Five Tips for Work Wear Polish

Are you stumped every morning about what is appropriate to wear to work?  

You could take a chapter from the likes of the late, iconic Karl Lagerfeld with his variations on a black suit, sunglasses, white button-down shirt, and black gloves.  Or, simplify with several Hilary Clinton-like pantsuits or a drawer full of eponymous Steve Jobs-style turtle necks if you’re a guy. Such streamlined choices certainly worked for their wearers, firmly establishing an identity brand through their clothing. But if robo-dressing is not for you, then here are some tips to simplify your sartorial selections and boost your office-ready polish: 

Tip #1 Professionals should look professional

Athleisure has come a long way, but just because your sports pants and hoodie cost more than your weekly salary, don’t presume they are appropriate for corporate and customer-facing offices.   

Even if it seems unfair, boosting your career is about performance and perception.  Overly casual apparel could be holding you back.  Some management surveys indicate that clothing choice, especially in conservative work environments, influences a worker’s chances of being promoted despite today’s tolerance for laid-back dress codes.  So even on casual Friday, your polished outfit and careful grooming will impress that you are a detailed, respectable, and quality-oriented individual. 

Tip #2 More dress-up, less dress-down on Fridays

Here is the basic framework for “business casual” including dress-down Friday:

Men:  Dress pants, dress shirts or polos, optional tie or jacket, nice loafers or dress shoes. No sandals, no shorts.

Women:  Dress pants, shirt or blouse, cardigan or dressy sweater, skirt or dress, but not too short or low-cut, and dress shoes or heeled sandals.

Donning any of these should keep you safe but check your company dress code for extras like dressy jeans, pressed shorts, T-shirts (not last week’s game shirt!), or flat sandals like flip flops. 

No matter what, don’t frighten your boss into canceling Casual Friday by donning ripped or sequined jeans, threadbare leggings, wife-beater tanks, or dilapidated Birkenstocks. Moreover, pay attention to your grooming.  You should not arrive at work looking like you just rolled out of bed.  Think twice before coloring your hair purple if you work in a professional office environment.

Tip #3 Leggings:  just don’t 

At the risk of joining the ranks of leggings shamers, please consider whether those leggings, jeggings, or yoga pants are appropriate for the office.   Aside from their flimsy fabric which often pills and thins (sometimes with unintended consequences), leggings can be problematic aesthetically and also for your health.

Take a tip from Conan O’Brien who strutted his stuff in denim mejeggings :  it is entirely possible to look ridiculous or at best, unprofessional, wearing them in the workplace.  Don’t chance it.  

Tip #4 Hide your ink

Kat Von D, you go for it, girl!  The tattoos on your face and neck are certainly brand identifiers, but not so much for you, Larry Legal Eagle or Corporate Cathy!  

While some recent studies are finding less employer sensitivity toward body art, do you really want to bet that everyone on the recruitment team is cool with your ink?  Boost your hiring chances and your starting salary by hiding your tats under a suit and button-down during the interview.  

By the way, tattooed people are not a protected class under the Equal Opportunity Act, so your company dress code can require you to keep your sleeve undercover. 

Tip #5 Your look is your brand

It’s a sad fact that had Einstein simply appeared and interviewed with his signature fuzzy gray hair and lack of hygiene we might never have had E = mc2!  You are what others see, at least perceptually.  Your personal brand should reflect polish, personality, and professionalism, but also show your creative side.  Your office fashion doesn’t need to be boring or expensive; but choose classic, comfortable, and versatile pieces that tell a story about who you are.

Finally, you don’t need to spend a fortune or minimize your look like Steve Jobs or Hilary Clinton to spruce up your image on the go!  Create some margin in your mornings by taking the weekend to create a capsule wardrobe.  It means pairing up clothing pieces that work together, including accessories and shoes, to take the angst out of a.m. styling.  

Happy styling!



Daria Andronescu – The Business Casual Dress Code:  Capsule Wardrobe Example

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