If you're a woman entering or reentering the work market, chances are you're concerned about your career wardrobe. Granted, fashion options are widening for the workingwoman, but there are still rules about maintaining a professional image. The most important rules are to dress for the business you're in, and dress to show you mean business.
What is right for the bank teller to wear is not the answer for the creative director of an advertising agency.
Regardless of the type of job you're planning, the first step in wardrobe building begins with your own closet. Start by emptying all the clothes in your closet onto the bed. Then take inventory and weed out the things you don't feel good in. Next, make a list of what you're going to keep. Often these clothes can be updated with a new belt or colorful scarf.
Now, start to build. If you don't own a suit, consider buying one. A suit is the mainstay of most wardrobes. It's especially safe as an interview outfit if you haven't yet landed a job.
It makes good sense to buy the best-quality suit that your budget will allow. It doesn't have to be done in banker colors. Workingwomen are now replacing the conservative ''success suit'' of the 1970s with many new versions.
These new suits are softer looking and designed in a full range of colors. Jackets are available in box, fitted, and high-fashion styles. The skirts are showing up pleated, straight, and full.
There's no question that you are also going to need a few blouses and sweaters. Some polyester blouses look almost as good as the silks.
If you can afford silk, it's a good idea to buy the blouse in white or off-white. It will go with everything for both daytime and evening.
Separates are so important that designers such as Albert Nipon are launching new blouse lines for executive women.
''Many of the blouses are designed with removable scarfs and detachable bows, '' Mr. Nipon says. ''They're very versatile. They're in solids as well as floral and dot prints.''
When you look at sweaters, you'll find the spring versions are not as expensive as those for fall. If you can buy one on sale, all the better.
To balance your wardrobe, you may want a second skirt. Be sure it's one that can go well with the jacket to your suit. Keep it simple so it will go with all your separates.
Personal shopping consultants say that dresses are selling well for spring - especially the prints.
''In the past, women used to buy dresses for special occasions,'' says Lynn Bragdon, divisional director of executive shopping services at Filene's in Boston. ''There was that syndrome. But things are changing. Dresses are comfortable and they travel well. All a woman has to do is add a few accessories and she's all set.''
For those who don't wear dresses, there are separates designed to look like dresses. Evan-Picone has window-pane-plaid separates that can be worn together as a dress or coordinated with other pieces. This type of outfit can be added to the wardrobe once the basics have been bought.
Accessories can be fun because they offer a chance to add personal touches. A few basic ones can serve you well.
For instance, a pair of pumps in a wheat or sand color will be extremely versatile. This color looks great with almost everything.
Keep hosiery in nude tones. Leave the colored and patterned hose to those who wear trendy fashions.
When you buy a handbag, choose good-quality leather. A neutral shade is best. It doesn't have to match your shoes. Sometimes this looks contrived.
A saddle shade in a briefcase is a good idea, too. You can even slip your bag into it, provided it's not bulky.
Another important accessory is a good belt. ''It's even more important than the briefcase,'' says accessory designer Alexis Kirk. ''Yes, the briefcase says 'I carry responsibility,' but a belt can make a dramatic difference to an outfit. It's become jewelry for the waist.''