Entering an office environment for the first time is intimidating enough without the additional stress of wondering what you should wear.
Workplace culture is unique to every business or organisation and can change depending on your position. If you work in a client-facing role, for example, expect to be dressed in your best most days of the week.
While it is preferable to avoid fronting up to a meeting in a pressed tuxedo, it is also important to make a great first impression when starting a new job. The way you choose to dress in the office is an expression of who you are and reveals a lot more about you, your personality, and your overall ambition than you may realise.
Consistently presenting well shows that you care about yourself and your personal appearance. Most of us associate this with people who exercise equal degrees of care and diligence towards their work life – meaning that dressing well can play a large role in shaping the bigger picture of a successful career.
So how do you decide what is or is not appropriate for your unique office environment?
Dress For the Job You Have
Imagine turning up to the first day of your apprenticeship in designer jeans and a button-down shirt.
It might look amazing in your bedroom, but is it practical? For a hands-on industry, it is even more crucial that what you wear is not just fun, but functional. This will help with productivity and enable you to work unimpeded.
In a traditional office setting, you will spend extended periods of time at your desk, so it’s usually best to choose pieces that are light and breathable for summer but can be layered with a cardigan or jacket for winter.
Cigarette pants and a lightweight cotton or silk blouse are comfortable and professional choices for most corporate environments.
If you’re running late for a morning meeting (and need to avoid wasting time deciding on skirt/shirt combinations), opt for a simple black dress and flats – a complete outfit in less than five minutes. You can pull it together while half asleep and comfortably run to catch the next train.
Skirts, a fitted top and classic blazer (or cardigan) and heels also always look clean, pulled together and professional.
A good rule of thumb: If you decide on a loose-fitting skirt, select a form-fitting top; if you wear a tight skirt, go with a loose-fitting and billowy top.
If you own a pair of fabulous but fatal heels (the kind that you can barely hobble 5 steps in), try to avoid wearing them to the office.
If you are feeling unstable on your feet, this will come across as insecurity and unsureness in your role.
A good compromise if you do wear heels to work regularly is to keep a pair of neutral flats under your desk or in your office drawer. If you need to run into a meeting being held in another building or want to go for a quick walk at lunch, you have something comfortable and professional to slip on.
Look Your Best, Feel Your Best
Do you feel confident? Ready to take on whatever your boss throws at you?
This is the kind of attitude you need to be a high performer in the office. Maintaining the right headspace is the first step towards engaging well with your projects and colleagues.
Try wearing clothes that you associate with a positive experience or know you enjoy wearing to lift your spirits.
It can be tempting to hit the shops at lunch and blow your paycheck on an entirely new outfit each week. The danger with impulse purchases is that it may be something that you only wear once or twice in a season.
Instead, try to integrate key pieces into your wardrobe over time that reflect your changing professional image. Write a list of all the missing items you need in your cupboard and start accumulating them slowly.
For example, you may need a:
- tailored black blazer that you can wear with everything;
- thin belt in neutral colours that will go with every skirt or dress you own;
- classic button-down silk blouse;
- black or grey a-line skirt that will look great with a shirt or top in any colour;
- classic pea coat for winter; or
- string of power pearls.
You can mix and match each of these items with different accessories, like an eye-catching orange handbag, red scarf, bold necklace or statement tights, to achieve infinite outfit combinations.
Invest time and money in building a staple wardrobe from the outset of your career. Once this is out the way, the answer to your ‘what should I wear today?’ question will transform from panic to pleasure.
Always go with your gut instinct. If you don’t feel comfortable with what you are wearing, others are likely to pick up on your discomfort too.
What Are Other People Wearing?
Just landed a new job? Take your cue from what you interviewer wore to get a good grasp of company dress code.
If you managed to get the position without a face-to-face meeting (for example, through a Skype interview), research the company’s social media pages. Instagram or Facebook often promote pictures of staff and the office space. This will give you an idea about whether staff dress casually or more formally.
Another effective strategy is to take advantage of any networking opportunities or welcome drinks that arise before you start your employment.
It is a great chance to see how other professionals in your industry dress and interact with one another.
It is also a fantastic opportunity to mingle with co-workers and get inside knowledge on office culture and what may be appropriate or inappropriate early.
Check Your Contract Beforehand
Your employment contract will usually outline company policy in regard to dress standards.
This will give you extra clarity around your clothing selection. If the business has a company-wide ban on open-toed footwear in the office, for example, it’s better to know well in advance.
Always remember that if you happen to choose an inappropriate outfit on your first day, this isn’t a disaster.
Learn from the experience and wear something different tomorrow. Simple.
Useful Quick Tips: Lightning Round
Stay true to yourself
Dress in a way that reflects your creativity and true personality.
This will help you to cultivate authentic relationships with your colleagues and with management.
Ask for an opinion
Take into account what your friends and family tell you about your style choice but, at the end of the day, if you feel comfortable and confident in what you are wearing then just go for it!
Stock up on key classic pieces and neutral coloured clothes that are easy to pair with anything all year-round.
For a contemporary office style, select quirky prints or unique cuts.
Ditch the backpack
It might be a convenient way to carry everything in one place, but it won’t do your career any favours.
Instead, try a leather satchel to your keep your documents and laptop organised.
If you feel uncertain about other aspects of your career life, there are many online short courses available that can help get you up to speed.
What do you wear to work? And how do your clothing choices reflect your personality? Let us know in the comments!