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

Building a Work Wardrobe

Dear Sue: I just started a new job in management and am looking for ideas on building a new spring/summer wardrobe. Can you suggest some professional clothing basics and tips to creating a work wardrobe? 

- New manager

Sue Says: You already have taken the first step toward building a wardrobe because you are thinking about and planning what to buy. Many people purchase clothing impulsively and end up with a closet full of clothes; yet still have nothing to wear. 

Some people won't think twice about spending hundreds of dollars on a suit or dress for a special occasion such as a wedding or reunion, but would never consider spending the same amount on clothing to be worn to work. However, if you take the time to figure it out, you actually get more wear out of the clothes you wear to work than you do from an outfit you purchased for a special occasion. 

Investing in a wardrobe for work is a good investment in yourself and your future. People who look professional often feel more professional and are perceived more positively than those who do not.

The best approach to building a wardrobe is by purchasing your clothing strategically. Don't be tempted to buy the latest fashions; when it comes to building a wardrobe for work, classic styles are best. Classic clothing will last season after season, and will always be in style. You can add some pizzazz by accessorizing with jewelry, scarves, ties, shirts or blouses.

Utilize the help of sales people and keep in mind that many department stores offer free personal shopping services. By working with professional shoppers, you will save yourself time; have the benefit of an expert opinion, and someone to keep you abreast of sale items, etc.

Begin by purchasing a few foundational pieces (slacks, skirts, and jackets) in solid, neutral colors. A great pair of black or navy slacks can be worn several times a week, and by wearing them with a different jacket or shirt, you won't even feel as though you are wearing the same thing. 

While purchasing and wearing unique colors can be fun, you won't get as much wear out of that lime green suit as you will get out of the neutral colored one. Invest in quality garments, and buy the best you can afford. The fabric is one of the most important elements when determining the cost of a garment, and it 
will determine how well the fabric will wear, clean and feel. 

When considering a garment, do the "wrinkle" test -- grab some fabric in your hand and squeeze it into a ball, then let go. If it looks wrinkled, it is most likely going to look that way on you when you wear it. If the wrinkles fall out, it is a good indication that it will wear well without too much wrinkling.

Consider the following as you shop for clothes and build your wardrobe:

  • Have a plan when you shop, and know what you want and need before you enter a store. This will help you avoid impulsive buying.

  • Shop when you are feeling and looking good; it will be easier to determine what looks good on you.

  • Gain the support of a clerk to assist you both with shopping that day and keeping you informed of new pieces that come in and sales in the future.

  • Buy quality instead of quantity.

  • If you aren't sure you will wear something, you probably won't, so don't buy it.

  • Pay attention to details; does it hang nicely? Do the seams match? Does anything pull? Can you move freely?

  • Visit a tailor to ensure a proper and flattering fit.

  • Be patient. It takes time to compile a wardrobe. Build yours slowly and methodically, and you will have items you can wear and enjoy year after year.

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

Send Sue your questions by clicking here: Ask Sue
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