The Ideal Image: How to Dress for Success in Any Situation
You know by now that like first impressions matter in the workplace. And what stands out more than the way you dress? Whether you’re heading out for an interview to snag your dream job, maneuvering your way through a formal office, or enjoying the luxury of a toned-down environment, below are some tips to help you conquer the “What in the world do I wear?” conundrum.
While it’s important to try and mimic the tone of the office in which you’re hoping to work, it’s always a good idea to err on the side of too formal than too relaxed when embarking on a job interview.
This means, with very few exceptions, men should wear a full standard suit. A full suit includes matching pants and suit jacket, button-down shirt, tie, formal socks, and dress shoes. Be sure that neither your tie nor your socks are too distracting. There will be plenty of time to show off your creative side during the interview process if you so choose—but wearing a tie featuring your favorite cartoon may not be the way to do it.
Women have a bit more versatility when it comes to their interview options, but it’s still advisable to wear a formal suit jacket with either pants or a skirt. Skirts shouldn’t come above your knees, and blouses should never be low cut, sheer, or otherwise distracting. Keep jewelry and makeup to a minimum.
Formal workplace attire is usually reserved for companies in industries that frequently deal directly with customers, such as those in law and banking. For men, this means dressing very similarly to how you would during the interview process. A matching suit jacket and pants, neatly pressed, paired with a conservative tie, socks, and dress shoes all work together to project a strong, competent image. Most offices with this dress code also require men’s hair to be neatly groomed (ie: short).
Just as in the interview process, women have the option of choosing between pants or a skirt to go along with their suit jackets. Just remember flesh colored pantyhose are a must if you go the skirt route, and shoes should err closer to a kitten-heel height as opposed to stiletto.
For men and women, it’s important not to wear perfume or aftershave in the workplace, as many people find it overwhelming or are allergic to it. A decent application of deodorant should serve just fine instead.
This is one of those oxymoronic phrases that really just serves to confuse people. Business? And casual? How can that be?
In short, business casual can mean different things for different offices. However, most of the time it comes down to looking professional, yet comfortable. For women this means dress slacks, khakis, skirts, or cotton pants paired with anything from sweaters and cardigans to blouses and knit shirts. People continue to remain divided over the leggings issue, but nowadays, most employers seem fine with thick leggings topped with a dress or long shirt.
For men, khakis or cotton slacks can go with button down shirts (either long- or short-sleeved), sweaters, or polos. You should always wear a leather or faux-leather belt and dress shoes to elevate the look beyond weekend casual. A tie also helps pull the whole look together but is completely optional in a business casual setting.
In case you can’t tell from the name, this is the most relaxed and versatile of the workplace dress codes. Both men and women are permitted to wear jeans—however, they should be in good condition, not ripped or worn (yes, even if shredded is the “in” style at the moment). Women can wear skirts, dresses, khakis, or thick leggings with sweaters, button-ups, blouses, or knit tops. Just make sure none of it is too revealing.
In addition to jeans, men can wear khakis, corduroys, or cotton pants. All shirts should be collared and tucked in—the exception to this would be if you wore a sweater. Sweater vests are a great way to keep things looking neat while still being comfortable.
As for shoes, basically anything but flip-flops, sneakers, or slippers is fair game for both men and women. Just remember: even though this might be the most casual of the dress codes in your workplace, it’s still a workplace. You should look professional—you just get to be a bit more comfortable while doing it.
Rightly or wrongly, how you dress at work reflects on who you are at the office. Take care and pride in how you present yourself, and the rest will follow.