I remember the feeling of dread right before I left for D.C. when I realized how sparse my closet was with work-appropriate clothes. My preferred outfit was jean shorts, a t-shirt, and flip flops all summer and I was not at all looking forward to having to wear adult clothes pretty much every day for the next four months.
When I went shopping, I tried to keep what I bought to a minimum. This wasn’t because I’m some minimalist (if you read this blog, you know that I’m not) but it was because I was flying to D.C. and only had four suitcases to shove my life into. Not easy.
After being at work for about four months now, I’ve gotten a good idea of what my basic pieces are and what I would advise a new intern to get before heading to the swamp (or wherever your internship is). Note that my internship is slightly more casual than what you would find in a GOP congressional office or a lobbying firm. Dem offices (and many Non-Profits) are known to have more lax dress codes.
1. Ankle Length Trousers (2)
These have been the most worn pieces in my wardrobe since I got here. They’re perfect for both warmer and cooler weather, can be dressed up with a button up and a blazer or dressed down with a blouse, and they’re comfortable. My color pallet is softer colors and earth tones so I tend to gravitate to navy and grey over black.
2. Button Up Shirts (2)
These are great because they can be dressed up or down. I would get a striped shirt a little oversized, so you can tuck it in and wear it a little looser. The white I would go a bit more fitted because you’re more likely to be wearing that under things (blazer, cardigan, sweater, etc.)
3. Blouses (3-5)
Blouses are kind of a no brainer, because what else would you wear on your top, but here are some solid picks I like. When you buy tops, try to stick to crew necklines so that you don’t run into a cleavage issue. It sucks sometimes, but it’s how workplaces work. Also make sure that you get a white cami for any see through tops. I like this one.
Since I’m writing this at the beginning of fall, my picks are a little long-sleeve heavy, but the same websites will have great options in the spring and summer too.
4. Blazer (1)
Another no brainer, but important to note. If this is your first time at the rodeo don’t waste money on printed blazers (no matter how cute) until you know exactly how often you’re going to be wearing them. Nobody really wears blazers at my work (or the girls don’t at least) so I only need it on the rare occasions I’m attending a meeting on the hill or meeting with a staffer.
If you wear a lot of black and grey, get a black blazer. If you wear a lot of navy, get a grey or navy blazer.
H&M Fitted Jacket ($50)
5. Cardigan (2)
I love having these to grab and stick in my purse for days that are a little chilly. They can dress up a basic t-shirt or can be thrown over a top with spaghetti straps to make it more work-appropriate. I own both of these, and they fit just like the pictures make them look. The black one is a little looser and I like to wear it with a white button down. The grey one looks great with tank tops.
6. Dresses (3)
I’m not a huge dress wearer, but these are really good to have for days you need to look a little more put-together. You really need one good sheath dress (I recommend a black one) that you can put a blazer over with heels. I would also have one “business-cocktail” dress on hand just in case your work has any nicer, evening events. Last, have a casual (but obviously appropriate) dress on hand for work days that you just don’t want to have to deal with wearing pants.
7. Skirts (2)
A fun skirt and a basic pencil skirt are two really great staples to have in your closet. You can make more outfits with skirts than you can dresses, but they still give a nice feminine feel to your look.
8. Heels (1) and Flats (2)
This one is a little flexible because it really depends on what you wear more. I have a nude and a black pair of flats and heels, and a brown suede pair of loafers. Those have covered just about every outfit I’ve worn. But you don’t really need two pairs of heels. If you wear more black and white, go with black. If you wear more earth tones and colors, go with nude. The Michael Kors heels are a little pricey, but my loyalty to them is unmatched. They’re extremely comfortable (on wear 2 or 3, but not bad the first time either) and are great quality, so the price tag is worth it.
9. A Good Coat
This is something I knew I’d need eventually, but didn’t actually buy until I was going to get frostbite without it. I was really picky about the type of coat/color I wanted and honestly it took super long to find one I loved and I probably spent more money than I should’ve (or I got a bangin deal I really still don’t know what a good coat price is???). These were my three finalists.
10. Structured Work Bag
I go more into detail about work bags in another post, but this is one of my favorite ones if you’re not looking to spend a lot of money. It’s from target, looks more expensive than it is, and holds a good amount of things. Regardless of if this is what you’re looking for or if spending more money is more your speed, you really do need a classy, structured bag, if you’re going to be working in a professional setting. I recommend getting one big enough to fit your laptop, a lunch bag, a light sweater, and a water bottle. Extra points if it has a lot of compartments.
Target tote ($45)
-For more options, check out this post on work bags in three price ranges-
Brands I used for this post: Gap, Talbots, Target, Aldo, Zara, Michael Kors, ASOS, H&M, Banana Republic, JCrew Factory, Express, Lauren Ralph Lauren