Whether you’re looking to re-enter the workforce, or already working/hoping to climb the corporate ladder, there is one thing I know for sure. With so many different careers – each with varying dress codes – there really is no one-size fits all when it comes to answering the “What to Wear to Work” dilemma. So, in an effort to help, I thought I’d try to decipher some of the most-asked general questions about making and maintaining a good impression in the workplace, so that you can tailor basic office dress-code policies to suit and get some inspiration to apply to your own situation…
You want to get that job? Don’t sabotage things before you even get to the interview…
First things first. You’ve got to actually jump through all those hoops before you even think of getting an interview. And if you’ve been looking for work for any length of time, you’ll know how hard that process can be! Keywords, psychometric testing, LinkedIn profiles, resumes, cover letters. Arrrgh! It’s enough to frighten anyone away before they even begin! BUT…I’ve found a little gem called Eliza Kennedy from www.Candid8marketing.com.au. She’s awesome! She will get you on the right track, look at your CV and LinkedIn profile, help you with cover letters etc. Because there are many things we mere mortals don’t know when it comes to the mysterious world of recruitment and HR.
Once you’ve got that stuff sorted, here’s where I come in….
Then there’s “The Interview”
Many people mistakenly believe that they can dress-down for an interview, thinking “I’m not going for the position of CEO. I’m only looking at entry-level/retail/hospitality (fill in the blanks). Surely I don’t need to get all dressed up in clothes that I would never need to wear for the actual position I’m going for?” Well the answer is “Yes you do!” And here’s why…
Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.
This applies from day one. At the interview you obviously don’t yet have anyone’s style to copy, so you should simply follow the rule of dressing for the job you ultimately want. Dress UP, not down. I don’t mean dressing for a night on the town either. I mean dress as corporate as you can, and pay extra attention to fine details like hair, makeup, manicure, shoes, accessories. Then, once you (hopefully) get the job, this is where being a bit of a style copy-cat IS the way to go.
Look at the person directly above you (or further up, to say the big boss or CEO). Take note of the clues they give. It’s one of the best ways to work out the company dress-code especially if one is not formally provided at the time of appointment. Does she wear mostly skirt suits? Is she always in matching suits with stockings? Or does she wear pantsuits? Does she wear open-toed shoes or closed-in pumps? You want your superiors to see you as being a good fit for the corporate culture, no matter where you are currently in your career ladder.
If you don’t have a reliable female executive to emulate, you can still trade on what the men are wearing. If they’re dressed in suits and ties every day – the most formal style of work attire – your safest bet may be to wear very corporate, conservative styles like pantsuits and skirtsuits yourself. Many companies expect their employees to dress as well as or better than their customers/clients. For example, if in sales, it’s a good idea to be prepared and to keep a few extra items on hand suitable for those impromptu “meetings with the client” outside the office. Say, a jacket, and corporate heels; or for the guys, a suit jacket and tie.
Your image should say “I’m professional, competent but still friendly and approachable”
The styles you choose, the shoes you wear, the length of your dresses/skirts, even the colours and prints will all say something about you. High fashion and the workplace generally don’t make good partners; unless, of course, you work in that direct environment – say, the more creative arenas like fashion retail, fashion magazines etc.
How to look professional and polished:
- A perfectly polished image is often more about the finer details rather than your fashion choices: well manicured nails, no holes in stockings, polished, appropriate shoes, neat hair and some makeup (yes, I said “some makeup”) all work wonders.
- Fit is everything. Pants should be fitted and the right length. No visible panty lines. Straight style skirts (pencil skirts) should be loose enough to sit down in comfortably. Nothing should be sprayed-on/skin-tight. Skirts shouldn’t be too short, tops shouldn’t be too low/revealing.
- Loud colours like neon brights and wild animal prints are too risky. In general, neutrals like grey, black, navy, cream and white are the best base from which to build your work wardrobe.
- Any jewellery that makes noise as you walk should be avoided. If we can hear you coming before we see you, you’re wearing the wrong accessories. Opt for stud earrings or single bangles, pearls, scarves instead. Remember, the more distracting or obvious/loud a piece of clothing or jewellery is, the less appropriate it is for most office situations.
- Designer labels may be lovely, but avoid branding/logos and excess bling. Go easy on the hardware, chains or bling.
What not to wear to the office:
I like to use the “too” checklist. I tell my clients to avoid wearing anything that would be considered “too”. Ask yourself, could what I’m wearing be considered too:
…sexy, see-through, short, flimsy, strappy, high, loud, casual, baggy, sloppy, wrinkled, dirty, old, much?
If so, leave it out!
Work Dress Codes Deciphered:
- Formal Business – For women this means business suits (a matching skirt and jacket or pantsuits (matching pants and blazer). Closed-toe shoes (no sandals), shirts or blouses, sheer or opaque plain pantyhose and conservative hair, jewellery and makeup.
- Corporate Casual – This is often the most misinterpreted code of all. Women often think a little on the too casual side – i.e. shorts or sundresses. But in its most literal sense it actually means “smart business.” Dressier pants and a blouse, sleek jersey tops or fine knits and skirts are all examples of “corporate casual”. Denim, T-shirts and sandals are really only acceptable in the most casual or creative of work environments.
- Casual Friday – If in doubt, always ask your superior – not a colleague. Get the right information from the right people at all times. Depending on the workplace, and their individual dress-cody policies, this can mean anything from corporate casual instead of formal business looks or “wear your company logo polo and jeans.” For guys it can sometimes mean you must still wear a suit, but you can lose the tie on Fridays. Rule of thumb – always check first.