13 June 2007

The campus to office jump

I am currently a college senior; I'll be in DC for the fall semester completing a 35 hour a week internship at an NGO and taking night classes. All myprevious office job experience has been on campus, in a polo shirt uniform. My mom wants me to wear my aunt's old high-waisted shoulder-padded suits from the late '80s!!

Basically, my question is, what is a list of bare minimum pieces I need to present myself well while working for free? I will be building this wardrobe from the ground up - if I have anything I can use in an office, it's about four skirts and four fitted polo shirts appropriate only for a business-casual Friday. I hope by the end of the summer making frappuccinos and lattes, I'll have about $1400.

If the NGO you'll be working for is like every other NGO I'm aware of in DC, suits and heels are not only not required but most likely implicitly (by management) and explicitly (by your co-workers) discouraged.

To alleviate the reasonable concern that as an analyst in a more formal work environment I might not know what is and isn't NGO-appropriate, I enlisted the sage advice of two friends of mine, both of whom work for non-profits in downtown DC and both of whom, while deeply committed to the causes of their respective organizations, still find the time - and somehow, the money - to be some of the most fashion-forward ladies in my social circle.

Together, the three of us came up with the following list of campus-to-office Fall essentials. What's fortunate for individuals like you who work according to a much more lenient office dress-code is that all of these pieces transition easily to post-work venues as well -- think of these items collectively as both your work-week and your weekend wardrobes. Since I don't know your body type, your skin tone or even the color/style of the four skirts you currently own, I won't link you to any specific items, but make sure to check out my tips - and my readers' tips in the comments section - for how to successfully shop on a budget before you hit the shops this September!

Your essentials:

1. A nice pair of jeans - opt for a dark rinse and avoid the low-rise -- that's too Jersey Shore for even an NGO

2. A tailored oxford shirt - my absolute favorite wardrobe component. Goes with jeans, black trousers, dressy shorts -- everything. Make sure to avoid the dreaded key-hole effect, however...

3. A mid-weight coat - in DC in the fall, you may not need a coat at all most days, but on the occasional burst of morning cool, you'll need a simple trench or something similar

4. A black skirt - depending on your body-type, I'd either go for a slim pencil or an A-line. Something simple and in a low maintenance fabric that doesn't require dry-cleaning or constant ironing.

5. A pair of comfortable, cute flats - for walking to and from work, the weekend jaunts up to Georgetown and anything and everything in between. I'd get a pair in a neutral color and another in a fun "you" color to punch up an all-black ensemble.

6. A pair of comfortable, cute heels - I don't care if you aren't a "heel girl," have a pair of simple round-toed pumps in either black or brown (or both) in your shoe rack just in case you decide to grow up and join the woman brigade one morning.

7. A jersey dress - this wrinkle-free, easy to wash dress is the "holy shit, I slept in and have to be at work in 15 minutes!" emergency option every working girl needs in her closet.

8. A pair of mid-rise black trousers - something to wear on the occasional day a VIP is visiting the office or you have to meet with a client off-site.

9. A few "you" blouses - pick an "of interest" sleeve, neckline and/or detailing of which you're fond and that flatter your upper body and find them in a blouse. Anthropologie is the perfect place to pick these up.

10. A few "you" transition tees - like above, pick an "of interest" aspect(s) and find it in a dressy tee.

11. A versatile jacket or blazer that you could wear with all or most of your skirts and trousers - instead of investing in a suit at this point, have a jacket or blazer at your disposal that can either dress up jeans or act in lieu of a suit jacket with your dressier pieces.

12. A seamless bra that fits properly, a few seamless thongs and Spanx's "Power Panties" - everything starts here.

If you shop the end-of-Summer sales at department stores (good for numbers 2, 4, 7, 8 & 12) and hit up deal-spots Zara (good for numbers 3, 4, 7 & 9), Urban Outfitters (good for numbers 1, 10 & 11) and Zappos (good for numbers 5 & 6), you should come in well under that $1,400 budget.


tom h said...

Jo what a pic on the PB site....you are truly gorgeous......everyone check it out...........

denver fan said...

what a great list! I agree on everything but the heels. come on, they're not *that* necessary, are they?

Noelle said...

As I've said before, I'm not a "heels girl". But I am wearing black, rounded peep toe heels today. In honor of Johanna. And my third date with a gorgeous guy, but that's another story =)

Johanna said...


I'm so flattered! And good luck with the date tonight! I know he'll love the peep toes, too -- they all do :-)


Anonymous said...

I'd also suggest asking HR (or the person you'd be working with) what the usual style of dress is. I'd rather have an intern ask than show up in something that's not appropriate.

Johanna said...


Very good point. My bad for not bringing that up in my post. I erred on the side of formal dress, but you're totally right -- ask first.

sarahsouth said...

johanna, your very well-crafted post inspired me to buy two jersey dresses today...

from target.com.

probably not what you were trying to encourage, but i've bought a couple other dresses from isaac mizrahi's line - while they are not high high quality fabric, the cuts are really cute and fun. i love them. i'll let you know how these two purchases turn out

Monica said...

Thank you so much for answering my question, I am already working on checking off things on the list. I will also definitely ask, when I find the internship, what is appropriate. I can always save things for weekends or when I teach English in France next year...