When it comes to dressing for the office, there are a multitude of suitable options — and an equal number of ways to go wrong. Professional attire matters because like it or not, the impression we make on others, whether new business prospects, clients, or those responsible for decisions about raises and promotions, is shaped by our appearance.
No matter where you are on the organizational chart, you represent the company you work for, and your clothing is a significant part of that presentation. When you get dressed, glance in the mirror and try to see yourself from the perspective of a boss or a customer — how would you feel about doing business with someone dressed in a similar manner?
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Clothing selections that are on-target actually contribute to career success. However, a wardrobe misfire may not only be a distraction but also raise our judgment and professionalism into question. It’s especially important to evaluate summer wardrobes as warmer weather arrives.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to what’s appropriate for the workplace. What is acceptable varies by industry and corporate culture, so always check your company’s dress code to understand the policy. Keep an eye on what your supervisors are wearing for additional cues and use the following guidelines to appear polished and professional in any setting:
Executive dress equals a suit.
A conservative, dark gray or navy suit with a white shirt is the classic look for both men and women at the executive level (though women can opt for a pantsuit or skirt suit). For footwear, a good choice is a lace-up oxford for men and closed-toe heel for women. Personal touches can be added through a tie for men or a blouse or statement piece of jewelry for women. This look conveys strength, power and stability.
Avoid business casual confusion.
There are several interpretations of this concept, but it’s not the type of casual outfit you’d wear bowling or to a movie. For men, a button-down shirt and khaki pants is the quintessential business casual. For women, a skirt and blouse, or dress is standard. Men, keep a versatile sport coat hanging in your office in case a last-minute meeting comes up.
Laid back is different than lax.
In creative environments such as ad agencies or tech start-ups, it’s commonly believed that anything goes. But even in a relaxed office, strive for a look that is comfortable but still sharp. As in any workplace, you will want to inspire confidence in your clients, boss and colleagues. That means saving the cut-off shorts, flip-flops and tank tops for the beach.
Always dress one step above your client.
Your client may be a shorts and tennis shoe kind of person, but if you are their accountant, your dress code will be different. You could easily get by with casual slacks and a cotton shirt, but your ultimate goal is to project an appearance that will put your client at ease regarding your skills.
Make sure your clothes are in good repair.
That means inspecting them for any tears, holes, missing buttons, stains or other blemishes that will detract from your appearance. Shoes should be in excellent shape, scuff-free and polished. No toes showing in most environments unless your office is the beach.
Stay under cover.
Whether it’s cleavage, midriffs, legs or strappy little heels, it’s never advisable to bare too much skin at the office, regardless of the season. Spaghetti straps and sheer fabric are always a no. Men, refrain from wearing sandals of any kind.
Grooming is a must.
Gentlemen, keep all facial hair neatly trimmed, so your beard doesn’t become your defining characteristic. Women who have made the effort to cultivate a signature look, whether a chic chignon or a textured top knot, will find they feel more put-together and ready to shine. If you would wear it to a cocktail party, it’s not right for work. Sparkles and sequins are great for dressy occasions but are definitely not appropriate in a work setting