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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Dressing for Success: Image and Attire in the Workplace

In a previous post, I mentioned a talk that I gave a few years ago to a group of interns in my office.  I also gave a similar talk to a group of undergraduate design students.  The message is intended for those who are trying to dress appropriately for a corporate setting, but some of the points can be used in any environment.  The information is pretty timeless and I just thought I'd share...

Dressing for Success: Image and Attire in the Workplace

With the current state of the job market, the ability to best present yourself in the workplace is more critical than ever. You must use a variety of tactics to ensure you differentiate yourself from the competition in a positive way, to either land the job you’re seeking, or raise visibility in your current role.
As much as we'd like to think otherwise, it's human nature to make instant judgments about people based on their appearance.  You can be capable, intelligent, and knowledgeable, but if your attire and image portray something else, you may potentially miss out on valuable opportunities.

Clothing, image, and style help solidify your brand and convey a message.  So what is the message you’re trying to send?  Regardless of whether your company’s dress code is conservative, business casual or non-existent, it will benefit you to create a look that conveys professionalism and competency.

If you don’t know where to begin, “The 4 D’s of Dressing for Success will provide you with the basics for polishing and perfecting your office look:
  1. Determining what is appropriate for your workplace
  2. Designing a flexible and functional wardrobe
  3. Do’s of workplace attire
  4. Don’ts of workplace attire

Determining What is Appropriate for Your Workplace

To determine what is appropriate for your environment, you can simply look around to get a feel for what is acceptable.  How do senior-level people in the organization dress?  Is there an official, written dress code?  Do you meet with clients? Take a moment to consider those questions, and regardless of the answers, your look should easily blend in with what is considered “the norm” in your company. 

You can also consult with Human Resources and take a look at the official dress code to find out what is permissible.  Keep in mind, that not all aspects of a company dress code are covered by written policies, so use common sense when deciding what to wear. Dress codes can vary from company-to-company and even within companies.  Make sure you’re fully aware of what is acceptable in your department. 

Even if your dress code is more on the casual side, by stepping it up a notch, you can gain more credibility than if you simply sported “the-jeans-and-wrinkled-shirt-look” everyone else is wearing.

Developing a Flexible and Functional Wardrobe

It is important to create a flexible and functional wardrobe that allows you to quickly assemble your outfits, and transform them to craft looks for various situations.  Start with timeless classics that are well-made, and can easily coordinate with other items in your closet.  When building your wardrobe, the following 10 guidelines can help steer you in the right direction.
  1. Know your body type and what looks good on you.  If you don't listen to anything else in this post, please listen to this.  Knowing your body type and what styles and cuts look good on you are critical.  If you pay attention to well dressed women, they usually stick to certain styles because they know what works for them.  If you’re unsure of how to enhance your assets and downplay your flaws, magazines and books are great resources.  There are plenty of publications that provide assistance in this area.
  2. Follow the 3-4 Rule. When shopping, select items you can coordinate with at least 3 or 4 other pieces in your closet. This will help when you're remixing your wardrobe.
  3. When selecting suits, choose dark and neutral tones that can serve many purposes. Suits can be used for interviewing and meetings, and can also be worn as separates to stretch your wardrobe.  Select medium weights you can wear them throughout the year, and use colorful shirts, blouses and accessories to bring them to life.  
  4. Own several white shirts in different fabrics and styles. They can be worn in many different ways – with suits, dressed down with a pair of jeans or layered under sweaters, vests, dresses, etc.  White shirts are great for creating a timeless and classic look, and with the many interesting styles that are available, it doesn't have to be just another white shirt.
  5. T-shirts, in various colors, cuts and weights are extremely versatile. They can be worn under shirts, blouses and suits to protect them from stains and odors. For more casual environments, graphic t-shirts can add interest to an outfit under a blazer.  Just make sure the imagery and text are workplace appropriate. 
  6. Dresses are easy! They can be changed up with belts, blazers, and different shoe and handbag combinations. You can also throw a long-sleeve t-shirt under a dress or use a sweater (depending on the style of the dress) over the dress to change up the look.  In the colder weather, consider patterned and colored tights to add interest.
  7. Invest in a few good pairs of shoes. Alternate your shoes between wears and have them shined and repaired when necessary, to extend their life.
  8. Remix your wardrobe. Use vests, cardigans and sweaters for layering and changing up the look of your outfits.  I try to vary the way I wear my pieces - particularly if it's a "statement" item.  A little creativity can really help project the appearance of an extensive wardrobe.
  9. Personalize it! You can still look workplace-appropriate while adding your signature style to your ensembles.  Use patterned and colorful shoes and handbags to add an exclamation point to your looks. Statement belts, a nice watch, and fashionable accessories can really take your look from drab to fab.  Textured and colorful tights, patten mixing, and pairing different textures can also add some much-needed pizzazz to an outfit.  Use your imagination! The combinations and possibilities are endless when you use a little creativity.   
  10. Ask for help. If you need assistance, enlist the help of a stylish friend.  We all know at least 1 person who always looks well put-together and would be happy to lend a hand.a

Do’s and Don’ts

  • Buy a size that fits  
  • Have clothes tailored, if necessary 
  • Invest in quality undergarments that serve their intended purpose 
  • Pay attention to the little details (hems, buttons, seams, etc.)Take proper care of your clothes and dry clean when necessary  
  • Clean and store garments properly during off seasons 
  • Ladies, use cosmetics to complete your look.  At minimum, wear a little lip gloss, mascara and bronzer 
  • Spend more money on items you wear frequently such as handbags, shoes, and coats. These investment pieces should be durable and able to last several seasons.

  • Show the 4 B’s - Breasts, Bellies, Backs, and Butts.  Tight and revealing clothing has its place, but not in an office setting. 
  • Wear shoes that are too sexy or strappy. 
  • Overdo cologne or perfume, makeup, or jewelry.
These tips are not all-inclusive, but should give you some direction when you start pulling your look together.  With a little planning and a dose of your own personal style, you can develop a look that people will notice.  I can’t promise your wardrobe will be the only reason you get that new job or promotion, but it can definitely be a way for you to stand out from the crowd.