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Ensembles from a College Student's Closet: Building Your Professional Image

Photographed by Andrew Travis of Joelle Beauchamp, Allison Miller, Sophie Dehn, Devin Ricks and Brady Pitcher

By Marisa Fisher

As a college student, especially an upper-class student, the process of finding an internship can be one of the most daunting tasks to take on. When first impressions and networking can (unfortunately) be so dependent on looking put together and professional, no matter your skill set and intelligence, it is important to learn how to dress your best in the world of careers. So, what do you do when the most appropriate work clothing you have is a going out top or a mini dress?

A great first step is to narrow down the specific dress code for your desired field or position. Is your office more business casual or business formal? Are you expected to be in more neutral options or are you allowed to get creative with your outfits? Expectations can vary drastically based on career field. You would likely not wear the same ensemble working at a fashion magazine as you would working at an accounting firm. Establishing the guidelines set by your office will help you know exactly what to wear, avoid overspending and help you feel prepared on your first day.

After you have established the style you need to emulate, look through your closet, and find pieces that are appropriate for your position. You will most likely have at least a few sweaters and even some longer skirts that will be perfect for business casual. Depending on the company, even basic t-shirts can be paired with a blazer and tailored pants for a casual but put together look. When evaluating your wardrobe remember crop tops and short skirts are never acceptable in an office workspace, so unless specifically told otherwise, keep skirts just above the knee and tops full length.

Now that you know what you have, it is time to start searching for the things your closet is missing A great resource for students here at Central Michigan University searching for workwear is First Impressions. First Impressions is an on-campus source for business wear on the first floor of Bovee University Center. After making an appointment on HandShake, you can come in and get a full business ensemble (usually consisting of three pieces) for free once every semester. First Impressions always has a volunteer stylist on staff to help you out with sizing and putting together looks; this is a perfect place to get garments such as blazers, and even some full suits for men, that can be out of a college students’ budget otherwise. Although there are a variety of options, the clothing is completely donated, so sizes cannot always be guaranteed. However, there are tailors in the area that can give your garment the perfect fit for a reasonable price.

If you have completed all of these steps, and still feel you do not have enough clothes to comfortably wear during your work week, it is time to start shopping. Thrifting is great for finding appropriate length skirts and uncropped blouses of many unique styles. You can also very easily find assorted styles of blazers and sometimes even matching suit sets for less than 20 dollars. It is completely possible to thrift enough pieces to interchange a weeks’ worth of outfits for 50 dollars or less if you know what to look for. Wool and tweed are ideal when looking for blazers and will just require occasional dry cleaning, which usually can be done for 20 dollars or less. Trousers and blouses can also be quite easy to find in great fabrics that will give a clean silhouette and last you a long time.
While thrifting is obviously the more budget friendly option, if you still feel you cannot find enough to complete your wardrobe, there are a few brands with worthwhile investment pieces to elevate your workwear in the most sustainable way possible. Everlane is an excellent brand to look for tailored trousers, oversized blazers, and even button up shirts. Whiles these prices are on the more expensive side, getting any of these pieces in a neutral color, like black or beige, can easily create a multitude of different outfits. Buying products with stronger fabrics will ensure your pieces can easily last for years on end. Another high-quality brand for workwear is Quince. Quince offers high-quality fabrics such as washable silk and cashmere for a much more affordable price. Getting a good cashmere sweater or long silk skirt can be a fantastic addition to a business casual wardrobe. For a bit more color in your work wear, Boden is an excellent brand for bright blazers and long dresses with fun geometric patterns.

Finally, find ways to incorporate your own personal style into your outfits. Although you must be professional, you should not lose yourself in doing so. Express yourself through accessories like fun jewelry or purses. You can even add vibrant pops of color with a red lip or eyeshadow. Just because you are now entering the professional world, does not mean you should have to sacrifice your own personality and style. Be creative!

So, when you’re preparing for your next big interview remember that you may have more business appropriate pieces than you think. Look through your closet to assess what you already own, then shop for budget-friendly options for the pieces you don’t. Slowly but surely, you will create the perfect workwear wardrobe that combines professionalism with your own individual style.

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