Something happens when you graduate from college, polish your resume and wow an interviewer with your vast knowledge of commodity futures. • If you're very lucky, you get the job. And then you have to go to work. Every day. In clothes. • Before now, your closet consisted of college T-shirts with burrito stains and bandage dresses for girls' night out. It's a problem. You can't enter a professional environment wearing the Corona flip-flips with the bottle opener on the sole. • Building a basic work wardrobe doesn't have to be too daunting or pricey. The Deal Divas, the Tampa Bay Times' team of roving bargain shoppers, went to International Plaza and Bay Street in Tampa to build professional wardrobes for a young, imaginary man and woman, spending no more than $300 on each person. The idea? You can take part (or all) of your first paycheck, invest in a handful of quality items and build on it from there. • Our final tally for the male wardrobe was $297.85, with tax. For the female, we spent $319.42. Yeah, we know, more than $300. But that's another important lesson in business. No one ever stays on budget.
We found a knee-length beige skirt with subtle black leather trim from Ann Taylor for $29.99. We wanted to add a pair of black or grey slacks, mid-width leg void of cutesy sparkles, frays or brushed whisker effects. You'll probably wear these every week, so leopard harem pants are not practical. Several of us Deal Divas have Gap's "perfect trouser." They're a little pricey at $59.95, but they're worth it. They come in sizes from petite to tall, and they machine wash. Invest!
Guys, consider getting two pair of pants in different neutrals. The Banana Republic khaki chinos were $59.50, and the basic black slacks from Dillard's were $29.99. Opt for flat-front pants if you can. Pleats have gone the way of acid wash.
You'll want to keep your tops classic at first. We went to H&M for a white blouse with a flattering tie detail at the waist for $24.95, and a burgundy blouse with a flutter sleeve for $14.95. Tops are fairly inexpensive, so this is something you can expand on after you pay the rent. Consider adding one bold dress to your repertoire, a go-to when you need a shot of confidence. We love the lime green belted shift dress by Antonio Melani, $66.78 at Dillard's. Take off the belt and reuse it for other looks.
The same rules apply for men. A white Kenneth Cole shirt from Dillard's, $23.99, will never be wrong. Now add a little color. We found a green dress shirt at Banana Republic for $18.99. It's solid and cheerful, but wont clash with your ties. You did get ties, right? Check out Zara's men's department for $10 tie sales. We picked two, one eggplant and one black and white. Don't go too skinny with ties, or you'll look you just got kicked out of a doo-wop cover band.
You know how you see someone in a blazer and are like, "That person doesn't look very smart, attractive or professional"? No. Because it doesn't happen. Even if you don't work in a suit environment, a jacket will buoy your office cred. Women's blazers these days come with interesting modern details, like a $34.95 H&M number with a feminine flare at the waist. Pair it with jeans on Friday for a look that will make people both fear you and want to be you.
Men's suits, the proper kind, can be terribly expensive. But you know what we say? Fake it 'til you make it. We found a blazer at H&M for $49.95 that pairs fine with the pants you already bought. If you want a look that's not so matchy-matchy, check out herringbone styles or neutrals with fun English professor patches on the elbows. You're going to get invited to so many martini bars.
All-purpose black heels are a must, closed-toe if you're in a more conservative office. Make sure the heel isn't so high that you can't dash those important documents around.
We found a simple pair at H&M for $24.95. We wanted to add a little color and couldn't resist these gorgeous teal flats from Aldo, $41.99. We are humans with souls, after all.
Men can survive on one pair of black shoes. Anything with a long, square toe box is a classic look, like a pair of Johnston & Murphy's from Dillard's, $69.99. And, seriously, dudes. Buy some black socks. Nothing says, "I'm new, don't give me any assignments," like your frumpy white gym socks. Black socks are $5.95 for several pair at H&M, but you could also just head to Target or Walmart. Your boss will be captivated by your PowerPoint predicting challenges of the new fiscal year, not your undergraduate ankles.
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8857. Follow the Deal Divas blog at tampabay.com/blogs/divas.