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Few things are as instantly noticeable about a person as what he or she is wearing. Depending on the company dress code there can be quite a bit of flexibility on what is appropriate nowadays. This has its pros and cons. On the good side, you can show more of your personality with a loose dress code. On the bad side . . . you can show more of your personality.
While companies are generally losing the shirt and tie for men and blouse and skirt/slacks for women, it doesn’t mean you’re free to wear whatever you like. In almost every case, there is a line that marks what is and is not acceptable. You’re best to remember to stay on the right side of it. Otherwise, you start to get labeled by management and co-workers, alike, as having poor judgement. If you have any aspirations to move up in your career, judgement is a key criterion.
With this in mind, we’ve jotted down a few good rules of thumb to follow.
1. Keep It Conservative
Remember, that in most of corporate America, it’s managed by curmudgeons, many of whom worked with a suit on. Things are way more relaxed now, but those curmudgeons still have some expectations. It always surprises me how far people will take “business casual.” I am convinced that some of our younger people think it’s a synonym for club attire. If you are one of these people, let me explain something to you, it’s not.
Unless you are a model, a company is not paying you to look sexy. They are paying you to be productive and provide good service to customers. So, ladies and gentlemen, save those tight shirts and pants, low-cut blouses, and mini-skirts for Saturday night. Monday through Friday, no one should see your belly-button or the tattoo right above your bottom.
Likewise, I’ve seen far too many people appear like they just rolled out of bed and came to work in their pajamas or sweatpants. I don’t know what that’s all about. Unless it is a fun “pajama day” at work, you should not where them outside of the house (yes, you shouldn’t wear them while shopping at Walmart either).
Yoga pants. Ladies, just say no! Even when you pair them with a long sweater, it’s still overly revealing. Yes, everything is covered, but do you really think such an outfit is screaming, “Promote me! I’m professional!”? And guys, you should never ever wear yoga pants, even in yoga class.
Business casual or professionally dressed doesn’t have to equate to “boring.” Wear different colors, patterns, fabrics, and cuts. This can help your personality come through. Just make sure that it flatters your body and complexion.
2. Stick with the Classics
It’s tempting to try keep up with trends in fashion, but often, as soon as you get something that “fashionable,” it’s out of fashion. You’re way better off getting items that are more resilient. There are some styles, colors, etc. that will always look good and will always be around.
Take men’s pants, for example. About 15 years ago, pleats were popular. Today, you only see people wearing pleated pants because it’s the same pants they’ve been wearing for the last 15 years (not knocking on you if you’re one of those guys, but it may be time to get a few new pairs of pants). Today, everything is “skinny” fit. I’m sure this will go the way of pleated pants soon enough.
What’s a classic, you ask? Things like a white button-down shirt. Black, grey, or navy blue flat front pants. Pencil skirts. You know, things you’ve seen people where forever.
3. A Little Goes a Long Way
Accessories will do one of two things for you. They will either add to your overall look, making you look more complete. They can also distract people. Suddenly the accessory takes center stage. Consider piercings. For women, try to stay away from wearing big hoop earrings and take out other facial piercings. Men, if you haven’t gotten gauges yet and are considering them, reconsider. Unless you’re working for a tattoo parlor or a Spencer’s, don’t get piercings you don’t need.
A good purse or good shoes are great for rounding out an outfit. Based on what my wife says, it’s hard to find something that’s both fashionable and functional, but this is the elusive target you’re aiming for. If, by the end of the day, your dogs are killing you, you should probably consider finding a new pair of shoes that fit your needs better.
Likewise, a nice watch is a piece that helps add to the outfit. Personally, I’m biased towards analogs. Digital and smart watches are ok, but not style pieces unless they have, at a minimum, a leather band. Otherwise, they look kind of tacky with professional clothing.
Additionally, don’t go overboard with cologne and perfume. You may have colleagues or managers who have sensitive sniffers or are allergic to certain chemicals and compounds. It’s better to not wear any or spray lightly.
4. Keep Your Wardrobe Fresh
Ok, after reading this, you realize that you need to make some changes to your wardrobe. If you don’t want to pitch everything out and replace it all, you can try this tactic instead. Identify two to three pieces every year that have outlasted their welcome in your armoire and find their replacements. That includes anything that doesn’t fit, looks dated or out of style, or simply worn out. This way, you don’t have to shell out thousands of dollars at once and can keep your outfits looking up-to-date.
Also, find a good tailor. This saves you quite a bit of money because you can purchase unhemmed pants, items on clearance, etc. that run large and have them fitted to match your body precisely. You save some money and will look good in the process. Nothing but upside on your part!
5. Get Professional Assistance
For the fashion illiterate, it’s highly recommended to find a retailer or personal consultant who can take the time to sit down with you to understand your preferences and make recommendations on fabrics, colors, and styles that will make you look handsome or beautiful. This is an additional expense but can be worth the cost.
Given the fact that first impressions are made within seconds of meeting someone, you want to ensure that the impression you’re making is the right one. As superficial as it may be, how you dress is almost as important as anything else you do professionally. Make sure you’re not dressing yourself out of the next step in your career.