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The Working Closet

with Susan Wagner

The Working Closet is your source for the best of what's hip and fresh in fashion and beauty. Susan Wagner keeps you up-to-date on trends and offers tips and tricks for making everything in your closet truly work for you.

You can also catch Susan over at Friday Playdate.

Here, wear this–with THIS!

Categories: basics, beyond 9 to 5, casual office


On Tuesday we talked about your Go-To pieces, which are the core of the basics wardrobe, but honestly, those pieces alone are not enough to get you through the week. You will need a few more things, unless laundry every single night sounds like fun to you. No? Then let’s see what else you need in your closet. (Your VERY CLEAN, VERY ORGANIZED closet. Ahem.)

Do you have any hints for building a basic wardrobe? It seems like I am always running out of things to wear. I have a 5 month old and I am back in most of my regular clothes, but it just seems like I never have anything to wear (this goes for work and casual clothes), or I am always wearing the same things. I work in a business casual environment so I am looking for stuff that transitions between work and casual wear.

Thanks for your help.


The idea behind a basics wardrobe is that everything you have will go with everything else, sort of like Garanimals for grownups. Because Sandra is trying to find balance between her work and her casual wardrobe, we’re going to think about ways she can have ONE wardrobe that works for the office and beyond.

Let’s start with work basics:

white blouse (a menswear-inspired shirt is the most versatile)

silk blouse in a beautiful color or lovely print

three sweaters (cardigan and some combination of crew, v-neck, and turtleneck)

tailored trousers in a neutral color (black, navy, gray, brown, taupe, khaki) and a dressy fabric (three-season wool, for example, or silk)

jeans in a dark wash, hemmed for whatever heel hight you wear most often

wool skirt in a neutral color OR a tweed

silk skirt in a subtle print

denim skirt in a dark wash, with a finished hem that hits just below the knee

day dress

structured wool jacket

tailored denim jacket in a dark wash (think about a denim blazer rather than a typical jacket)

dressy jacket in brocade or velvet

wool coat in a neutral color

trench again, in a neutral color

All of these pieces go together; all are work-appropriate. AND all of them can be dressed down for the weekend, or for days when Sandra is working from home.

Sandra’s office is business casual, which means that pieces like jeans or a denim skirt are appropriate, as long as she pairs them with more professional looking pieces (the jeans with the silk blouse, for example, or the denim skirt with a sweater and the wool jacket). She should NOT wear the denim jacket with the jeans or denim skirt, though; one denim piece can be professional and stylish but a full denim suit is not.

Everything on this list can move easily from work to weekend, although Sandra might want to add a few more casual pieces to her closet.

tees, long and short sleeved; Sandra needs at least one white tee and one other neutral color–after that she can add whatever pretty colors she likes

tanks–again, start with neutrals (I recommend black and white) and then go from there

cotton skirt

chinos or corduroys–or both!

capris, for summer

The idea here is that every piece on this list can be worn to the office OR to Gymboree; it just depends on how you mix and match them. The great thing about the casual office is that we are no longer required to have one wardrobe only for work and one only for weekend; the other side of that, though, is that you should NOT fall into the trap of coming home from work looking polished and spiffy and falling into your yoga pants and a tee from Senior Week in college (not that I have EVER done that, no way). Instead, reimagine both your casual and your work wardrobe, and wear all the pieces together. The end result is that you will have fewer clothes but more options. I promise.

Monday: Making a suit work for you. Yes, a SUIT! Because no matter how casual your office, you really need at least one suit in your closet.

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5 comments so far...

  • “Garanimals for grownups” - love that! Great advice. My closet contains a lot of what you mention, although I’m not so much for the silks and wools. I’m in a conservative profession (accounting), but in a less traditional industry (nonprofit, social services) in a mild climate (Southern CA), and I can’t stand having to take stuff to the cleaners, so I tend to go for my dressier-looking pieces in low-maintenance fabrics like cotton blends and knits. (I have helped Lands’ End stay in business for years, with side trips to Talbots.)

    So if my wardrobe is in such good shape with the basics, why do I still have nothing to wear? I’ve decided it’s more that there’s nothing I WANT to wear at times - boredom, or just wanting something new whether I need it or not.

    Florinda  |  June 1st, 2007 at 8:09 pm

  • I have a related question to what Florinda is saying - are there any simple (and inexpensive!) ways to funky up the basics? I seem to have the same issue - have the right basics (save for the crisp white shirt - have not yet found a great one, and have been looking for years:( - but often don’t feel like wearing them…

    Nataly  |  June 1st, 2007 at 8:30 pm

  • Nataly — I am just now, at 35, discovering the JOY of accessories. After years of having clothes I loved in various prints (and so never having anything that went together) I swung the other way, to tons of solids, and was feeling dull and boring. That’s when you get to pull out the FABULOUS shoes (animal print! croco!) or a pretty scarf or a big chunky piece of jewelry. I’m still working on it but I’m having fun finding ways to add interest to existing outfits with just a little something here or there.

    Mir  |  June 2nd, 2007 at 2:41 am

  • Thanks for the help Susan! I’ve been saying that about Garanimals for years. I also agree with Florinda, I think part of it was boredom. I was in extreme daycare-cost shock for a couple months there, so I haven’t bought anything in a while.

    Sandra K  |  June 2nd, 2007 at 5:25 pm

  • [...] am a firm believer in the Basics Wardrobe, in a closet full of pieces that transcend seasons and move easily from work to weekend. But how do [...]

    Work It, Mom! | A Community for Professional Moms  |  July 13th, 2007 at 8:55 am

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