[Note from Barrett: This is a guest post from the talented and professional Courtney Clymer, Owner at LIFEstyled Wardrobe Styling & Personal Shopping here in Atlanta. She’s a real pro at helping guys and gals dress appropriately for their professional AND personal lives, so be sure to connect with her if you have sartorial needs. Although I like to think I’m up to date on most things related to becoming a top performer at work, women’s dress was one topic where I needed some outside expertise, and Courtney delivered. Enter Courtney:]
Girls: These days, it’s tricky to tell what is considered appropriate attire in the workplace. With terms like “agency casual,” to “business casual,” to formal suits, we can get lost!
Many of us end up dressing too casually or over-dressing for our job description. So, how do you know what is appropriate? We want to make a name for ourselves in the workplace, and this all starts with first impressions. Your appearance will set the tone for whether you are taken seriously or not.
There are a few guidelines to go by when choosing your work wear, as well as defining your professional style
1) Dress Your Age & GO SHOPPING
This is hard for many young professionals, because you are just getting out of school and feel a little stuck between a college student, and a professional adult. Many women think that they can carry over their college outfits into the professional world. While this may be true for SOME things, it is also necessary to head on out for a little shopping spree
2) This is the work force, NOT a college date night
Never wear anything that you question when looking in the mirror. Girls, you all know what I’m talking about. That thought that says, “Hmm… I wonder if this is really appropriate for work?” Some of you will rationalize by saying, “I’m sure it’s fine. My workplace is agency casual.” DON’T DO THIS! If you have any doubt in your mind, chances are someone in your workplace will too. When wearing skirts or dresses, always make sure they never fall more than 2 inches above your knee. Some work environments will have rules about this, in which case you need to stick to those. If no rules are provided, make sure you don’t leave your house in that mid-thigh skirt that you think looks professional because you’ve paired it with a button-down.
3) Jewelry & Makeup: Less is More
You know the saying, “Less is more?” Well this is one to go by in the working world. DON’T overdo it with your makeup. You don’t want to pile on the foundation that doesn’t match your skin color, go crazy on the blush, and coat your eyes in liner and mascara. This does not make you look professional, and frankly, it gives off an immediate vibe of immaturity. Save the heavy makeup for going out (if you must wear heavy makeup at all), and stick with a simple look for work: a little bit of under-eye concealer to hide the bags, a little powder or foundation, and some bronzer/blush. A light line of eyeliner and a coat of mascara will top off your look.
The same goes for jewelry. Unless you are stacking bangles/bracelets, try to keep your jewelry classy, and minimally chic. If you have more than one ear piercing, make sure you take those earrings out of your second/third holes, and/or cartilage. Unless you are working in an urban-modern-casual environment where this is encouraged, it‘s not a look you want to rock. Keep it simple with just one pair of earrings in your ears at a time. If you are wearing a statement necklace, choose a simple stud earring to accompany it. If you are wearing a simple, dainty necklace, then choose a fun statement earring. You want to always do the opposite of your necklace with your earrings. You never want to pair a big ole necklace with big earrings to match! It’s childish and sloppy.
4) Dress for the job you want, not the one you have!
Don’t assume because others around you are looking sloppy, you can too. You want to look put-together, chic and professional every single day. You never know who you might see, or who might pop in the office. Your work wear will NOT go unnoticed.
Here are the most common types of dress guidelines in the workplace today:
AGENCY CASUAL or BUSINESS CASUAL
Many up-and-coming companies may tell you that they have an “agency casual” dress code. Sometimes this means that jeans are okay, and sometimes it doesn’t. This all depends on the individual company. However, it is always a standard to dress for the job you want. So, if everyone around you is wearing ripped jeans and old tee shirts, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should join the group! It should be a constant goal of yours to look professional and ready for anything, everyday. If someone important in the company should stop by, you shouldn’t be embarrassed by what you’re wearing.
Pants: slim fit/skinny pants: Choose a slim fit pant that is right for your body type, and is made of a dressier material. You can find these at many stores, from LOFT to J.Crew to Nordstrom. You want to make sure that these pants are not too tight, but still create a slimming effect. Turn around in the mirror and look at your backside – if you can see any part of your bottom that you wouldn’t want your boyfriend’s parents, or in-laws to see, then don’t buy them. These should be modest around the back and front area, and slimming on the legs and ankles. Don’t be afraid to try a color or pattern in these pants. Just make sure if you do choose a pattern on bottom, you stick to a solid top to maintain a professional look.
Flowy top: If you are wearing a skinny or slim fit pant, you always want to do the opposite with your top. Pair these types of bottoms with a more blousy, flowy look up top. This will balance out the bottoms, while also creating a slim, put-together look. If you choose to opt for a wider leg pant or a boot-cut fit, pair with a more fitted blouse up top. You never want to pair a wide-leg pant with a flowy top. This can often look thrown together, and it is not flattering on any figure.
Wedges/Heels: While wedges are the more comfortable option of the two, you can go either way in the workplace. Stay away from heels that are higher than 4 inches, and save those for the nightclub. You don’t want to bring the going out/stripper heel to work. There is a time and a place, and your office is neither of these. You can never go wrong with a neutral peep-toe or closed-toe wedge or heel.
Statement Necklace: Statement necklaces are very trendy right now, and can bring a fun element to a very classic look.
Bag: It doesn’t matter where you work, you are always going to need a bag. A medium sized, neutral tote will serve you well. A cognac/camel color will match both black and browns, and can take you from work, to happy hour, to the weekend.
Many women who work for large professional companies in industries such as finance, banking and real estate will be required to adhere to a more formal dress code. But don’t worry, you can still bring your own sense of style to your dress suit look, and have fun with it! Suits do not have to be stuffy and boring, contrary to common belief.
Suit: Start with a neutral suit. A gray, tan or black will serve you well year-round. The key to adding your own fun flair to a boring suit is what you wear underneath, and accessories. If you are not required to wear a full suit, mix and match your pants/skirt and blazer! If you are required to wear a full suit, you can still have fun with it; Add a bold patterned blouse underneath your suit, such as a leopard or floral top. Then pair it with a statement necklace in red or coral, and you can take your suit from drab to fab.
Shoes: Patent leather nude heels are going to be your best friend. This is something you absolutely cannot live without if your work environment requires you to wear a suit. Comfort is key! Make sure you take a good long walk around the store before you purchase your heels. These will be a staple for your style, so you need to be comfortable in them.
Last but not least, let’s address your hygiene. Yep, I’m talking hair and skin.
Your hair should always look “done” when you leave for work in the morning. I hope I don’t have to tell you that one should never roll out of bed & run a comb through your mane to get on your way. One style you can never go wrong with in the workplace is loose curls or waves. This presents a clean, put-together look, but allows you to throw your hair up when you leave the office.
Curl your hair and spray some hairspray on immediately after. Then, run a brush through your hair and smooth the curls out into waves. Wear it half up or down, or on those days you just have to, throw it up in a neat pony tail. Loop a strand of hair around your rubberband or hair tie to give a sleek, chic look.
Use lotion! Whether you’re showing your legs and arms at work or not, use lotion. You never know when you might want to take that cardigan or blazer off throughout the day, and I can assure you that none of your coworkers or superiors want to look at ashy, dry arms. So, make sure you moisturize. This will also keep your skin looking healthy and glowing if you add it to your daily routine. And of course, stay cleanly shaven at all times.
HOLD OFF on the perfume. Whether you’re going to a job interview, or just another day at the office, use a light perfume or none at all. Especially when working with women, all of the smells can run together and create quite the headache for those around you. Save the perfume for date night when you know your accomplice wants to smell it.