How to Dress for Work

What should I wear?

These days, knowing how to dress can be difficult.  There are so many "attires" that blur the lines of casual and professional.  

Many business school programs emphasize that students practice visualizing themselves in future leadership roles.  And many programs feature students interacting with business professionals and supporters who appreciate their contributions. 

First Impressions

Everywhere you go, you leave an impression. That impression comes from what people notice first about you. Most often, your clothing. 

It may be fortunate or unfortunate, but the first time someone sees you, he or she is forming an instant opinion about you based solely on how you look.

Clothes give us, and other people, a feeling of who we are. 

So what happens when your style isn't telling the truth about who you are? It may be time to change it.

How to Dress According to Policy and Good Sense

Professional environments are as diverse as the people who inhabit them. And, some might say, dressing to be compatible is more confusing than ever.     

Your workplace may require professional attire, but when you meet for lunch with a client, he shows up in jeans.

There's nothing wrong with this.  Even if you knew he would wear jeans, you still must abide by your company or school's policy.

However, when working with clients or donors, especially as a representative of your organization or in a sales capacity, it's important to meet them where they are.  If your style of dress isn't in sync, try and let your personality match your client's formal or casual style without compromising your "bottom line" standards of professional attire. 

Put your visitor or client at ease with a sincere compliment, or just a friendly smile and warm greeting.

But if your company's dress code is loosely interpreted by management, it's anyone's guess how to dress. 

In this case, and even with strict dress code policies, dress how you want others to perceive you. Do you want to project a polished and professional image?  A good rule of thumb is to err on the side of elegant rather than too casual.

Just because conservative or professional dress is required doesn't mean you can't add a splash of color (tie, shirt, or jewelry) to compliment your gregarious personality.  Claim your business or casual style with accessories that are uniquely you.

Wear suits made in colors or fabrics that show your tasteful individuality.  If your budget allows, you can have a tailor make them for you. 

And if your workplace is super casual, you still might want to keep khakis or a skirt as your wardrobe staples to help you lean more to the "business casual" end.  Especially if you are working your way to a management position.

Adhering to, or freely interpreting, your company's or school's dress code policy does not mean you have to give up your own personality.  Nor does it mean you have to dress in a manner that is off-putting to clients or vendors.  

A few words of caution:  Don't stray too far from the norm in your environment.  There's always room for compromise. 

Ultimately, you're aiming to be the best version of yourself!

Comfort and Style

Another aspect of making a good first - and lasting - impression is how you carry yourself. 

If you don't know how to dress for comfort, or if your style is not in sync with who you are, you will not present yourself with confidence and authenticity.

Find out who you are, and dress accordingly.

Your clothes speak volumes. And remember, trends come and go, but your style will always be with you.

  • Accessories are the easiest and least expensive way to change your style.  Start with a new scarf or tie. A piece of vintage jewelry gives a new look to nearly any outfit.
  • Scour magazines and catalogs (online or offline) and notice the styles that resonate with you. When you're ready, invest in a new shirt, blouse, skirt, or pair of shoes that reflect the true you.
  • Make this a fun process of self-discovery. As your business dress becomes more authentic, you will settle into the person - and professional - you were meant to be.

Here's to a fabulous you!

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