Dear CC: I recently graduated from Northwestern University and have been offered my first professional job at a prestigious law firm in New York City. I have never lived in or been to the Big Apple. Can you tell me how I can begin to build my first work wardrobe for this high-profile firm?
First things first: the suit. Every professional woman needs a traditional suit, despite the casual looks that have prevailed recently. Most traditional industries, such as law firms and finance corporations, prefer women to wear skirt suits. We say, wear what fits your own personal style and comfort. You can look good in anything as long as you are comfortable in it.
Take the suit. Good-quality designers at moderate prices are Emporio Armani ($300-$400 range), Benetton ($150-$250 range) and Club Monaco ($200-$300 range). Add two or three button-down shirts of a good fit and quality. Mix and match colors, but be sure to buy one in white - it looks good with anything.
Next, add a pair of pants as a coordinate for your skirt suit. Choose a neutral gray, black or camel (whichever looks best with your suit jacket). Finally, invest in a good leather tote bag, black leather pumps and walking shoes (don't wear your sneakers to work!). Choose a good, comfortable pair of loafers or ballet flats in leather.
Then the rule of thumb is to add separates to build around your base suit: a good matching sweater or sweater set, more shirts, another skirt, shoes and pants. When you are ready, add another great suit in another color and continue to build. Before you know it, you'll have a great work and casual wardrobe that looks professional and well put together.