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?