If you just graduated from college, if you're a junior getting an early jump on post-graduation prep, or if you're just a type-A high-schooler getting ready for your future, here are some must-haves for when you graduate college and are getting ready to start your career:
If you're looking for a typical office-job, you're going to need a suit, if not to wear to work, at least to wear to your interviews. When I graduated, people told me not to get a black suit because it was boring, but the truth is, black is always a great choice for work. If you can afford it, get a three-piece suit: blazer, pants, skirt. While you won't wear a full-blown suit to work (in most offices), you'll definitely get great use out of each suit piece, worn separately.
This suit - Blazer and Trousers (image and item) - Banana Republic in lightweight wool. I love BR clothes - they're well made, fit well, and look really polished.
If you can't afford BR, I also like The Limited - they have nice suits for reasonable prices.
If you can afford more, definitely get a Brooks Brothers suit. They're making lower rise pants now for those who prefer pants that sit lower on the hip, but overall, their suits are in classic cuts that are sure to last you years.
Good shoes are a must. Don't skimp on shoes or you'll be wishing you never did. Remember, even if you work in an office, you'll be on your feet all day, even if it's just getting up to grab coffee, walking to the printer, walking a block to grab lunch, it adds up, so a little extra money put towards your tootsies can go a long way. I don't mean you need to go get a pair of Christian Louboutins (of course, if you can afford them, go for it), but you can easily get a nice pair of shoes for less than $150. If you're not used to wearing heels, I'd stick to less than 3" heels. The shorter the heel, the easier they'll be to walk in and the more comfy they'll be, and actually, in some super-formal offices, too-tall heels are considered inappropriate.
These shoes are by Cole Haan (image and item) - Jessika Slingbacks
If you can't afford these, try Nine West
If you can afford more, try some other Cole Haan styles (they have lots of great, classy shoes) or J Crew
You'll need a button-down shirt to wear with your interview suit. Blue is traditional and the most popular color I see by far at the bank (where I work right now). Maybe it's because I work in the Corporate Investment Banking division, but half of the people I pass are in blue button-downs with black pants. Other colors are acceptable, especially for us girls, but if you can only afford one or two, definitely get one in blue. Now, you can buy a button-down from just about anywhere, but I'm in love with the non-irons by Brooks Brothers. Now, maybe it's because I'm not a fan of ironing, but it just seems that whenever I get a regular (non-non-iron) shirt, it never comes out the same after I wash it. Meanwhile, everytime I wash my Brooks Brother's shirts, they look crisp and fresh as soon as I take them out of the dryer. Oh, and if you do get these, don't leave them in the dryer or they will wrinkle - hang them up as soon as they're done drying and you'll be good to go.
This non-iron button-down shirt (image and item) by Brooks Brothers
I don't have any other recommendations on non-iron button-down shirts (b/c I've never seen them anywhere else...at least not for women), but trust me, these tops are well-worth the investment. Look for when they do their "3 for..." sale to get sweet deals on a trio of tops.
A simple purse is not necessarily a "true" must-have, but it is in my book. You don't want to carry your fave fuzzy-pink purse that you took to all the frat parties into the office. Remember, you want to look professional because you want to be treated like a professional. Get a simple black purse to start and then work your more-fun-totes into the work-week once you get a better feel for what's appropriate.
This purse by Perlina (image and item from Nordstrom.com)
Also, try Nine West, Cole Haan, Kenneth Cole, and TJ Maxx
The above picks are just my personal recommendations, but there are always exceptions to the "rules". For example, if you're going to apply for a more artistic job, you may get to use more of an "artistic license" while putting your work outfits and interview outfits together (you may even need to to let your personality shine through).
Those low on funds can take advantage of the summer sales going on now to stock up on work-appropriate apparel. Trust me, when I graduated, I was b-r-o-k-e, so these type sales are great for getting new career gear.
Anywho, looking professional will get you in the door...once you're hired, keep a look out to see what other ladies around the office are wearing and try to match their level of formality. Too informal is bad, but so is too formal. Just get a feel for the environment and you'll be good to go. If you want, you can click on the "Business Casual" label here in the blog to see some outfits that I wear to work, though you'll have to style yours based on your own office environment.