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Ask Sue
A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem

Building a Business Wardrobe

Dear Sue: I am in desperate need of help to build a business wardrobe. I am a 42-year-old female, and have worked very little over the last 10 years as I have been a stay at home mom. Itís a typical story: my kids and husband have come first, and by the time I know it the funds are gone and the time is past.

I really do not know what is available in the stores. When I shop, I become overwhelmed. I donít know what to buy or what looks good, so I settle for something in a hurry and by the next season itís in the bag to be donated.

Iíve heard itís good to mix and match, but I donít know where to begin. Please help if you can.

- Helpless

Sue Says: Putting together a wardrobe can be overwhelming, and while some people enjoy the process, others despise it. You donít have to struggle or do it by yourself; utilize the expertise of wardrobe consultants and retail store clerks, whose services typically are complimentary. Shop in stores specializing in career fashions and seek out the department stores that have free personal shopping services available. You will find experts who know clothes, know how to help you build a wardrobe and can take much of the pressure off of you.

It may take time for you to determine your business style and what type of clothing you want to invest in, so start slowly and let your wardrobe evolve. I am not clear about whether you have a job or will be looking for one. Depending on your position and the standards of the company you work for, you will need to adjust what you wear to its culture. Business casual does not always translate into traditional casual wear. Every company has its own standards and expectations. Itís important to know what they are and to dress accordingly.

When you buy clothes, think basic and think mix and match. No one will notice if you wear the same pair of black pants repeatedly, but wear an unusual print, pattern or color a few times and people will remember. Trendy fashions come and go, but classic styles last for years. When shopping for work clothes, stay away from high fashion stores and seek out stores geared to working women. In addition, think quality vs. quantity. Quality constructed clothing in durable fabrics will last longer and wear better.

Look through magazines to help you identify what type of image you are drawn to. Do you like a more sophisticated look or are you drawn to a more casual, down to earth style? The more you are able to identify what you want, the easier it will be to spot items to purchase. Owning fewer pieces that you love and enjoy wearing is much more practical than having a big selection of clothes that arenít practical or comfortable.

Finally, donít overlook consignment and resale shops. Typically, you will find good quality clothing at great prices. Good luck!

Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She is author of the newly released 101 Tips for Graduates and How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at or visit her web site at

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