An Ethical Office Capsule Wardrobe

Wearing an ethical office outfit

Hey everyone! Long time no see.

You probably noticed that I promised you a bunch of blog posts over the last month, and instead, I wrote none. If it made you sad, I’m sorry. It makes me sad, too. I love Instagram (where I still post more-or-less daily), but this is my favorite space. This is where the good stuff is.

But I’ve been busy. This fall has been filled with travel, both for work and for fun, and the shorter autumn days have affected my blogging much more than I expected. By the time I get home from work most nights, I’m all out of energy (and natural light).

At the end of October, I spent a few days in Denver, Colorado at a huge conference where I was representing my organization as an exhibitor. As soon as I got back, we had our own conference here in Washington, DC. It’s been meeting after meeting, which means fancy outfit after fancy outfit.

Given that I’ve been walking around in strictly business formal attire for most of the last few weeks, I thought this would be a good time to share a post that I’ve been wanting to make for a while – a guide to building a simple, functional, ethical capsule wardrobe for the office. I’ve put together the items that I consider essential to a basic office wardrobe, and I’ve provided links to ethically made options for each one. I hope you find it helpful!

If you haven’t read my article on the Dos and Don’ts of Getting Dressed for the Office over at The Minimalist Wardrobe, check it out here!

Before I share this capsule, I want to make a quick statement about prices. I am very aware that if you were to go down this list and buy everything on it, it would cost you many hundreds of dollars. That’s obviously an unrealistic expectation for the average person, and I don’t presume that anyone reading this has that kind of money to blow on a brand new wardrobe.

With that sentiment in mind, I hope that you’ll think of this post less as a complete shopping list and more as inspiration or a guide for filling in gaps. I myself don’t own everything on this list, and I’ve been building my professional wardrobe for years. A lot of my clothes are old holdovers from my fast-fashion days, and many others were thrifted, or were gifted to me by a brand in the last few months. I believe in ethical fashion and I think that these are great brands to support, but I’m also not here to judge anyone for not buying what they can’t afford.

Now, on to the capsule! For this guide, I wanted to get really minimalist. I thought about what the absolute minimum requirements would be for an office wardrobe that felt complete, and how those items could be mixed and matched to make many different outfits that felt visually and professionally consistent. I’m linking these mostly to pieces in black and white, because those are simple colors that I really enjoy, but of course, you do you when it comes to color.

Here are the ten items that I think make up a complete, ethical capsule wardrobe for the office.

A Crisp White Oxford

The most essential piece, in my opinion. This is the foundation of an office wardrobe, and it’s worth investing in a good one.

My ethical pick: Tradlands Elms Shirt (pictured below).

*Save 15% off your first Tradlands order with code GOBLINSHARK15

tradlands elms shirt and vetta peg pants

Tailored Black Pants

The next most important item after the white shirt. Black pants go with everything (remember that time I destroyed mine and had a crisis?) and if you get a sturdy, anonymous looking pair, you could probably get away with wearing them five days a week (barring any salsa incidents, to which I am unfortunately prone).

My ethical pick: VETTA Peg Pant (pictured above).

A Silk Blouse

Drapey and luxe, I think that a good silk blouse ( real silk – not a polyester lookalike) ups the level of professionalism of any outfit. I like to wear mine tucked into pants or a skirt, or tied at the waist on off-duty days.

My ethical pick: Cuyana Silk Band Collar Shirt

A Little Black Dress

One and done. Appropriate for anything and everything.

My ethical pick: Brass Clothing All Day Dress

A Simple Neutral Skirt

I waffled over whether I needed to include both a dress and a skirt, but when I reflected back on my own work wardrobe and how I typically get dressed every day, I realized that I really do like having one of each. I like a plain black pencil or A-line skirt.

My ethical pick: Eileen Fisher Tencel Ponte Pencil Skirt

A Cashmere Sweater

For if your office is a frozen tundra (mine is). A basic cashmere crew neck sweater is versatile and professional looking, stands up to a lot of wear, and keeps you warm without too much bulk.

My ethical pick: Everlane $100 Cashmere Crew

Bonus pick: Everlane Cashmere Square Turtleneck (pictured below). For advanced-level chilly offices. I recently picked this up at a local consignment shop (for $40!!!) and it is ridiculously soft and warm. I’ve been really into boxy shapes lately, so if that’s your jam, I think you’ll love this sweater.

everlane square cashmere sweater

A Silk Shell

I love a sleeveless shell for layering underneath a jacket or cardigan, but also on its own for warmer days or for when you’re working up a sweat moving boxes or fighting with the postage machine (the joys of life as an administrative professional…).

My ethical pick: Elizabeth Suzann Ella Slip Tank

A Classic Blazer

A blazer is a piece that takes your wardrobe into Serious Professional territory. Throw a blazer on over pretty much anything and your outfit instantly becomes more polished.

My ethical pick for this one is hands down the Everlane Oversized Blazer. I was lucky enough to receive the plaid one (pictured below) to review before it immediately sold out, but as much as I love it, I actually think that the Grey Herringbone is more versatile and less trendy (meaning more longevity in your wardrobe). That’s the color that I originally fell in love with and that I heavily stalked on one of my favorite bloggers for about a year.

I really wanted the plaid one for myself, and as a petite woman, I like how the oversize silhouette looks on me over a short dress and tights or slim pants and a silk shell. It’s also doubled really well as outerwear for me during this chilly fall weather. Did you guys ever read The Secret History by Donna Tartt? This blazer makes me feel like I’m part of an exclusive academic cult at a Vermont liberal arts college in the 1980’s.

If you prefer a more fitted silhouette, Everlane also released its new Wool Academy Blazer this fall!

everalane oversized blazer plaid

A Comfortable Pair of Shoes

I’m not saying wear sneakers to the office, but I am saying wear shoes that you can walk in without doing that weird hunching-limping thing that women do when their heels are obviously killing them. I personally prefer a pair of chic black pumps with a low heel or kitten heel. Flats are great too, as are oxfords or a sleek pair of boots.

My ethical pick: Nisolo Emma d’Orsay Oxford

An Elegant Coat

Nothing ruins the look of a polished office outfit like a too-casual coat. Trust me, because I interviewed for jobs in an H&M suit and a crappy Uniqlo puffer when I first got out of school and I felt the eyes of judgement on me everywhere I went. The very first thing I bought with my first big-girlpay check was a nice wool coat. It cost me $200 at Loft in 2014 and it is still the coat that I wear to work in the winter to this very day.

My ethical pick: Coat Check Chicago Car Coat


This post contains affiliate links. I may receive a small commission from sales made using these links. That commission helps to support Goblin Shark.










2 thoughts on “An Ethical Office Capsule Wardrobe

  1. Love this! I now pride myself on how long I can keep my work clothes, repairing them myself or having a tailor repair. I have a LBD that I’ve had for about 5 years and I pair it with a different cardigan each time. It’s nice getting a high on keeping your clothes rather than buying new ones all the time!


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