Kayla Heisler

To say that I was nervous before I began my first full-time job one month after graduating college would have been a huge understatement. While I stressed out about learning new names and protocols, there was one worry that eclipsed all others: what was I going to wear?

I knew I couldn’t show up to an office in the band tees and yoga pants that had become my unofficial college uniform, so I panicked the week before my first day and bought a bunch of ‘business lady clothes’ that were zero percent my personality. Ill-fitting button downs, bandage colored cardigans, drab high collared blouses--in my mind these were the kinds of clothes real adults wore! I wanted to be taken seriously, so I equated frumpiness with maturity.

About one year and many ugly outfits later, I wish I would have learned these lessons far sooner about how to transition my wardrobe from college kid to coworker--

1. Learn from Your Surroundings

Before you buy ANYTHING, look around you. After I started working, I noticed that there was a large range regarding how people dressed. Every workplace is different, so before you freak out and overhaul your wardrobe, see what works for your office. Are sandals acceptable in the summer or does everyone on your floor wear dress shoes year round? Are bare legs acceptable, or are pantyhose an unspoken requirement? Take your environment into consideration before you start shopping.

2. Embrace the Blazer

One item definitely worth investing in is a dark blazer. It has been said multiple times before before because it’s true: nothing can elevate an outfit more easily. Your college staples--sundress, plain T-shirt, linen trousers--instantly become office-ready by adding a blazer.

3. Use a Cheat Code

If you don’t know where to start, consider letting someone pick out clothes for you. There are multiple subscription services that allow you to fill out a style profile and have a stylist choose items that are delivered to your door.

Articulating what I wanted to another person also made me more aware of what I really want and don’t want. I use Stitch Fix, which lets me select specifically office looks.

4. Break out the Dark Denim

Solid-colored tailored dark jeans are comfortable and don’t feel too formal, but they can be dressed up. I wear the black high waisted Levi’s I bought during my junior year at least once a week, and I always feel great in them. The look is super cool, but it still totally works for the office.

5. Two Wrongs Make a Right

I assume most offices have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to exposed belly buttons, but that doesn’t mean you have to abandon your crop tops. Layer a crop top with sleeves over your favorite sleeveless dress for a look that is both office-suitable and stylish.

6. When in Doubt, Go Back to Black

When I have no clue what to wear, I know black will always look crisp, sleek, and timeless. I reach for all black when I need to look put together. A basic black v-neck tee tucked into a black midi skirt with a low black heel is instantly polished when paired together.

7. Pin Away

Take advantage of Pinterest--especially if you go the subscription service route. Why reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to? There are thousands of boards to match anything you can think of. A couple of my favorite are ‘office boho’ and ‘business rock chic.’ Whatever your style is, you’re bound to find looks that incorporate pieces you already own.


Kayla Heisler is an essayist and Pushcart Prize nominated poet. She is a contributing writer for Color My Bubble. Her work appears in New York's Best Emerging Poets anthology.