You may associate fall clothes shopping with going back to school, but research shows that August and September are also the months when adults tend to think about refreshing their professional wardrobes.
To help you update (or build) your professional closet, we’ve scoured the market to find workwear staples. We then tested them to make sure that they are well-made and will keep you looking polished from your first meeting to cocktail hour. And good news for those just starting out: Each item on this list is under $100, so you can afford to look professional on an entry-level salary.
I tested all the womenswear, and my colleague, staff writer Cale Weissman, tested all the menswear, then provided detailed notes. Here’s our list.
Bonobos: Long, Wrinkle-Free Days
After testing many outfits, Cale liked Bonobos best. Part of the reason for this is that the clothes fit well, which made him look stylish and feel great. Both trousers and shirts are made from wrinkle-free material, which means that at the end of long days running in and out of the office, Cale says he still looked and felt sharp.
The clothes come in a wide range of sizes, plus different fits: “slim,” “tailored,” or “standard.” (Trousers come in the additional “relaxed” fit.) To top it all off, each item comes in a wide range of patterns and colors. The end result is an outfit that looks like it was customized to your body type and style.
However, given that there are so many sizing options, Cale suggests getting fitted by Bonobos beforehand, if you can. The brand has stores, known as Guideshops, in dozens of locations across the country, where you can get fitted for free. “This will save having to return many pairs, which I had to do,” Cale says.
Everlane: Classic Shirts At Unbeatable Prices
Everlane stands out for its simplicity. Rather than offering a wide range of options, the brand’s designers curate a classic look, using high quality materials and manufacturing. The style is low-key and muted; they are designed to fit in rather than stand out. “Everlane has a quietness about its style that I’ve always appreciated,” Cale says.
Ministry of Supply: Workwear Of The Future
Ministry of Supply is known for experimenting with high-tech materials, many first invented by NASA. We picked two shirts from their collection that we felt could get you through any occasion that pops up in your week.
The Future Forward Longsleeve Polo, for instance, is made of a fabric called Phase Change Materials, which is temperature regulating. It’s a carefully designed to work in many contexts. It comes with buttoned sleeves and a starched collar, so it looks structured enough to be worn in a casual office, but it also easily goes into weekend activities. The Daystarter Band Collar Shirt is a slightly more formal alternative. It comes with a Nehru collar, which adds a stylish flair. While it has a crisp look, it is made from high-tech fabric that is moisture wicking and wrinkle resistant. Both shirts are machine washable.
Cale was impressed by how effectively these shirts managed perspiration. He wore them in the heat of the summer and even on the hottest days, there were never any sweat stains. “A minor miracle for me!” he says.
Modcloth: Feminine But Professional Work Frocks
If your work closet consists largely of dresses, you can’t go wrong with Modcloth, which is known for its wide selection of frocks. The brand has hundreds of work-appropriate dresses to choose from. In the past, the brand was known for its slightly vintage flair. While some dresses have ’60s or mod flair, many look timeless. The best part is that the vast majority come in at under $100 and they come in a wide range of sizes, from XS to 3X.
We picked out three that would be a fun new seasonal addition to your wardrobe, but also would work in a range of contexts and take you between seasons. In the summer, I wore the Outline of Work dress with platform heels, but on a cooler day, I wore them with knee-high boots and a cardigan. I found that depending on how I styled it, it worked well both in a formal meeting as well as in a more casual setting, like going out for brunch on the weekend.
The Archival Arrival Dress has a secretary bow that gives it a formal edge, but it is made from a stretchy jersey material that makes it very comfortable to wear throughout the day. If you’re in the market for something a little more structured and formal, the So Sixties dress is a perfect fit. It comes in several bright colors, which will add some vibrancy to what might otherwise be a monochromatic fall closet, but thanks to the button at the waist and the pleated skirt, it manages to look formal enough for even the starchiest office.
Aritzia: Elegant Blouses Galore
One of my favorite transitional looks is a pair of tight fitting black trousers or jeans, plus an interesting blouse. Artizia is a great one-stop shop for beautiful blouses at reasonable prices. These long-sleeve shirts are great for fall days when it might be too warm for a sweater or blazer, but too chilly for a sundress.
I picked three blouses in muted colors that have interesting architectural flair. The Tadema, for instance, is made from a fluid fabric that comes with a bow that you can tie at the waist. The Granados has a high collar, plus puffed sleeves that give the shirt a nice drape. And the Niccolo has a nice secretary bow on the front that I like to wear long, rather than tied. They all come in beautiful fall colors like dark green and aubergine.
The great thing about all of these shirts is that even though they feel like silk, they are machine washable. They are also generally wrinkle-resistant. I wore them while driving around from interview to interview and the seatbelt didn’t crease them.
J.Crew: Staples With A Twist
If you’re looking to load up on classic year-round items for your work uniform, J.Crew has several great options that are very well designed. The most interesting piece I discovered was the Stretch Perfect Bodysuit. On the surface, it’s the classic white tailored shirt that every woman needs in her closet. But button-down shirts often bunch up when you try to tuck them into your pants. J.Crew solved this problem by making the shirt part of a bodysuit. It looks perfect and unwrinkled when you wear it with jeans or trousers.
If it’s time to stock up on skirts and pants, J.Crew has a couple of key choices. The Martie trousers are carefully designed to look flattering, by flattening the stomach and defining the bottom. And the No.2 Pencil Skirt is made of cotton, but comes with two-way stretch, so it adapts to your body’s movements, rather than wrinkling when you sit down. Both of these come in a wide range of colors, including reds, blues, and hot pinks. These are great everyday clothes that will make getting ready in the morning easier.