Wardrobe-wise, it’s hard to do worse than bad work clothes. Itchy sweaters that amplify the already desert-like climate of an office building in February, polyester pinstripe pants that puddle in all the wrong places, plasticy flats that cut into your foot at painful angles … most people are haunted by at least one memory of an awful business-casual outfit they bought for an interview or first day on the job.
The first mistake most people make when shopping for work clothes is not keeping their personal style in mind, as well as the office culture and overall vibe of their company. If you’re working at a hip startup, you might feel awkward showing up for day one in a suit. On the flip side, if the environment is highly corporate, even dark-wash jeans might be too laid back.
No matter what, the key is to keep it professional but let a little bit of your personal style shine through. After all, you spend so many hours at work – you want to feel like yourself (albeit the more polished version) while you’re there. These brands, with their selections of chic basics and tailored separates, make it easy.
Ann Taylor: The best work clothes overall
Ann Taylor is your one-stop-shop for chic dresses, blouses, suits, and accessories that look great at the office but don’t put a huge dent in your bank account.
One of the more discouraging aspects of shopping for workwear is that the most office-appropriate choices are often really uninspiring. Ann Taylor solves that problem by delivering items in fun colors and patterns with HR-friendly silhouettes. Picture knee-length pencil skirts, blouses with cute details (hello ruffled sleeves!), and tailored suiting that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.
Ann Taylor clearly isn’t the place for of-the-moment trends, but that’s rarely what you need for the office. If your job requires a conservative, somewhat formal look, you can find it at Ann Taylor, and for a great value. Blazers and pants are mostly priced under $200, with some under-$100 options available.
Though the clothes aren’t always the most exciting, Ann Taylor is our top pick because of the sheer range of items – you’d be hard-pressed to find something inappropriate for work in one of its stores – and affordable prices. The brand’s frequent sales make shopping even less painful.
The one major downside to shopping at Ann Taylor is that the size range is fairly limited. Most items run from XXS to XXL with Petite and Tall options, but there isn’t much by way of extended sizing.
Pros: Cute and classic workwear at affordable prices, suit pieces that don’t cost a ton of money, Petite and Tall options, frequent sales
Cons: Would be great to see a more extensive size range
M.M.LaFleur: The best high-end work clothes
M.M.LaFleur makes some of the most flattering, convenient, and stylish workwear on the market – but its pieces may cost you a bit extra.
M.M. LaFleur makes high-quality, minimalist, formal-leaning officewear that feels fresh without being overly trendy. Attention to detail is the name of the game. The brand’s bestselling Etsuko dress, for example, looks simple, but additional seams in the bodice and a small belt at the waist create a gorgeous figure-hugging silhouette. Sizes range from 0P-22W.
The collection is designed by its co-founder and creative director Miyako Makamura, the former head designer of Zac Posen – and she brings a unique attention to detail, lines, and versatility to M.M. LaFleur. Silhouettes are sophisticated and inventive – both in their ability to cut at exactly the right spot on your elbow and in a hidden button that converts the length of a pair of pants to accommodate either heels or flats. They also work for a non-stop lifestyle: most of the collection is machine-washable and travel-friendly. M.M. LaFleur promises to deliver on easy comfort without looking comfortable. The retailer has a specific section of “packable suiting pieces” and has had the New York City Ballet demonstrate the flexibility of its summer collection.
We’ve reviewed and loved styles like its Morandi Sweater, Hockley and Foster pants, packable suit, and the Etsuko dress.
M.M.LaFleur styles may cost you a bit more than some of the alternatives (dresses range from $165-$325 and pants $165-$225), but the quality is worth its price if you’re able to comfortably spend it, and if your workplace requires traditional workwear. You can also find slightly more affordable options, including a host of odor-resistant and machine-washable items under $200.
Pros: Chic and high-quality workwear that is durable and high-end, decent size range, savvy upgrades like bra strap holders and convertible pants
Cons: Items are definitely on the formal side and don’t offer trendy silhouettes and patterns, pricey
Of Mercer: The best work clothes for travel
Of Mercer creates on-the-go pieces that travel well and can withstand a variety of climates, from arctic office A/C to the dry heat of the airport terminal.
Traveling for work presents a particular kind of wardrobe challenge. When you go on vacation, it’s perfectly acceptable to wear sweatpants and throw your hair up in a top knot or whatever makes you most comfortable. But work travel is a whole different animal. You might be flying with colleagues or running to an important meeting with potential partners the minute you touch down.
Of Mercer designs clothes that keep you looking polished in all different settings. The items are professional but have a slightly more relaxed and comfortable (but never sloppy) vibe that separates them from other brands.
Many of the designs come equipped with special details that make these items truly effortless – a reversible cardigan with “the structure of a blazer,” elastic waist pants comfortable enough for a plane and tailored enough for a board meeting, and a sleek card case are notable examples.
Insider Reviews editor Ellen Hoffman gave the brand a great review, writing, “I had a great experience with Of Mercer, and I highly recommend anyone who has trouble finding affordable, high-quality work clothes check out the company’s site to see if its dresses, pants, and blazers are the right fit.”
Sizes run from 00-20W, and there’s also a small maternity collection.
Pros: Stylish and durable work clothes that are good for travel, decent size range
Cons: The clothes aren’t cheap but you pay for the high quality
ADAY: The best athleisure work clothes
Leave it to the athleisure pros at ADAY to create work clothes that are cozy enough to sleep in.
Work clothes, even the ones that look great, often feel like stiff cardboard on your body. When I worked in an office, I spent all day curled up in various terrible-for-my-back positions, much the way I do now that I work from home, and so comfortable pants were non-negotiable.
I wish I’d known about ADAY and its best-selling Turn It Up pant back then. They are basically pajama pants that you can safely wear to work without getting called into your boss’ office for a stern meeting. You will feel like you are getting away with something mischievous when you wear them, though, thanks to an elastic waist and breathable stretch material.
ADAY was initially known for its popular Throw and Roll leggings, so it’s not a surprise that the brand’s workwear is as comfortable as athleisure. In addition to pants, the brand carries a wrinkle-free dress shirt (brilliantly named the Something Borrowed Shirt), as well as other smartly designed workplace staples.
Pros: Work clothes that are as comfortable as workout clothes, elastic waist pants that still look professional
Cons: Limited size range, only available online
Everlane: The best work clothes for a casual office
Everlane’s beautifully rendered basics fit in any laidback office environment.
Not every industry has a rigorous standard of dress for the workplace. If your office is more casual, you still want to look polished and ready for anything – you never know when you’ll be pulled into meetings with the higher-ups.
Everlane’s selection of polished basics have a trendier feel, but they won’t go out of style by next season.
The brand carries everything from laidback denim to smart jackets (the City Anorak is a commuter’s dream come true) and cool trousers. I especially love Everlane’s handbag and shoe offerings for the office. The Day Glove flats are the single most comfortable shoes that I own, and they look amazing with dresses, trousers, and even shorts. Insider Reviews also loved the ReKnit version of the shoes.
Everlane pieces would look at home in any startup’s open-plan office, but some pieces like The Cashmere Crew, Day Heel, and Oversized Blazer could certainly translate well to more formal work environments.
What makes Everlane really stand out from the other brands on this list is the fact that most of its pieces look just as good on the weekend as they do Monday-Friday. Everything is versatile and a bit more relaxed than your standard office separates, without looking sloppy.
Pros: Offers cooler and more laid-back office-appropriate clothing, reasonable prices
Cons: Only one store so you’ll have to order online unless you’re in New York City, Everlane carries limited plus-size options
Rent the Runway: The best subscription work clothes
Rent the Runway (RTR) Unlimited Swaps is the best rotating subscription option for workwear. For a flat fee, you’ll be able to rent from 15,000 styles by having them delivered to your door. Plus, you don’t have to deal with the dry cleaning.
You can still order a one-off cocktail dress through RTR, but the company’s most popular offerings are actually its subscription services. Its most basic RTR 1 Swap includes four items per month, 2 Swaps includes eight items per month, and Unlimited Swaps includes unlimited items (but you keep four at a time).
They take care of shipping and dry cleaning, and you get unlimited access to a vast selection of high-end clothes you likely wouldn’t be able to afford (or be willing to buy) to wear in everyday life. You can rent unlimited pieces on a rotation of four at a time and swap whenever you’re done wearing a piece. There are no designated return dates, as long as you keep paying for the service. That means you won’t spend 75% of your clothing budget on professional wear or vice versa, only to stress over outfit repeating.
To return an order, members pop the clothes back into the garment bag they arrived in, swap in their prepaid return label, and drop the bag to any UPS store or their designated drop-boxes. Once Rent the Runway has received the returns, members are notified that they can make new selections.
While its monthly fee is high at over $150, we’ve found that it’s worth the variety, convenience, and style if you’re able to comfortably foot the bill. It’s also helped us curb our shopping in other areas. And though it’s technically a rental service, you’ll have the option to purchase most of the items you’ve rented – in case you fall in love with something and don’t want to send it back.
The RTR subscription is one of the many things we’ve bought based on a colleague’s glowing review, and we’ve had great success with RTR Unlimited Swaps in our own lives.
Pros: Variety, high-end clothes, no maintenance, extra closet space for non-work clothes, option to buy what you rent
Cons: Expensive, can be inconvenient if you don’t have a nearby RTR drop-off location or an easy way to return packages
By Business Insider