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Dressing for Work

This is one of those areas where there is a lot of room for confusion. Again, your working wardrobe is going to depend on the region, climate, industry, and company where you are working; a graphic designer in California is going to have much different guidelines than an investment banker in Chicago.

The following suggestions are for dress codes that require a suit or “business professional” attire, rather than business casual. There are pros and cons to dressing formally for work. The bad news is, this isn’t always the most creative or exciting wardrobe; you may feel like your personal style is stifled, and having to wear pantyhose on a 95-degree day is just awful. On the other hand, once you make the initial investment and get a couple of good suits, you won’t have to do much more shopping for work clothes. You can be creative with accessories and mix-and-match pieces to get more use out of your basic wardrobe. 

Everyday Attire

Men

  • As a general rule, try to fit in to the culture in your company. If you dress completely differently from everyone else in your company, you will stand out and not in a good way. Dressing in a manner appropriate to the company culture shows that you are a team player and are concerned about the kind of image you and your company present to clients. When in doubt, imitate your boss. 

  • Get a copy of your company’s dress code policy. 

  • Go for quality over quantity. A well-made jacket in a quality fabric may cost you quite a bit more than one that is cheaply made, but it will look better, fit better, and last longer than the inexpensive version. 

  • Take care of those good-quality clothes you’ve invested in. You may want to purchase shoe trees, a tie rack, those goofy rubber shoes that fit over your dress shoes, and other items that you’ve only ever seen in your dad’s closet. 

  • The dry cleaner and the tailor are about to become important people in your life. The most expensive suit in the world can still look terrible if it is dirty or fits poorly. 

  • Buy a good raincoat and a dress coat for winter. Nothing ruins your finely polished professional image faster than a barn coat over your suit jacket.

Women

  • Most of the rules for interview dressing apply if your company has a business professional dress code, but with more flexibility regarding cut and color. Pants suits, coordinated separates, coat dresses, and dresses with jackets may all be appropriate. Be sure to get a copy of your company’s dress code policy before you go shopping. 

  • As a general rule, try to fit in to the culture in your company. If everyone else wears pastels and you dress in black everyday, you will stand out and usually not in a good way. Dressing to fit in with the company culture shows that you are a team player and are concerned about the kind of image you and your company present to clients. 

  • No matter what your company, it is not appropriate to wear tight, sexy, or trendy clothing to work. This is especially important for women, who may be judged by their clothing more harshly than men. Yes, it’s unfair; but this is not the time for you to try changing American cultural standards. 

  • Go for quality over quantity. A well-made jacket in a quality fabric may cost you quite a bit more than one that is cheaply made, but it will look better, fit better, and last longer than the inexpensive version. 

  • Buy versatile fabrics and dark or neutral colors and you’ll get more use out of individual items. Some suits are sold with both pants and a skirt for extra versatility. That red suit may be stunning, but chances are people will remember it every time you wear it. Until you have a larger wardrobe, stick to less conspicuous items that you can mix and match. 

  • Learn how to accessorize. You’ll get a lot more use out of basic items if you can change your look by wearing a scarf or changing blouses. It’ll also keep you from getting bored with your wardrobe. 

  • Invest in a good raincoat and winter dress coat. You’ve worked hard to cultivate your professional image; don’t spoil it by wearing a barn coat over your suit. 

  • Take care of those good-quality items that you’ve invested in. Find a reliable tailor and dry cleaner; they are about to become important people in your life. At-home dry cleaning kits can be very economical for blouses and sweaters, but unless you’re a whiz with the iron, you’ll still want to have your suits professionally cleaned.