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The Monday morning closet: Go from weekend to work with five easy pieces

Categories: basics, bottoms, casual office, shoes


One of the most difficult wardrobe transitions you’ll ever make is the post-kids return to work. It’s a tough shift for a lot of reasons: your body has changed, for one thing, and your budget probably has, too. And for many of us, the return to work is a foray into a much more casual office environment than the one we left before the baby came home. All of this often means that our current everyday clothes are too casual, while our old work attire is too dressy — or just the wrong size and shape. And most of us don’t have the cash to start over with an entirely new wardrobe (and of course, if you’re still working to lose that last bit of baby weight, you may not want to buy a bunch of stuff that — hopefully — won’t fit in a year anyway).

So what should you invest in before you kiss the baby goodbye and head back to the office? Ideally, pieces that will work both with your current closet and on their own, and that can transition from work to weekend without missing a beat. Here are my five essentials for the back-to-work closet.


Trench coat: A trench is a good investment, because it truly will go from day to night and work to weekend without missing a beat. This is a piece worth investing in because you will wear it for years. Choose one that hits just above the knee and wear it quite literally with everything: over dresses and skirts for work, with jeans and tees for weekend. Choose a classic neutral, either khaki or tan or cream; make sure the armholes are large enough to accommodate a mid-weight sweater for cooler days. The trench pictured here is from Banana Republic and retails for $198. Not too bad.

A beautiful, comfortable pair of shoes: Choose a style that works with your look and your life; I’m a ballet flat girl myself, but you may prefer a boot or a wedge. Either way, you’re looking for a shoe that is both pretty enough to dress up (a shoe with a pointy toe, for example, or some embellishment) and versatile enough to wear with a dress and jeans. You’re also looking for a shoe that is as comfortable at the end of the day as it is at the beginning. Lots of moms swear by the wedge heel, specifically because it offers the best of both worlds: a little height and a lot of comfort.

A tailored white shirt: The white shirt is almost an office cliche, but it’s a must if you’re trying to craft a pragmatic work wardrobe. The white shirt dresses anything up; wear it with a pair of dark-rinse jeans and your pretty shoes and you can go from a school conference to a client meeting without ever missing a beat. The classic look is the tailored menswear button-down, but don’t default to that; if your style is more girly, look for a ruffled version, or a wrap. And be sure to spot treat and properly launder your white shirt, to keep it crisp and professional looking.

Neutral dress in a flattering shape: No matter how casual your office, it’s good to own a dress — you never know when you’ll need it. Dresses are the most simple wardrobing option there is; add shoes and accessories and you’re out the door. To make your dress more weekend-friendly, look for versatile shapes, like a sheath or shirt dress; stick with neutral shades like black or navy. To keep it kid-friendly, opt for washable fabrics like jersey or cotton blends. Change your accessories to make your look work and weekend appropriate.

A great bag: As with the trench coat, the work tote is a piece worth investing in, particularly if you’ll be carrying files or a laptop to and from work. Look for one that is large enough to hold your work gear, but also roomy enough to haul the kids’ stuff on the weekend. Sticking with one bag all week long will save you time and stress (no more going to pay for Monday’s coffee only to realize that you left your wallet in the weekend bag). If you’re still hauling snacks and drinks for the kids, I would suggest a bag with a divider in the middle, which will let you segregate the kid stuff from the work stuff (and limit the chances that you’ll wind up with Cheerio bits on your presentation).

Your turn: What pieces get you from work to weekend and back again?

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7 comments so far...

  • Thanks for this, Susan. I have a black trench, but have wanted a neutral one for ages. I’ll show Matthew this post and tell him that I NEED it for work. ;)

    Angella  |  March 19th, 2010 at 7:19 am

  • I have been making more of an effort to dress nicely on the weekends and not be frumpy just because ‘I’m only going to the grocery store.’ So I’ve been re-purposing my work cardigans and blazers to wear with nice jeans, only with a t-shirt or printed tank underneath instead of a blouse or thin sweater.

    I like your “all-purpose” bag idea–so much simpler to keep everything in one bag than to constantly be switching out, because then I just end up forgetting my office pass card!

    Lar  |  March 19th, 2010 at 5:00 pm

  • These are some great tips. Especially if you’re going through these changes in the summer season. Any other ideas for winter time?

    Jacqueline  |  March 19th, 2010 at 7:42 pm

  • Other staples:

    A nice black t-shirt - rather than buying one expensive one that will still fade, regardless of how you wash it, just buy 3 at Target and set 2 aside.

    Awesome jewelry - big chunky red beads ( with matching red ballet flats).

    A white cardigan sweater - makes almost any color of t-shirt look dressy when you add jewelry and ballet flats.

    pattip  |  March 20th, 2010 at 2:43 am

  • The necessary knits series from LandsEnd are wonderful–comfortable, forgiving on your figure, affordable and mix and match skirts, cardigan and pants. Got me through the first years after baby number 2.

    Patty  |  March 20th, 2010 at 4:26 am

  • You are spot on, especially about the trench coat. I got my Michael Kors coat at Bluefly and even at 40% off was a splurge, but I have worn the heck out of it ever since and it never fails to make me feel super chic–while also serving its intended purpose of keeping me dry. (In fact, I wrote about coats here:

    Heidi/Closet Coach  |  March 25th, 2010 at 12:31 pm

  • I’m very fortunate to work in a more casual setting in IT.

    That means my go-to pieces are jeans, cardigans, well fitting blazer or jacket and beautiful comfortable shoes. Then I just mix that up with zingy tops (underneath the jacket if needed), dresses sometimes, and skirts to feel girly on particular days when the testosterone levels in the office get a bit much.

    I have to admit, when i got back to work from my last pregnancy, I made an extra effort to make myself up because I didn’t want to be looked at as falling below my game because of having a baby. Prior to this I’ve always dressed up well for the office but this time, I made an extra effort to put on really nice makeup and fix my hair so I didn’t have to worry about how I looked while I worked (and pumped breastmilk in the middle of the day - yowza!).

    Trish Cardona  |  July 11th, 2010 at 7:08 pm

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