+ Building a Wardrobe, + Career Style, + Work Wednesdays

Work Wednesdays: Decoding the Mystery

Every week, I receive an e-mail from a woman in her 20s/30s who is thinking critically about fashion for the first time.  They often tell me that they never really thought about what they wear until they entered the working world and realized that presentation is a significant part of professionalism.  But dressing well isn’t a mystery.  In fact, it can be decoded into a simple equation.

9c302628a8ec6e8e2ca9bf9345a2ff0cThis is very similar to the train of thought that I use when getting dressed.  I find a piece that’s event appropriate and that I want to wear, and I work from there.  Want to see the formula in action?


Skirt: H&M Pencil Skirt ($25)

Top, Shirt: Tribal Print Sleeveless Blouse ($39) Jacket: Zara Lined Blazers ($79) Shoes: Sole Society Jenn Pump ($70) Earrings: Maia Stud Earrings ($83) Bag: J.Crew Sophie Crossbody ($228)

Bottom, Shirt: Otte NY Sylvia Top ($289) Scarf: J.Crew Paisley Diamond Scarf ($55) Bag: French Connection Zip Code Satchel ($88) Shoes: VS Pointed-Toe Flat ($68) Ring: Katie Diamond Ring ($144)

The top outfit is a good mix of neutrals and brights.  The jacket brings in an impactful color, and the other items keep it simple.  If you’re concerned that the bright pink would be too much, try my favorite color combination and go with a dark navy jacket.

The bottom outfit is a business casual or semi-professional outfit.  I used the scarf as the primary accent mixing the grey, tan and black tones to create a complete outfit.  I also went with flat shoes for a more relaxed, but still structured, look.

If you choose to wear a dress as your basic piece, then your completing piece (a belt, a scarf, a blazer) is next and the accessories follow after.

The formula is the foundation of a well-composed outfit.  So next time you don’t know what to wear, instead of being overwhelmed looking at everything in your closet, choose one piece and build from there.



  1. Joules says:

    Brilliant formula! This is pretty much what I do in my head every morning when getting ready too.

    Style by Joules

    April 2, 2014/Reply
  2. DontBlameTheKids says:

    Accessories is where I fail in a major way. I wear the same earrings every day, and have no idea how to make jewelry work. Shoes are the only thing that save me. But you’re right that it is an essential part of pulling the outfit together. Nice breakdown!

    April 2, 2014/Reply
    • K says:

      I used to be that way too, and never prioritized spending money on jewelry. So, I had nothing in my jewelry box that I liked. Since then, I’ve started spending more on bright, cool pieces. I like costume jewelry, so I buy Kate Spade (on sale) and Bauble Bar, etc. Now I have a good collection and can always find something in there that matches my outfit. It really makes my outfits look better. So you really just have to decide to start doing it!


      April 2, 2014/Reply
    • Addison says:

      I was the same way. I had no idea how to wear scarves, had limited jewelry and few belts. I just started paying attention to stylish women I saw on the street and pictures in magazines. Then I slowly started buying new accessories as I saw pieces that I needed. Now it’s second nature to wear outfits instead of just clothes. I follow pretty much the same formula Belle posted above But I do it without thinking.

      April 2, 2014/Reply
    • Pancakes says:

      I struggle with this too, but I ended up spending an evening just trying on some outfits and seeing what accessories I already had would work. In doing so, I realized what my jewelry box was missing and what pieces I wish I had, so I’m in the process of filling those holes.

      Not sure if you’re a pinterest user, but I will sometimes pin jewelry looks that I really like (or would work with outfits I have) just so I can refer to them again later when I’m in a rut.

      April 2, 2014/Reply
  3. Amber says:

    This is really good advice. I’ve got a definite casual uniform, and in high school and college I wore my vintage clothes all the time, but I’ve struggled with a non-boring professional wardrobe. I need to expand my completer piece beyond cardigans, and I’ve been making more of an effort to actually wear my jewelry collection. It’s slow going, but I think this is a great formula. Almost as great as the 2/3 tights rule, which I initially rejected, until I realized “yep, she’s right, it does look better.”

    April 2, 2014/Reply
  4. barchbo says:

    Have you ever purchased anything from Dorothy Perkins? So much looks cute online, but the prices have me cautious about quality. Thanks!

    April 2, 2014/Reply
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