When you’re building a professional wardrobe, it’s key to have a few pieces that speak to your signature style. Bridget Casey shares how one neon-pink bag has made all the difference for professional networking.

I own a neon-pink Marc Jacobs bag. I bought it at a frenzied sale at a large-scale department store, the kind where security guards herd the crowd from room to room, as though you might stuff six sequined clutch purses down the front of your shirt and make a run for it. I snatched my purse from the sales pile, bolted for the cashier, and took home the bag of my dreams for 30 percent off.

I love that Marc Jacobs bag. It’s a high-impact piece, and not just because it burns your retinas: Not only is it eye-catching, it also matches virtually everything in my otherwise neutral-colored wardrobe. I get compliments on it almost everywhere I go, and the style and prominent gold-plated designer insignia is enough to signal the brand from across a room.

But that’s not the point: This bag is a conversation starter, an icebreaker, and a personal identifier.

“I’ll be the girl with the neon-pink purse.”

I’ve used that line so often when setting up coffee shop meetings that I’ve thought seriously of making it my email signature. It’s how I got a myriad of important people, including my boss to my publisher, to find me in a crowd. When you’re setting up meetings with someone you’ve only known through email exchanges, you want to give them more clues than “I’ll be wearing a black jacket.” The purse elevates everything I wear, since I’m normally otherwise dressed in jeans and a $20 t-shirt. But the right bag, a nice watch, and a cool pair of shoes, and I suddenly have it all together.

The clothes you wear should express yourself, not the latest trends.

Most things will be too loud or expressive for everyone else, because most people want to blend in instead of stand out. But blending in is boring, and it doesn’t get you ahead.

Want to get noticed in the workplace and the world? Start with your wardrobe.

I don’t mean the old “dress for the job you want, not the job you have” mantra. I mean “dress for the real super-successful you that is currently buried under ratty blazers and ill-fitting jeans.” You’re already awesome; your clothes should reflect that.

It takes time and money to do anything of importance.

This includes going on an exotic vacation, throwing a cool wedding, paying off your student loans, and yes, building a high-impact wardrobe. You have to be strategic, disciplined, and stay as far from Forever 21 as possible.

So start small, but start right now. You could even start with one great bag.


Bridget Casey writes at Money After Graduation.

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