The journey from trendy high-waisted-shorts-cropped-top college student to professional, fashion forward go-getter can be difficult. Many twenty-somethings (including myself) have yet to fully stock their closet with a sufficient supply of office attire. It’s no surprise that we’re overwhelmed by how far we have to go and, not to mention, how deep into our pockets we’ll have to dig.

Throwing out the old and welcoming the new is a fun and exciting part of being able to say we’re officially adults. But as much as we’re ready to channel our inner Olivia Pope, the slow and steady transition shouldn’t manage to break our bank. Start off with these essentials and build your professional wardrobe as you go.

1. Basic black heels

Whether they’re pumps, sandals, or Mary Janes, every girl needs a pair of everyday, neutral high heels. You want a pair of heels that will look great with whatever you have on and will stand the test of timeso make sure you’re buying for quality and comfort, not just style. Steve Madden is the perfect brand for all of these features and is still incredibly affordable. (Check a Dillard’s sales rack!) If you can spare the change, buy a pair of nude ones as well.

2. High Waisted Slacks

Maybe this is just the trend-lover in me, but high waisted slacks are the perfect blend of sophistication, class, and style. A pair of off-white, black or gray slacks look great with just about any blouse or button-up. If you can’t afford a nice suit just yet, these are the next best thing.

3. Midi pencil skirt

The midi skirt is amazing because it can be utilized for both work and play. While the cropped top and midi skirt combination has become a fashion trend as of late, we mustn’t forget how great the midi pencil skirt has always looked with a fitted blazer or sheer blouse. Buy a solid neutral shade for the minimalist look, or even opt for a bold, yet subtle pattern. If you’re short like I am, it may be harder to pull off, but it’s a definite essential for taller professional women.

4. Basic blazer

If only we could have a blazer in every color. But to save money, let’s stick to a neutral shade. The reason why is because bold-colored blazers are overpowering and (unless you work in fashion) can be seen as a distraction in the workplaceif you’re wearing them all the time, anyway. Opt for white or black because they will go great with any bright-colored top to help neutralize all that color.

5. Crisp, white button-up shirt

A white button-up or button-down is an essential that every woman should own in her wardrobe. It’s professional, simple, and clean. It’s the shirt you’ll always find useful and will never go out of style.

6. Designer handbag

This is the one item you get to splurge on. As superficial as it sounds, studies show that designer brands heighten people’s perception of you. And not to mention, designer handbags are something every woman wants to own. Even if it’s just one, put some cash aside for a nice designer handbag. Maybe not as far out of our price range as a Céline or Louis Vuitton, but we can save up for a Michael Kors or Kate Spade. A neutral shade is ideal, but in this case, it’s perfectly fine to go bold. (Never fear a bold purse!) Opt for leather if you canit’ll last you longer.

 7. Gold or silver watch

It’s something about the old-fashioned way of telling time that shouts “I have class!” If you have any money left over after purchasing that rather pricey handbag, buy a watch that won’t turn crazy colors on you. My first quality watch was a DKNY and has lasted me more seasons than I ever imagined it would. The clearance section is your best friend, but if you simply can’t afford it, select a less expensive option instead.

8. Work dress


Nothing merges sexy and successful better than the work dress. It’s flattering yet conservative, and absolute fun to accessorize. Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, and LOFT are your destinations for this style of dress. Well, they’ll presumably be your destinations for everything. Don’t forget those pumps, that handbag, and a blazer to make this dress come alive!