Building an Ethical Workwear Wardrobe
Finding your personal style can be hard enough, without the extra limitations of a work dress code. If you’ve started shopping ethically, you also know there’s an extra layer of economic complications.
When I first started my career, I remember dressing the way I thought I should. I took what I learned from job interview outfits and translated it into a work wardrobe.
Surprise, surprise: a few years later, that entire closet of workwear I had curated was hardly worn anymore. I sat back and asked myself why.
And that’s what got me started on writing this post, having conversations with other people who were struggling with the same thing. To add another layer, in a sector where wrinkly (but gorgeous) linen garments are all the rage, it can be a challenge to find your own style—especially for the office. Now don’t get me wrong—I love me some wrinkly, oversized linen—and for the record, I think it can work beautifully in an office if you style it right. But for everyone who’s not quite up for that, I’ve compiled a guide and tips below that share how you can define your own office style!
Tips to defining your workwear style
- Buy what you actually WANT to wear. Not just because it’s something you’ve been told is office-appropriate. That’s a quick way to feel out of place in your own skin!
- Identify what makes you the most comfortable. Skirts? Skinnies? High-waisted? Knowing what you’re most likely to grab during a rushed morning is key to building a work wardrobe you’ll love.
- Feel out your colour palette. I emphasize palette, because once you have a sense of what you enjoy wearing, it’ll be easier to mix & match items within that scheme! That doesn’t mean it has to be boring by any means – I’ve seen some killer office wardrobes full of vibrant colours and power-clashing with personality. Go for it if that’s your thing!
- Use Pinterest to see what you like best! Don’t let yourself be caught up in pinning only office wear. Pin things you love – regardless of whether it’s office-appropriate. That’ll help you understand the clothes you’re most likely to wear – and you can build your more work-appropriate wardrobe around that!
- Make your garments do double-duty. I am a HUGE fan of this. I have linen trousers that I’ve worn to bed, to jungle walks in the Amazon Rainforest, to weekend lounging and that I’ve turned around and worn to work as well. If you can, find shirts that you can dress up or down so you’ve got a wardrobe that’s working just as hard as you are 😉
- Look at other people in the office. Do you find yourself admiring certain peoples’ styles? When I was thinking about my own wardrobe, understanding what I liked and didn’t like about other outfits really helped narrow things down.
- Make sure it’s practical. As someone who does a lot of walking downtown while wearing a backpack, pencil skirts are a total mess of riding up my legs. So guess what? No pencil skirts in my wardrobe. Think about the weather, the temperature, your commute and bring in only clothes that make you feel good.
- Mix up the simple things. I wear the same shirts over and over again, with a different combination of bottoms + sweaters or blazers. One piece can go a long way if you keep it simple, like a plain black or white tee! I prefer to opt for neutrals in varying silhouettes so there’s a consistent feel while injecting variety.
My office style
I’d describe my style as classic + easygoing. Keep scrolling for the pieces I couldn’t do without!
My office essentials
Garments are linked in the captions, so you can shop right from here (unless the style is discontinued).
The content below contains affiliate links, and all opinions are my own!
Keep the tee, switch everything else. BAM, you’ve got yourself endless possibilities.
Featured: Tradlands Girlfriend Tee | Sotela Co Forest Cardigan | Levi’s 501s | L’Intervalle Booties | Kotn High Neck Tank | Hutchison Cardigan | Old Duo-Tone Jeans | Old Blazer | Kotn Fitted Tee | Levi’s 501 Wedgies | Vintage Woven Shoes | Kotn Men’s Essential Crew | Vintage Huaraches
Featured: Old Tee | Vintage 1980s Trousers | Vintage Woven Shoes | Brass Clothing Nonstop Top | Old Skirt | Timberland Glancy 6-inch Boots | Old Culottes | Alice + Whittles Minimalist Ankle Boot | Kotn Men’s Essential Crew | Old Trousers, Heels
A solid, versatile blazer
For the professional, and for the band-tee-on-a-Friday vibe.
This one’s a reliable old faithful! Try Everlane for new, ethical versions!
No need to be overly stuffy here! Honestly, these are the most versatile items you could have in your workwear arsenal. Tie them at the waist, button up all the way, tuck them in halfway, throw on a bandana, keep ’em open like a chore coat. Endless possibilities even with one top!
Featured: Tradlands Boxy Top in Harbour Stripe | Levi’s 501 Wedgies | Old Sneakers | Tradlands Vintage Denim Shirt | Vintage Levi’s 505s | Old Loafers, Vest, Blazer, Plaid Button-Up | Levi’s 501s | Secondhand Silk Scarf | Old Button-Up | Vintage Woven Shoes
Featured: Tradlands Goodall Poplin | Levi’s 501 Wedgies | Old Booties, Button-Up | L’Intervalle Booties | Tradlands Vintage Denim Shirt | Fifth Label Skirt | Kazz Clothing Coat | Old Blouse | Levi’s 501s | Old Mules
Featured: All oldies but goodies.
A winter MUST. I like a variety of lightweight + sweaters so they can transition in all kinds of weather.
Featured: Old Sweater | Vintage Levi’s 505s | Old Booties | Kotn Black Turtleneck | Kazz Clothing Coat | Old Sneakers | Old Duo-Tone Jeans | Old Loafers | Locally Made Sweater | Fifth Label Skirt | Vintage Woven Shoes
Featured: Old Sweater, Skirt | L’Intervalle Booties | Locally Made Turtleneck | Secondhand Silk Scarf | Vintage 1980s Trousers | Old Boots | Kotn Alabaster Turtleneck | Locally Made Linen Trousers | Old Booties
Mock-Necks / long sleeves
The simplicity of a mock-neck or fitted longsleeve is unparalleled. They’re a beautifully professional contrast to oversized jeans, and they have a knack for elevating your workwear to boardroom status.
Featured: Old Mockneck | Secondhand Belt | Vintage Jeans | Old Loafers, Mockneck | TOMS Mules
A few subtle statement tops
I’m talking that top you want to wear to work on a Friday, and go out to the bar with later!
Featured: Old top | Free Label Reese Wrap Pants | Old Loafers | Polka-Dot Cami (made by me) | Vintage Cardigan | Old Culottes, Tie Top, Skinny Jeans
Structured long cardigans
Long cardis have a way of pulling a whole look together without having to think. They’re my go-to when I’m too tired to create a polished look – because it’s seriously foolproof!
1960s-style shift dresses
I’m not a big skirt or dress fan, but a good shift dress is comfy, easy, and works for a lot of walking and a long commute.
Culottes / wide-leg pants
Office-worthy without being stuffy.
Featured: Old Culottes | Kotn Cropped Sweatshirt | Old Loafers
For those power suit days.
Adding a belt can change your whole outfit! And add a finishing touch that shows intention and care.
Nude & black stockings
It’s hard to find ethical, sustainable ones – but you bet I found them!
Hot tip: keep a pair at work, always. Amazing for emergency exec meetings, for salt-stained boot days, or when you aren’t feeling your outfit and need a bit of pep in your step.
Multiple colours of loafers/mules
Loafers & mules are my favourite – especially with a pointed toe. They do the same thing for your look as a heel does, but they’re way more comfortable!
Of course, in my business-casual Marketing office, denim (even ripped) is appropriate. That allows me a ton of flexibility to switch it up if I’m bored.
My best advice is this: once you find out which silhouettes work for you, and what formulas you just can’t wait to put on each morning, then stick with it! You should feel like a million bucks when you go into work every day – like you can do anything. When you find the outfit that makes you feel that way, replicate in as many ways as you can!
Need to find some office essentials?
Here are my top go-to ethical workwear brands, and why I love them!
Tradlands – quality, durable button-ups for both the office, and adventures.
Use code PETRA15 on your first order for 15% off!
Brass Clothing – quality, lasting, classic silhouettes in work-appropriate fabrics.
Use code PETRA for 10% off your order!
Kotn – the softest Egyptian cotton basics made for layering or your own Steve Jobs power look.
Everlane – a veritable gold mine of every kind of garment you could think of.
Amour Vert – beautiful feminine patterns and luxurious fabrics that add detail to your basics.
Nisolo – timeless, sleek and lasting.
L’Intervalle – a Canadian brand handmade in Spain, with some seriously badass heels.
Fortress of Inca – booties and mules and slides, oh my!
Everlane – again, they’ve truly got it all! Their loafers are my favourite, and so comfy.
Want to go secondhand or vintage? Great choice!
Here’s a list of the best items to buy secondhand
- Skirts. So many 1980s skirts are waiting in the racks! No need to buy new with a ton of North-American made classics there. It’s simple to bring in a waist if the size is too big, too.
- Blazers. Another gold mine. Sometimes, taking out the shoulder pads helps to create a more updated look!
- Sweaters. There are some lovely vintage knits out there that have beautiful detailing. Some of my go-to sweaters are from secondhand or vintage shops, made with high-quality wool.
- Shoes. If you go to a higher-quality, curated vintage shop, you can find some beautiful and unique shoes.
- Belts. One of my faves is an old belt from my uncle!
- Handbags. Need something to add a unique pop to a palette of neutrals or basics? Vintage handbags or briefcases are stunning.
Phew! This was a long one, but I hope it helps you find the right office wear for you! Have any questions or advice for others looking for the perfect ethical work wardrobe? Share in the comments section below!