For a businesswoman looking to get ahead in her field, dressing appropriately is a key prerequisite to success. While the way you dress outside of work can be an expression of your personality, dressing in the workplace should make a statement of conformity to established professional standards. This doesn't mean you can't dress well and stylishly in the workplace, just that certain rules must be followed. This article establishes the basics of these rules and seeks to provide a helpful guide to get you started.
Assess the level of formality for your position and workplace.
With more workplaces trending towards business casual, or in some cases outright casual, these days, it can be difficult to select the right attire for your specific office. It's best to assess the formality of the office when you go in for an interview. If, however, you are starting your job without visiting the office, there's no shame in asking your boss directly what the office dress code is like. Workplace attire generally falls into one of three categories:
- Business professional attire is the most formal of business dress codes. This is common in conservative industries like law, finance, accounting, and some government positions. Women in these jobs must be more or less uniform with the men that they work with. This means that you will generally be wearing either a tailored suit or a dress and accompanying structured jacket.
- Business casual is probably the most common type of business attire in the modern day. Casual, however, is a bit of a misnomer here. You'll typically want to be wearing either a collared shirt or sweater with dress pants or chinos. It's also appropriate to wear a professional-looking dress or skirt and blouse, but make sure that the piece is knee-length or longer.
- Truly casual attire is rare in any workplace; even "casual Friday" or "no dress code" generally means that you should strive for the lower end of business casual. If, however, you work for a software company or some other progressive company, you may be able to wear casual clothing to work. This means jeans and a t-shirt or, frankly, whatever you want
Shop for the right clothes.
There a few other qualifications you'll want to consider when buying your professional clothes. First, you'll mainly want to focus on buying neutral colors. Think black, grays, subdued blues, and browns. This is especially true for business professional workplaces; business casual workplaces allow for a bit more color. In addition, make sure that:
- Your dresses and clothes are not too tight or revealing. For business professional workplaces, be sure that your dresses or shirts cover your arms and do not have revealing necklines. In all workplaces, be sure that your clothing is not see-through or too tight.
- Your clothes are of high quality, or at least not of obviously low quality. Think of your clothing as an investment in your career; you should want to present your best self in the workplace..
- Your clothes fit and are neatly ironed. This may require some tailoring and dry cleaning.
- You've bought enough outfits to not repeat one in a week. This is important as people will notice if you frequently wear the same thing.
Create the right outfits.
In most cases, you'll want to wear an outfit composed of matching neutrals. It's easier in business professional attire, because suits will obviously always match. However, it's also important in business casual to not dress too loudly. Try matching subtle patterns with other solid-colored items.
- It's ok to have some louder statement pieces in a business casual environment, just be sure to match them with more conservative pieces.
- Every businesswoman needs a crisp white shirt, like a white button-down.
- You should also have a black blazer, a black or grey pencil skirt, and some black or grey slacks.
- A sophisticated, work-appropriate black dress also works great.
Choose the right shoes.
Choosing which shoes you'll wear has a lot to do with your workplace's attire rules and the outfit you'll be wearing them with. In general, business environments will require a woman to wear classic-style pumps or other classic styles with closed toes and heels lower than three inches. Flats are also acceptable. Try to coordinate the color of your shoes to that of your outfit.
- Avoid shoes that hinder walking quickly.
- Women should also wear hosiery when wearing a skirt. This should be the same shade or lighter than your outfit. Wear skin-toned hosiery when wearing short-sleeves.