It’s hard to balance wanting to express yourself and needing to conform to your organization’s dress code at the same time. If you work in a relaxed environment where the dress code isn’t very heavily enforced, consider yourself lucky!
I recently switched jobs and went from a very laid back creative agency where I could wear jeans on Thursdays and never had to wear a blazer unless I felt like it, to an ultra-corporate environment where I was wearing a suit for almost every day of the week. I had to suddenly rethink everything I knew about dressing for work, and create whole new outfits.
It definitely took some getting used to. My go-to outfit is jeans and a t-shirt, so having to wear a button up shirt to work felt like a little bit of my soul was dying. I still wanted to be able to express myself and wear clothes that I liked and made me feel comfortable, but I also didn’t want to get in trouble for flouting the dress code. I made a few missteps along the way, but now I’m at a point where I instinctively can tell if what i’m wearing is too casual (or even too formal) for the office.
Here are five simple tips for dressing appropriately at work, without compromising too much on your fashion sense.
- Dress to impress – You’ve probably heard the quote “dress for the job you want, not the job you have” before. Sure, it’s a cliche, but there’s also some truth to it. Dressing professionally helps improve your reputation in the minds of others, especially in a culture like ours where people pay attention to what you wear. If you shirt is well-ironed and your shoes are kept clean, it can go a long way towards impressing the people who make decisions about your future. You don’t always have to dress super formally, and some days you might be a little more casual than others, but you shouldn’t be the most underdressed person in the room. If you look like you put some thought into your outfit, it implies that you care about your professional reputation and your career.
- Keep your schedule in mind – You should always look professional, but some days require more formality than others. It’s probably not a good idea to wear your most faded blue shirt on the same day as your big presentation or a meeting with an important client. If you plan out your outfits the night before with your schedule in mind, you can make sure that you always look your best for the important events at work. Surprise meetings shouldn’t phase you if you always look presentable, and you can even keep a spare tie or blazer in your car/desk cabinet just in case.
- Shop smarter- Getting a corporate job doesn’t necessarily have to mean buying a whole new wardrobe. You can simply reinforce your current wardrobe to make it work for the corporate environment. Focus on getting a few key pieces that fit well that you can build your weekly wardrobe around: a white shirt, a dark suit, well fitting blazer, and a pair of good shoes. Make sure the shoes are comfortable and the clothes fit well and flatter your body type. When you go shopping, try buying clothes that can work both for work and for more casual settings. That way instead of buying 5 shirts for work and 3 shirts for nights out, you can maybe buy 5 shirts in total. There are limits though; a backless blouse won’t work for work no matter what you do.
- Grooming can make or break your look- This is maybe the most important part of dressing for the corporate world. You can be dressed in the sharpest suit you own, but if you haven’t combed your hair and it looks like you need a haircut, it won’t matter. Keep your hair and nails looking neat, if makeup is your thing, wear makeup that flatters you and is appropriate for the setting, and make sure you always smell good (but don’t drown yourself in perfume or cologne please!).
- Respect the dress code – Dress codes suck, no question about it. They’re always slightly sexist, and can even be a bit excessive (some dress codes even limit the number of earrings ladies can wear!). But the fact of the matter is, once you’ve signed that employment contract, you have to comply with the dress code. If the dress code bans sneakers, don’t wear your new Vans sneakers three days a week. Some companies also have unspoken dress code rules (don’t wear the competitor’s colours, wear the company cloth on Fridays, etc) that you should learn and obey. Apart from being unprofessional, disobeying the dress code can sometimes lead to very real sanctions.