Workwear Basics.


If you follow me on Instagram you know that (mostly) every day I post a selfie with what I wore to work that day. I feel a little silly doing it, but I also think it’s important to share bits + pieces of real life… what I actually wore to work that day, etc. I get a lot of questions about what to wear to work, so I thought I would put together a little round-up of the (in my opinion) ten best things you can buy for your wardrobe… at every price. Note that I work for a fashion start-up, so anything goes… one day I’ll be dressed like a lady and the next I’ll be wearing a ratty tee + distressed denim… This is one of those “do as I say, not as I do” situations… a lot of what I wear to work wouldn’t fly in a more traditional setting. For that reason, I kept things pretty tame for this post; these are the pieces that everyone should own no matter where they work!

As I know I have a lot of younger readers, I also want to caveat that although I do wear some rather expensive pieces, remember that I’m 32 – and pretty much have two full time jobs. When I was 24, even 26, most of my workwear came from the Gap and LOFT. It wasn’t even called LOFT back then. Even buying a dress from J.Crew was a major splurge. I stalked the sale racks and to mix up my boring basics I bought cheap blouses and shifts from Forever 21… no one was any wiser. As much as I love my investment pieces now, you don’t need to spend a lot of money to look great. For each piece featured here, I found pieces at every price point. Also… a word about ASOS. It wasn’t around when I worked in a more corporate environment, but you can find so many great things for the office… especially blazers and dresses. You just need to go in knowing what you want and do a few searches.

  1. A classic little black shift dress. Buy the highest quality you can afford here, as this one is timeless and will never go out of style. Admittedly, I probably have too many little black dresses, but I stand buy each one. Nothing is more versatile – they will take you from morning meetings to after work happy hour to date nights. If you’re on a budget I love something simple like this one (under $60!) but I’m a big believer in all of J.Crew’s suiting dresses. When I worked for Coty, I had to dress up most days and J.Crew’s origami dress was my go-t0. They used to make it in more colors and I had it in gray, navy, and black. If something works, buy it in multiples… I can’t say enough good things about this dress for the office. I’d keep a big necklace or sparkly earrings at my desk if I had a date or an event after work, but I’d put that dress on and know that I would look good. For more of a splurge, I’m obsessed with this and this (both from Helmut Lang – my fave.)
  2. A good white tee. I really don’t know why it is so hard to find them! I find a scoop or v-neck to be the most flattering silhouette for my body and is most versatile when it comes to layering… but it’s about finding what works best for you. I’m a huge fan of Cuyana and Everlane’s tees for my day to day tee-shirts. I also love this v-neck from J.Crew. I don’t think t-shirts should be expensive, but for a slightly higher price I love this one by LNA (seriously so soft – and nice + long.) For a bargain, this one (only $7!) from Old Navy is pretty perfect.
  3. A great black blazer. I currently only own two black blazers because I bought two that I love so much that I got rid of all the rest. Both are by Helmut Lang – I started with this longer one a year and a half ago, and this Spring added this shorter tux jacket. I know they are pricy, but they are both some of the best investment pieces I’ve ever made. They go with all of my dresses + tops, and instantly deliver a confidence boost if I have an important meeting. For a more affordable version, check out ASOS. This one is nearly identical to my beloved Helmut Lang, and I love this one and this one.
  4. A black pencil skirt. I’m going to break my rule here and just give you one option, which is neither expensive nor inexpensive. This pencil skirt from Banana Republic is the best I’ve found… it comes in nearly every color and it is also (prepare yourselves), machine washable! I have it in cobalt blue, black, and navy blue.
  5. Nude pumps. I know that black pumps might be the more “normal” choice here, but I personally really love nude pumps. Avoid a round toe (looks too young) or a platform. They make your legs look so long, but are still appropriate for the office. This pair is so classic – and under $100; this pair (love Cole Haan) and this pair are good mid-range options; and for a splurge I love this open toed pair, this classy platform, or the rockstud version. Good shoes change everything so invest if you can.
  6. A statement top. This list is comprised of great basics, but it is nice to have some fun from time to time. All basics all the time = boring so I wanted to include some fun tops in the mix. I love this metallic dot blouse (pictured), this rose + dot combo (so fun!), this leopard top, this mixed-print top, this black + white bow top, or this floral camisole.
  7. A silky camisole. I have so many of these and am always astonished by how much I wear them to the office (always under a blazer or cardigan) and then out after work. Splurge on this, try this mid-ranged version, or try this under $50 option. (I have that last option in every color… it’s incredibly flattering on.
  8. A longer cardigan... in black (and beige!) You can belt it over your silk camisole + pencil skirt, leave it open with a casual tee and skinny pants… button it all the way up and tuck it in… this is one of my own wardrobe MVPs as it goes with everything. I literally buy this merino cardigan every single Fall from J.Crew in black and a lighter neutral because I inevitably wear it so much that it has holes in it by the following Fall. If you feel like splurging, go for the cashmere boyfriend version, or if you are on a tighter budget snap up this one for under $30! I should note that Everlane also makes a pretty great cardigan (not in black though.) It isn’t cheap but for 100% cashmere, it is a great price!
  9. Black Ankle Pants. I’m only going to give one option here (as I don’t wear pants a lot) but when I do wear pants, I LOVE my J.Crew Minnie Pants. They’re so flattering, so comfy, so perfect.
  10. Dark Denim. I prefer skinny jeans, but it’s about finding something that works for your silhouette. I personally live in my high-rise dark denim skinnies from J.Brand (these and these), but for a more affordable pair, try Old Navy. My favorite Old Navy Jeans are these (I wear them just as much as my expensive ones) and these are really cute too!

Extra Credit: It was hard to keep this list to just ten items, so here are a few more… I also love a great trench (splurge // save), black pumps (splurge // save), leather leggings (splurge // save) depending on where you work, and a silky white button down (splurge // save.)

Whew! That was a lot.


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Leave a Comment


  1. This is one of the best (and most budget friendly) work basics posts I’ve seen. Just got the ASOS blazer last week and am working on building my arsenal of work wardrobe go-tos. Thanks for the round up!

    8.4.14 Reply
  2. This is a great round up! And I love how honest you are with your caveat! (But most of your splurge items are classic pieces that will last forever.)

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  3. Emily:

    Love following your instagram for your work attire! I have to know…are those pics taken from your fabulous beyond belief walk in closet or the office? I can never tell.

    8.4.14 Reply
    • Grace Atwood:

      Haha I get asked that a lot. I live in Manhattan and most definitely do not have a walk in closet… it’s a conference room at work!

      8.4.14 Reply
  4. Awesome picks and recommendations!!! I’m currently in the 24-crowd, saving up to invest in classes and filling in the holes with a lot of H&M in the meantime. Seconded on the Minnie pants, though- they really are the most versatile thing in my wardrobe!

    8.4.14 Reply
  5. Grace,
    This is such a great post with so many awesome picks in every budget range. I almost wish I worked in a office again. 😉
    Thanks for sharing!

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  6. Yay!!! Thank you so much for posting this. This is really going to help me out! 🙂

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  7. I agree! Such great basics! Thansk for sharing!

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  8. I enjoyed all the suggestions, both drool (expen$ive) and affordable options!

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  9. Leah:

    where is the gold top from thats labeled 2? i love that but can’t find the link.

    8.6.14 Reply
  10. Great pics! I especially dig the silky camisole – the color is quite stunning!

    8.7.14 Reply