Building a Woman's Basic Wardrobe

The suit is your basic wardrobe building block. Your appearance will be a major factor in how others perceive you. Dress as well as (or better than) your superior; it may help land that job offer or promotion.

The Suit

Choose the best you can afford in a conservative, classic and tailored design with a blazer jacket and simple basic skirt (either straight, slightly flared or box pleated). If possible, buy two skirts with the jacket and a pair of pants. Quiet colours such as black, grey, taupe or navy are a good business choice.

Blouses & Sweaters

Blouses should be simple and tailored, preferably in a washable fabric. Choose natural fabrics (silk or cotton) or a good blend. Solids or prints are acceptable, but white or neutral colours are always a classic choice. Sweaters should be simple ribbed or plain with a round, vee or turtleneck to coordinate with your basic suit; white or black is a basic necessity. Add colour for variety. These can be worn over a blouse or with the pants and jacket.

Shoes, Bag & Briefcase

Every woman needs a pair of low-heeled, dressy and comfortable black shoes and purse. Add another pair in beige or cream for summer. The briefcase should be in a neutral or coordinating colour.


Choose one or two good leather belts, neck scarves and jewellery to complement your outfits. Keep jewellery classic and understated.

Office Casual

A checked jacket in a contrasting colour to the suit creates a more casual look. Skirts that are too short or too tight and tops that bare your midriff or show cleavage are not appropriate office attire.

Makeup, Jewellery & Grooming

Makeup should be discreet, nails trimmed and polish a neutral colour. Hair should be neat and clean. Perfume may best be saved for after hours.

Once a month, purchase another well-chosen item. A basic plain dress is an excellent addition. It can be dressed up with jewellery, a scarf or jacket. Some of your clothing budget should be spent on dry cleaning, repairs and replacing items. The largest portion of your budget should be spent on winter clothes as summer is very short in Canada. Fabrics such as “cool wool” can be worn all year round.

Building a Man's Basic Wardrobe

Your appearance will be a major factor in how others perceive you. The first visual impression you create can be a very powerful tool in landing that job or promotion.

Prepare a budget for your business wardrobe and consider it an investment. Select garments appropriate to your profession. Legal, banking and accounting fields are more conservative than sales or marketing. The suit or structured jacket with dress trousers is still standard wear for business professionals.

The Suit

Start with two suits in navy or grey, either solid or pinstriped. They should be well-tailored and made from quality wool or wool blends. Buy the best you can afford. In addition, you may consider a blazer and dress pants combination. A navy blazer with either grey or camel trousers is always a good choice.


The dress shirt should be a good cotton fabric in white, beige or a neutral colour. Dark colours or moderate patterns may be added. Cuff and collar style can vary. French cuffs are more formal and button down collars more casual.


Ties add variety to your wardrobe. They should be understated rather than loud and of good quality in smooth silk or silk blends. Choose colours that complement or contrast with your suit colour.

Shoes & Briefcase

Dress shoes should coordinate with the suit colour (black or brown are always appropriate). Ensure they are polished and worn heels replaced. Your briefcase should be good quality in black, brown or a coordinating colour.

Office Casual

Shirts can be plain or patterned in a cotton or cotton blend, and worn slightly open at the neck. Long sleeves are recommended. Trousers should be suit-style and can be made from wool, cotton, linen, microfibre or a blend. (For dress down days, consider a jacket over a crewneck or turtleneck knit.)

Jewellery & Grooming

Jewellery should be minimal and understated. Avoid scented colognes or after shave lotions. Your hair should always be clean and neat and fingernails trimmed.

Once your basic wardrobe has been completed, continue to budget for regular purchases. Some of your budget should go towards dry cleaning, repairs and replacing worn items.