How To Inject a Dose of Spring Into a Basic Work Wardrobe


 Reader Question:

I'm headed back to work full-time now that my kids are older, and I work in a pretty conservative field.  I've bought a few basics, but am at a loss now that it's (slightly) warmer and I'll have to pack away my black boots, tights and sweater dresses!

I'm a size 4 (which I've worked hard for post-babies!) but so many of my old clothes look frumpy.  While I'm over 40, I don't look it and don't want to!  Could you give me some tips to use what I've got to be stylin' in the office and budget-friendly?

I went out and bought a black skirt suit with a pencil skirt, some stretchy black belts for the pencil skirt and sweater dresses, two camis – white & black, and a no-wrinkle crisp fitted white shirt.  I have a few cardigans (a bit dated and baggy) but one classic charcoal cashmere sweater set that still works, kind of.  I also have three pairs of dress khakis and a pair of dressy washable black slacks.  And I have one cute silky scarf in neutrals.

A lot of my friends are in the same boat – starting over with a closet full of jeans, t-necks & tees, and no idea where to start.  Can you show us a few looks that could build on the basics for spring but would work for …. well, work?  
Thanks!  I love your blog and read it daily.  I love when you feature other blogs too – I'm starting to follow a few more but yours is the most fun (and fashion-forward).  




Julia, thanks for writing in!  What a fun question – and I love that you gave us an idea of what you already have in your closet.  Your basics are very relatable…I'm willing to bet that most mamas have some version of what you described.  So how to perk up a fairly dark and and basic wardrobe for Spring?

Here's a sample of the types of items Julia has in her closet:


Tahari jacket | Tahari skirt | Tahari pantsGucci Button-down shirt | Jackie Cardigan | Jackie Shell  | Gap Classic Khakis | Neutral Scarf


To perk these pieces up….we need to inject a little color, and some patterns.  My recommended shopping list is actually pretty short.  Ready?  

The Shopping List


J. Crew Pencil SkirtJ Crew Cashmere TeeJ Crew Dot Popover | Kate Spade Pump

The biggest challenge?  Trying to brighten up a work wardrobe of primarily black pieces.  Black is tough to match – it overpowers most colors (except for gray…which isn't very Spring-y).  The key is going to be finding items that are color-saturated enough to stand up to all of that black, and prints that can hold their own against the black.

But yes – I'm recommending only four items:

A.  Print skirt (I like pencil)

B.  Cashmere Tee (to wear on its own or layered over other shirts)

C.  Patterned Shirt (put it under the cashmere tee, under a blazer, or wear alone)

D.  Bright Pumps (wear with everything!!)


I know my shopping list is J.Crew-heavy, but similar items can be found at varying price points.  J.Crew just happens to be killing it this Spring.  Per usual.

In any case, here's how I'd mix these items into your existing work wardrobe.  Let's start with that fun little pencil skirt, shall we?

What To Wear With The Print Pencil Skirt


I love the menswear take of the shell layered over the button-down, but paired with a fun and sexy skirt.  The shoes will really pop in this outfit.   If the shell doesn't layer properly, use the cardigan.  And again, if the polka-dot + floral-skirt combo is too much, button the blazer.  Mixed prints are huge for Spring, and most work surprisingly well.

What To Wear With The Black Pencil Skirt


Again with the layering over a button-down…this time it's the cashmere tee.  Too hot?  Wear the tee alone.  The teal tee + black skirt + blue shoes will look like color-blocking, another Spring trend. 

Aaannndddd Pants

There are a million different ways to wear these pieces, these are just some of my favorites. 

Julia, if you are not feeling the blue and teal, I also really like camel and orange paired with black, or black + red + purple….

Readers!  I'm messing around with a new app that lets me annotate pics.  I know my writing is horrible, but whaddya think?  Handwriting aside, do my annotations make it easier to understand what I'm talking about…or…??  Let me know what you think of my new technique in the comments.






  1. Love the annotations, love the pics (especially the gorgeous print skirt), and especially loved that you only used 4 pieces to do all that! Amazing! Btw, I’ve been reading your blog for a couple of months now, and it’s completely changed the way I dress. My 14 year old is impressed. ‘Nuff said.

  2. The annotations are awesome! This is a great post — infusing most of the basics that we all have and updating them for spring. I don’t work right now, but you’re making me think about how to update my tees/tanks/jeans combos with a few more casual spring pieces. I also like that you only recommended four pieces – very doable. A nice handbag in a complementary shade might also be a good addition (but I’m on a handbag kick right now so don’t mind me…)

  3. Shana, I think this has related most to where I’m at (at least shortly, since I’m 7 mo. pregnant at the moment)! I LOVE the notes you’ve made & it helps me so much to really GET the ideas you’re throwing out. My work wardrobe is blah, even though I have some interesting pieces, I haven’t known how to pair them very well. My regular wardrobe is pretty much the same, but I think this post gives me a jumping off point! Thanks a million!

  4. Love! This is just what I needed! I do fine all week at home but am a little lost on Sundays. These outfits are totally appropriate for church. I need all the confidence I can get staring down a room full of seven year olds attempting to get them to listen to the Bible story!

  5. Love the advice (and the colour and with only four pieces!), and the annotations!
    Question about the work shirts. As a working mom, I never have time to iron, so I stopped buying shirts b/c they were always wrinkled. But they’re so versatile. I know there are various ones that claim to not need ironing. Do any of them actually really look good right out of the dryer?

  6. Thanks, Girls! I’ll keep the annotations going! And M – I know you are making fun of me. 🙂 Only you would know HOW FLIPPING LONG it took (and how many tries) to make my handwriting as “legible” as it is. Snort.
    Shannon – Your 14 yr old? Seriously? Wow. Gold star for me. I remember myself at 14…yikes. 🙂
    JAL – most of mine look…pretty good out of the dryer, but I tend to run run run right down and take them out immediately. I find that wrinkles happen when they sit in the dryer for long periods. OR…I hang the thing up while I take a long hot shower, and the wrinkles fall out. That said, I’m not super picky about wrinkles…Mike and I bought our first iron last month. True.
    Working mamas that want more posts like this – let me know what kinds of workin’ girl questions you have….
    And Checklist Mommy – it’s Noteability. I think I love it.

  7. I like the annotation. It reminds me of the football stuff they do on TV that I don’t understand, except that I understand this. Lol.
    I noticed you completely left pink off your list. Would hot pink + orange not work in your opinion? Cause that is totally what I would gravitate towards, lol.

  8. Not a working mom question but another one – with the heat wave in the northeast, I’ve had to break out shorts, which just seem so … dumpy to me. No matter how I try to dress them up. I’ve resorted to being hot and wearing cute khakis rolled up or capris with fitted long or 3/4 length sleeve shirts pushed up. How can you be a fashionable mama in shorts?
    I only have a few sundresses or skirts that work, and it’s just too darned hot for layers when it’s 75 degrees out.

  9. Hi! I’m a full time working mama and this post has single-handedly kept me looking (somewhat) put together at the office this spring and summer. A) it has the perfect amount of color and pattern to keep things interesting, but conservative enough and B) only required purchasing 4 items!
    Now with fall right around the corner, I would LURVE it if you could do something similar for fall.

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