The Budget Babe | Affordable Fashion & Style Blog

Ask BB: What to Wear in a Conservative Office

I'm going to be starting as an intern at a law firm soon and I was wondering if you had any outfit ideas, or clothing pieces to recommend for me. They have a very strict dress code, no open-toed shoes, and no bare legs etc. I'm also really looking for a purse that is big enough to carry files and notebooks, but still looks classic and stylish (preferably black). —Erica K.

Your new best friends for dressing in a strict corporate environment will be Banana Republic, Ann Taylor and J. Crew - outlets, that is! My best advice would be to hit up an outlet mall during a holiday weekend when the discounts are steepest. Hmm, kinda like this July 4th weekend! I know that Premium Outlets will be having extra discounts on top of the usual 25 - 65% everyday prices. Mind you, outlets aren't what they used to be and many stores carry clothes especially made for said outlet stores but you can still find some great deals on the pieces you're going to need for work.

On that note, here are 5 conservative work wardrobe essentials to look out for:

1. The Pantsuit
If you're going to be working in a law office, you'll need a few good suits. I like the sleek modern look of this suit in smoked oyster gray by Ann Taylor ($198 plus 40% off). When picking a suit, look for impeccable fit and a quality fabric that won't wrinkle. All-season wool blends work well year-round.

2. The Skirt Suit
Another essential for the corporate world is the skirt suit. The aim is to look polished and professional, which this rich eggplant number would certainly do (minus the sultry Victoria's Secret pout and stance). And yes, you'll have to wear pantyhose, just look to match your skintone and avoid white and suntan hose at all costs.

Victoria's Secret at ShopStyle

3. The Sheath
A great sheath dress is worth the investment if you're working in a conservative business environment. Layer it with a blazer or cardigan to cover bare shoulders. This stylish number is by Tahari, another fab brand that you can often find for less at Marshalls and T.J. Maxx.

T Tahari at ShopStyle

4. The Closed-Toe Pump
Depending on the office, closed-toe pumps are a must. Sandals, flats and even peep-toes are often off-limits or just inappropriate. Luckily, there are plenty of amazing options, like these two-tone heels from Ivanka Trump's new accessories line. Kinda makes me wish I worked in an office!

Donald Trump at ShopStyle

5. The Work Bag
You're going to be working long, hard hours, so your bag should work hard, too. At least, that is my justification for suggesting this beautiful masterpiece by DKNY ($295). It's made from gorgeous leather, measures in at 18 inches high (perfect for holding your important files), features minimalist hardware and bears no distracting logos. If this is out of your budget (it's out of mine!) look for a similar shape at an off-price retailers like T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, Nordstrom Rack, etc.

DKNY at ShopStyle

Do you work in an office with a strict dress code? What did I miss? xoBB

Great post--I really like all of these suggestions!

However, I'm a teacher and I work in a less-formal atmosphere. I would LOVE to see a post about teacher-wear. Especially for warmer weather!

#1 Whitney (Homepage) on 2011-06-30 18:56 (Reply)
Having been in the exact same situation the last two summers (interning at law firms), New York & Co became one of my best friends! It's a little hit and miss there, but they have great skirt suits at pretty affordable prices - especially since they always have sales and coupons floating around.

Banana and J Crew are also great - if you can get stuff on sale. I'll have to check out Ann Taylor next!
#2 Yesenia on 2011-06-30 19:29 (Reply)
Love this post! Other stores I've found to be great for work/formal outfits are the Loft, Macy's and even Kohls. They have pieces that can really brighten up drab suits. :-)
#3 J on 2011-06-30 21:41 (Reply)
I'd like to add that hosiery is very important! Bare legs can be a huge no-no, so a variety of tights is a must. Subtle patterns are okay, too, but nothing that draws too much attention.
#4 rae (Homepage) on 2011-06-30 23:29 (Reply)
I need to wear suits for my job. I love Tahari and Calvin Klein suits, but they are totally out of my price range at their normal prices. However, I've found great deals on suits at Ann Taylor Loft, Boscov's (recently got two Calvin Klein suits on clearance for $50 each and a Tahari suit marked down to $70), Macy's (look at clearance), Ross (I've found Nine West suits for $50 there), Marshalls, and TJ Maxx. As for hosiery and shoes, I'd take your cues from the other women in the office. Start with hosiery that matches your skintone and a pair of closed toe pumps.
#5 Laura on 2011-07-01 00:36 (Reply)
What, no flats? How lame! I think you picked out some perfect picks BB. Those shoes are so cute it makes me wish I had a formal Friday at my office haha
#6 MizzJ (Homepage) on 2011-07-01 03:45 (Reply)
I am a lobbyist and have to dress professionally everyday. Thank goodness I can away with bare legs. One alternative to suits that may work would be dress pants, blouse and a cardigan. Also always accessorize, it really makes you look pulled together. And believe it or not, whenever I wear jewelry from Forever 21 I get complements, just be conservative in what you purchase.
#7 Stephanie on 2011-07-01 11:06 (Reply)
I also think a solid variety of blouses would be great and that will be the cheapest thing you purchase. TJ Maxx is my favorite. I will be starting as an attorney in August (studying for the bar now is noooo fun, BTW!), but I noticed that while I was interning I hated wearing suits with basic tops because I felt like a boy. You can always have a little fun with the blouses, and dont be afraid of using some bright colors. Thankfully, the world is changing, and women are having more of an impact, a couple of nice colorful blouses and some off the charts accessories will definitely keep you happy in those dull suits. Plus the added benefit, of just having to take your jacket off and being completely happy hour ready is nothing to shy over. Hope this helps!!
#8 Miriam on 2011-07-01 14:52 (Reply)
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