, and can be worn over absolutely anything and everything. The one shown in the picture above is from Acne Studios. There are millions of more reasonable options floating around. This one from Target is only $27.99.
  2. THE DRAPED CARDIGAN. I love this option for days where it’s warmer out, but I’m still required to wear a cover over my tank top. It’s thin, flowy, and once again, so comfortable. The option shown in the picture above is from Michael Kors. Again, there are more affordable options everywhere you look. I actually got my draped cardigans from Forever 21 and TJ Maxx.
  3. CLASSIC BUTTON CARDIGAN. A little more formal and put together than it’s unbuttoned counterparts, a classic button cardigan pairs with everything and will never go out of style I love this option from Zara.
  4. CLEAN-CUT BLAZER. Another business staple, a blazer is the easiest way to pull an outfit together. The one shown above is from Topshop and is now sold out. There is a similar blazer on ASOS. Here is another option from Topshop.

BOTTOMS

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Having a collection of maxi skirts, pencil skirts, and midi skirts is the best way to make it through the work week. Personally, I avoid wearing pants as much as possible, as I prefer to wear skirts and dresses. Having plenty different styles on hand ensures that I have endless styling potential.

Just a note: I have a ton of pencil skirts from Halogen (found at Nordstrom). They have some wonderful options that are all work appropriate. Just like tops, even if everything has to be in the same shade of black, its nice to have variety in texture and in details [x|x|x].

I can never find a pair of trousers I like enough, but I would recommend adding a pair of professional work pants to your capsule wardrobe. The pants shown in the above image are a bit more casual, but they would still be acceptable for my work environment.

Dresses

Dresses for work are also notoriously difficult to find. It’s very hard to find a black dress (no pattern at all) that is not either skin-tight or too short. I have a variety of knee-length, midi, and maxi dresses to get me through the week.

The dress shown in the picture above is this one, which is actually not dress code appropriate. It’s too short! This dress from Target is one I wear to work on a regular basis. I would also recommend these two maxi dresses from Forever 21 [x|x].

Shoes

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Stock up on as many pairs of black flats as you can find! The pointed-toe option and the classic bow option are two great choices to build your wardrobe from.

I would recommend one clean-cut pair of boots for your collection. Thankfully, the Chelsea Boot is in style right now and there are countless options in stores and online.

Lastly, I would suggest having at least one pair of comfortable, tasteful heels. Even if you don’t wear them very often, they’re a great essential item to have on hand for those days you need to look more dressed up. I am particularly fond of this Lipsy London Court Shoe.

Now What Else?

Don’t forget your accessories! It’s one of the few ways for you to add flair, however minimal it may be, to your outfits. A bold statement necklace can make your entire look go from drab to fab.

Building off of the basic suggestions in this post, I’m certain you can create a unique and functional work wardrobe, no matter how strict the dress code guidelines are.

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