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- Dressing Professionally: Tips From a Style Expert. - January 11, 2021
We’ve all been there; the new person in an office and you want to be dressing professionally to make a good impression on the rest of your new team, but you have no idea what to wear for your exciting new role. How do you figure out what to wear for an office environment that you don’t know too much about while you’re still figuring out what your professional style is?
Office environments vary greatly; especially in this day and age. It’s totally acceptable to ask what attire is expected for your new office environment; larger employers may even hand you an employee handbook that covers acceptable forms of dress and personal appearance for the office. Once you know how to color in the lines, so to speak, figuring out your style becomes a lot easier.
By: Nic Hyl Brand Owner, Fashion Designer & Style Expert
Dressing Professionally: Tips For Personal Style.
Personal style is defined as our spirit and what we think (about our image), our creativity, our individual way of being, and our intention for our clothes. Oftentimes personal style is thought to be for people who are extremely fashion conscious, while in reality, clothing affects everyone.
We can apply personal style when dressing professionally, how we dress when we’re out with friends, or in any situation. It’s something that you bring to your look. Look at someone like Kamala Harris. Her Personal style often pairs masculine and feminine touches. She likes to wear tailored pant suits in classic colors (the masculine) with silk blouses, pearl necklaces, and pumps (the feminine). To a degree, she’s created a uniform of sorts for her personal style. It works for her.
We see examples of personal style being exhibited everywhere by many different celebrities (Carrie Underwood loves dresses that feature her legs, Ruth Bader Ginsberg made lace collars over her robe a staple, Ariana Grande loves a high ponytail), all of these choices for each individual, relate to their personal style. A great tip for discovering yours is to think about how they translated each of these elements to various scenarios. You’ll want to do something similar for the details that pull your personal style together. Now you’ve got a blueprint.
Tips For Professional Dressing.
What is considered dressing professionally, varies based on the profession. Traditionally, professional dressing meant a suit and tie, or work dresses with heels. Because times have changed slightly in the workplace, what is considered “professional dress” has also changed. I know attorneys that wear jeans and blazers to the office.
The best tip I have for determining what professional dress means to your new office is to pay attention to the people in the office when you go on your interview or when meeting with HR. How are the team members you’ll be working with dressed? How is your boss dressed? What is the HR person dressed like? These are the best clues to give insight into the attire of the office.
When I was interviewing for a MAJOR corporate fashion job in New York City that I really wanted, I wore their clothes from head to toe and looked like I already worked there. It made it super easy for them to imagine me in the environment because I already looked like I belonged there. I got the job, and they compliment me on my appearance on every interview I went on.
But if you’re going to be working at a place that doesn’t make clothes, finding out what their appearance standards are may require a bit of research. Try asking former or current employees if you have access to them. When in doubt, just ask. It’s a question I have asked every potential employer I’ve ever had, and they’ve all appreciated it and told me: “You’d be surprised at how many people never ask that question”.
Tips For Implementing Your Style when Dressing Professionally.
Your employer hired you for a reason. Because you’re great at what you do. Looking the part is also an unspoken part of the job. If you are in front of clients regularly, working close with the C-suite team, have aspirations of growing in your career, want an eventual raise, or any other growth plans for your career, then looking put together is essential. This includes personal grooming.
But how do you do that without looking too mature or not like yourself? I like to find the “dressy” equivalent to my go to pieces. I love jeans. But when dressing professionally, that means pants. To keep my funky style, maybe it’s:
- Traditional – high waisted black pants.
- Fashion Forward – perhaps it’s wide leg velvet trousers.
- Business Casual – maybe it’s navy sailor pants with gold buttons.
But notice it’s all pants; part of my personal style since I love jeans so much. In all of the scenarios I’d probably wear a silk blouse or cashmere turtleneck – depending on the season (I live in New York City), some jewellery, light make up, bold lip and a great shoe.
To understand your personal style, you have to be honest with what you feel comfortable in and how you naturally dress. From there, you can find more elevated pieces of clothing that are acceptable for a more professional environment.
Tips From A Stylist.
One of my really great friends is a stylist/image consultant and she is often helping people build wardrobes for the new professional roles they have or the positions they’re applying for. The tip she ALWAYS gives all of her clients is to clean your closet out of pieces that are no longer serving you, your new job, or how you want to look and present yourself. It sounds simple, but if you no longer wear it, keeping it in your closet may cause some confusion when selecting and building your new professional wardrobe. This is particularly true if this is your first real job post-college.
Now, I’m not saying to donate everything you have, but I am saying to go through your wardrobe and donate what you don’t need for your new role. The logic is once you know what you have, and what you’ve gotten rid of, you’ll know what you need to build a great professional wardrobe. Do you really need 5 denim mini skirts…….?
Pieces You HAVE to Have.
There are a few staple pieces everyone needs when dressing professionally:
A great blazer can do wonders in your life, especially in a professional setting. You can wear it so many ways, dress it up or dress it down. Wear it with dresses, skirts and jeans. Accessorize it or not. It’s a solid piece to add to your wardrobe. Stick with classic colors and add your personal style by pairing it with color underneath or in your accessories. Look for fit, that’s going to make the difference between fashion forward and fashion no, no. Stay away from oversized blazers in a more traditional office setting-it’ll look too trendy.
The Perfect Shoes
A great pair of shoes can change your life…and outfits. Choose a style and color that can be worn with just about anything. Choose a heel height that you can survive in too for multiple hours. New neutrals like red and leopard do go with so many colors and styles of clothes, but stay away from them in traditional settings. In a traditional setting, opt for a nude instead if you’re trying to stay away from black.
A statement piece of jewellery is always a great touch. This varies by the person. Think bold watch, bold necklace, bold ring. But just one of them; you don’t want to overdo it in a professional environment. This statement piece of jewelry is a great way to show some personal style, without being too over the top.
The Work Bag
A statement bag is a must. This is the bag that you can carry your laptop, files, lunch, change of shoes in and goes perfectly with all of your work outfits while making you look put together and polished. A great bag is like a great pair of shoes; they can define the look you’re going for. Try to find a bag that can do all of these things. A professional has one great bag. Carrying multiple bags is cumbersome and also can look a bit less professional if not executed correctly.
NOTE: Now this may be controversial, because depending on your life and where you live you may have to bring more than one bag with you during your work day. I’ve carried more than one bag plenty of times. The trick with multiple bags is to carry bags that compliment each other. When it’s too many bags of various colors it starts to look like a school-aged child and less like an adult.
While these staple pieces are nice to have, don’t feel too overwhelmed to get them all at once. If you can only afford to get one first, I’d start with the shoes or the blazer. You can add on from there as you build your wardrobe.
It’s good to point out here that quality doesn’t equate to price. Quality is how well something is made. Price is price. So you can get great quality, at lower prices and poor quality at higher prices. Opt for quality.
“Quality is how well something is made. Price is price. Remember that quality does not equate to price.”
If you’re on a budget, like I was when I first started my first job, shop sales, lesser known brands, or off-price stores. If you have a mom with great style, ask to borrow a piece or two from her closet (she’ll think it’s cool that you still want to borrow her clothes). You don’t have to spend money you don’t have to look great – you just have to be creative and think outside of the box.
Outerwear for Dressing Professionally.
I’ve seen so many looks go wrong with a coat that just did nothing for the great outfit underneath. What do I mean? Don’t wear your puffer coat with your carefully crafted professional outfit. Opt for a wool coat that also looks the part.
Nic Tip: Get gloves, scarves and hats that match. When your hat, gloves and scarves are all different colors, and prints it looks like a school-aged child again. Stick to one color or one print – it pulls the look together beautifully and you’ll look like an adult. Again, you don’t have to spend every cent you own on these pieces, just invest time in finding good ones in the price range you can afford.
Tips For Caring For Your New Wardrobe.
As a designer, I don’t agree with fast fashion (unethically made pieces that exploit the people who make them and are very harmful to the environment). I buy pieces that are well-made, can stand the test of time, and are never out of fashion.
Because of that, I take really good care of them. I limit dry cleaning (when I can) that uses very harsh chemicals to clean the fabrics and I instead opt for hand washing my items where I can.
If you are taking your pieces to the dry cleaner, ask what gentle cleaning processes they have so that it doesn’t wear down the fabric. Some dry cleaners have begun to use more gentle solvents to clean clothes, although it still isn’t available everywhere. When stains happen, address them as quickly as possible.
Store your clothes appropriately. I hang my clothes on the correct types of hangers and fold them if they shouldn’t be hung up (NEVER hang your sweaters- the weight of the yarn will stretch when hung on a hanger and effect the way it fits on you). Hanging and folding your clothes the way that’s necessary for the type of garment it is, protects the shape and can extend the life of the garment.
It may sound like a bit of extra work, but my clothes literally last me forever and when you think of it like that, if it’s an investment piece I definitely got my money’s worth.
Ultimately, your professional appearance can make or break your career. When I was working that corporate fashion job in New York City, I actually saw people who were very qualified for the role they were applying for, get looked over time and time again because they didn’t know how to look the part….and it’s something no one will ever tell you. I’ve seen people who probably didn’t have the skills, get promoted because they did look the part. It’s not fair, but it happens. Don’t let your choice for how you present yourself, stand in the way of getting what you want out of your career.
What’s worked for you so far with dressing professionally in your career? Comment in below and keep the conversation going!
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