I was thrilled to do a returning guest appearance on the Podcast My Crazy Office, hosted by my good friends, Kathi Elster and Katherine Crowley, workplace relationship experts and bestselling authors of the books Working With You is Killing MeWorking With You Isn’t Working for Me, and Mean Girls at Work.  We got into a lively discussion about dressing for success, workplace image, and building a new work wardrobe on a budget. Unfortunately, since the publication of this post, it seems the playback of it is no longer available.

But in this post, I decided to illustrate and expand on the one question that I was asked during the show; about a woman on a budget who is looking to change careers to one that has a more corporate dress code and wants to build a wardrobe that will work for interviewing, networking and putting herself out there.  In addition to the advice I gave, I shared an example of a small work wardrobe capsule that this woman could consider and, below, I am going to illustrate it and also explain how a small work wardrobe capsule can be built upon.

Wardrobe Capsule for Work: How to Build One and Expand On It

Let’s start with the basics

wardrobe capsule

First, I suggested this woman start with three tailored pieces.  My suggestion was a dress suit and/or a pair of tailored pants.  I made the suggestion of the dress because it gives her something to wear should she want a dressier look without a topper piece.  All it would take are a few accessories to jazz the dress up.  The jacket can then be used with the dress and the bottoms of tailored pants and/or a skirt.

The pieces above are from Reiss (link to jacket, pants and dress), however, if this woman is on a much smaller budget, the good news is that you can find tailored pieces this basic at just about every price point.  Ann Taylor, for example, offers similar pieces at a fraction of the cost.

Two tops and one cardigan

wardrobe capsule

The next suggestion I made is that this woman purchase two tops and one cardigan.  There are a few key points to consider when purchasing these pieces.  First, the tops and cardigans need to work with the pieces from the suit.  The good news is this shouldn’t be that hard.  Considering most suits are navy, black, or grey this should be pretty simple because everything works with these colors.  The second important point to consider is the two tops and cardigan relate to each other.  They don’t have to be identical, but they should all work together so that they can be easily mixed and matched.

Looking at the three pieces above, I started with this easy blush top from Ann Taylor and then found this printed blouse from BodenThe cardigan was chosen because it works with both pieces, giving ultimate mix and matchability.


wardrobe capsule

The last component of this work wardrobe capsule is accessories.  Let’s start with shoes.  I chose these nude pumps because they are universal.  As this woman expands her wardrobe these shoes will work.  She will be able to wear them with black, grey, navy, brown, and any other colors she may add.  It’s an economical choice and will also add a level of sophistication to this woman’s looks, which will surely help her as she is networking, etc.  Next, I chose these navy flats to give her a second option.  For jewelry, I chose pieces that work with her capsule, the blush studs, a statement necklace, that picks up most of the colors of her capsule, along with a station necklace that is more universal and will work with this capsule and beyond.

Mixing and Matching outfits

With these wardrobe capsule pieces selected, here are some of the different looks she can put together.

wardrobe capsule

Here are just two options for the dress, but there could be more.  She could wear the dress on its own without a jacket or cardigan and also fill in the neckline with that statement bib.

wardrobe capsule

Next up, the pants with the blush top underneath them.  She has the option of wearing the look like a suit using the jacket or making it more casual with the cardigan.  She could also change up the outfits by using the long station necklace instead.

wardrobe capsule

Here again, using the blazer and the cardigan, I used the printed top underneath both pieces.  This is why it’s so crucial that the cardigan worked with both tops.

Expanding on the wardrobe capsule

Now it’s important to keep in mind, this wardrobe capsule was suggested as a start.  This woman will be networking, interviewing once or two times at one company.  She has more than enough to get started, especially considering she won’t be seeing the same people all the time.  In fact, if she is really on a budget, she could pull back on a few of the pieces and still be fine.

Yet, what happens when she gets the job and wants to add on?  Does she just abandon the capsule and start adding random pieces to her wardrobe?  Of course not.  This woman has a nice clean start, we want to keep it this way, no matter how big her wardrobe gets.  Let’s add a few pieces to the mix and see how we can build on this small capsule while still keeping it nice and tight.

wardrobe capsule

Let’s say this woman goes shopping and buys the following: she purchases this blush blazer to give her another tailored topper option, this cobalt top, because she wants more tops to layer, this light grey cardigan, berry colored skirt, burgundy pumps to give her a fresh shoe option, and a printed scarf.   At first glance, these choices seem sort of random, but they’re actually not.

wardrobe capsule

Using the new blush blazer, I styled it three ways, but I’m sure there are even more options.  First, I used it with the pants and top she already owns in her starter capsule and accessorized it with her nude pumps and blush earrings.  Next, I layered it over her sheath dress, added the new burgundy pumps and printed scarf.  In the last look, I created a color-blocked look with the cobalt top and finished the outfit with the statement necklace that was already in her wardrobe but happened to pick up the colors of the look perfectly, and navy flats.

wardrobe capsule

Next up, I used the grey cardigan to create these three new looks.

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And here, again, three totally new looks, using the cobalt blue top as the anchor piece.

As you expand out, the place where you can probably be the most expansive is with your tops.  You don’t wear more than one top at a time and, with tailored pieces in classic neutrals like black, brown, navy, and grey, you have great flexibility in the colors of your top.  Just make sure that your additional layering pieces, like your separate blazers and cardigans, work with the top colors you choose.  In terms of accessories, like jewelry, shoes, and scarves, try to choose colorful pieces that relate to the colors in your capsule while also considering basic jewelry pieces, like gold and silver, that are more universal.

Wardrobe Capsules are Ever Evolving

There is so much interest in creating wardrobe capsules these days, and I think it’s great.  However, what few people think about is that wardrobes are always in flux and ever-evolving.  You don’t just simply lock it in once and forget about it.  You need to think of a wardrobe capsule in more of a free-form manner and that it is never set for good.  As you bring in new, always be thinking about what you already own so that you always have a capsule in your wardrobe no matter what the new players are and what gets cast out.