How To Build Your "Success Wardrobe"

There’s a difference between knowing that we should “dress for success” and actually internalizing the how-to knowledge to cultivate a “success wardrobe”. Here to give practical advice and tips about style-making for the workplace is my guest and independent style consultant,  Juliette Kim.

How to Build Your Success Wardrobe

By Juliette Kim

We all remember in school that one girl who had that “it” factor.  She knew how to wear clothes a certain way to make herself look like that best versions of herself.  When everyone was just wearing a plain t-shirt, she took that same t-shirt and tied a knot on one side and made it look cool and different.  This is what we call style — making even the most mundane outfit personal, fun, and uniquely you.  Style is important because it is an outer and visible extension of you.  If you have good style, it helps portray confidence and self-awareness, both of which people are usually drawn to.

In the professional arena, it’s still possible to have style without tying your suit jacket into a knot.  High-end, well-made staples mixed with more casual pieces and accessories can equal style in the workplace.  Many times, suit pants, blazers, and blouses tend to all look the same after a while.  But, these are the foundations of a professional closet that you can build from.  If you put a little bit of thought into it, you don’t have to break the bank to look “put together” or stylish.

There are three main things to consider when thinking about style in the professional setting: 

1) the fit of your clothes

2) knowing how to dress appropriately for your corporate culture

3) accessorizing

When you look at a stylish person in the work place, one of the top reasons they look polished and put together is the fit of their clothes.  Wearing a suit jacket that is too baggy or pants that are too loose or shapeless gives off the message that you are sloppy.  Wearing a blouse that is too tight or low-cut portrays a different kind of inappropriate message.  It is worth investing in a couple of nice pair of pants, skirts, and jackets from designers such as Theory, Elie Tahari, Calvin Klein, St. John, and Hugo Boss.  Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, and J. Crew, are more affordable options as well.  With these off-the-rack options, make sure you have a good tailor that you trust that can help you make changes to your pieces so that they fit your body well.  You would be surprised at how even just half an inch on the sleeve of a jacket can make a big difference.

Knowing what to wear and when to wear certain pieces portrays experience and awareness.  A sense that someone “gets it” and has innate knowledge gives people the impression that she is sophisticated.  Sophistication is also a huge component of style.  The first thing to consider when dressing for your job is your corporate culture.  Is your workplace business, business-casual, or casual?  An analyst at Goldman Sachs will dress much differently from a buyer at Barneys, for example.  You want to make sure you dress appropriately for your office.  Many people express concerns about looking younger than they are – “too” young — and how that may have hurt their career.

You’ve heard the phrase, “dress for the job you want, not for the job you have.”  Think about the women that are more senior to you.  How do they dress?  How do they carry themselves?  At the end of the day, as long as you look put together, how you handle yourself carries far more weight than what you are wearing.

Now for the fun part!  Depending on your workplace and the dress code (business, business-casual, or casual), where you can take the most liberties is in accessorizing and how you style your outfit.  Accessories are key when wanting to spice up the same outfit.  You can wear the same black/grey/navy jacket and pant/skirt combination and have multiple different looks depending on the jewelry and top that you wear under your jacket.  Having 3-4 necklaces with different styles can give an outfit a whole different look.  A long pendant, a colorful statement necklace, and dainty layering necklaces in different lengths are some examples of different style pieces.

Bold statement jewelry, bright colors, and patterns portray confidence.  You can play around with different patterns in your blouse or shirts that you wear underneath your jacket.  If you choose a bold necklace with a lot of colors, try to keep the shirt underneath a more muted color.  If you’re more conservative but want to push your fashion envelope a little bit, study some fashion bloggers such as Wendy’s Look Book (www.wendyslookbook.com), The Galmourai (www.theglamourai.com), or The Fashion Guitar (www.thefashionguitar.com) for inspiration.  Think about what part of their outfit you can see yourself wearing.  Study how they put their clothes together.  Even though some of these bloggers’ outfits are clearly not meant for the office, you can take even one component of their look and make it your own.  Another place loaded with great ideas is Pinterest (www.pinterest.com).

Your professional style is something that won’t come overnight.  Think about what you like about your current wardrobe and what you think may be lacking.  Draw ideas from some of your style icons at work, or even outside of the professional setting.  How do they put their outfits together?  It takes some introspection on many levels to come up with your style.  Even then, your style can change depending on the situation and trends.  Studying some of the aforementioned fashion blogs (there are thousands more) and browsing Pinterest for outfit ideas is a great jumping off point.  Additionally, do a quick spot check to see if your pants, jackets, and skirts fit you well.  If in doubt, bring to a tailor to have everything fitted to make sure everything flatters your body.  Above everything else, exude confidence.  Even if you’re not truly confident, fake it until you make it!

Juliette Kim  (Full Bio)

Juliette’s obsession with fashion began when she was a little girl. Her earliest fashion memory of her childhood is laying in bed at night and going through her inventory of clothes in her head and picking out outfits for the week.  Juliette never wore the same outfit twice in the same month while in elementary school.  

Juliette received her B.A. from Johns Hopkins University in International Studies which led her to live in Japan and Florence during her undergraduate years.  Juliette attributes exposure to fashion in Japan and Italy to sparking her interest in pursuing a career in fashion.

Shortly after receiving her M.A. from Columbia University, she worked for two New York-based fashion designers, Twinkle and WAYNE, whose collections have been carried by prominent retailers such as Barneys New York, Harvey Nichols and Anthropologie.  As the main Public Relations liaison for both labels, Juliette organized fashion shows for Mercedes-Benz NY Fashion Week and worked with the fashion editors of magazines such as Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, WWD, Elle, InStyle, and Allure.  She was responsible for pulling together looks from the designers’ collections for future issues of these magazines.  While with these fashion designers in New York, she gained first-hand knowledge about the inner workings of how designers go from a spark of an inspiration to a full collection and how to style specific looks [that capture the imagination and creativity of the designer and those wearing the clothes].

Juliette is an independent personal style consultant in the San Francisco area.  She has provided advice on styling and current trends to various fashion boutiques and businesses.  She draws from her background in human behavior/psychology and experience in the fashion world in New York to understand and cultivate personal and professional style.