workplace attire: how to adapt

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In choosing outfits for what you’re going to wear to work, you have to be careful to fit into the culture of your workplace as well as the responsibilities and tasks you might have during the day. If you’re going to be running around town all day on cobblestone roads, don’t wear your favourite platform stilettos. If you’re going to be in meetings with important fashion clients, don’t wear sweatpants. There are tons of dos and don’ts when it comes to fashion in the workplace, but here are a few basic tips:

Be comfortable. Don’t wear anything that makes you uncomfortable. It’s really that easy. Now, this isn’t to say you should be showing up to work in sweatpants. But don’t wear pants if you’re more comfortable in a dress, and don’t choose to wear heels if you can’t walk in them. Wear clothes that fit the kind of day you have — don’t wear all synthetics if it’s hot and humid, wear linens and cottons that will help keep you cool and calm.

Choose classic over trendy when you can. Unless you work in an exceptionally fashion-forward workplace, there’s no reason you have to wear the latest styles every day. Own and wear mostly classically flattering, well-cut pieces, and accent your wardrobe with less expensive (but trendy) pieces, no more than a few per trend. That way you have an effortless style that never goes out of vogue, but you’ve got those few pieces for when you want to match the trends. It’s better to invest in a flattering wardrobe than to try and meld yourself to fit the latest fashions.

Dress to stand out — in a good way. If your workplace does a business casual kind of code, you can often get away with jeans and a pair of boots with the right top, or a sundress with the right cardigan in summer. But gauge what you wear based on what people around you are wearing. If everyone wears suits and ties, consider suiting up yourself — or finding a comfortable, stylish alternative to suits that doesn’t set you apart negatively, but distinguishes you in a unique and positive way. Similarly, if everyone around you wears tshirts and jeans, there’s no need to come into work in the hippest, trendiest outfit. Present yourself cleanly and stylishly, and you’ll attract the right kind of attention.

Of course, all of this should be taken with a grain of salt — base it on your own workplace and your own experiences!

3 COMMENTS

  1. Yep, those are the rules. Pretty sharp of you to identify them after only a few weeks in a working environment. My question: are these rules good for women? It is nice to feel mastery of navigating the line between trendy and classic or conservative and bold… but why is the range deemed ‘acceptable’ so narrow?
    http://abovethelaw.com/2010/10/the-price-of-getting-pretty-productivity/
    http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2013/01/22/the-balancing-act-of-being-female-or-why-we-have-so-many-clothes/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+SociologicalImagesSeeingIsBelieving+%28Sociological+Images%3A+Seeing+Is+Believing%29

    • Those are awesome articles! I had seen the photo posted on the society pages site before, when it was first circulating around tumblr, but that analysis is spot-on.

      I think that’s a really interesting question — are rules of workplace attire good for women? Are they good for men? I think part of what you have to address there is the expectations that society holds for women and the expectations society holds for men, as mentioned in the above the law article. We don’t expect men to wear makeup. We do expect women to wear makeup. Right there, that’s an imposition on one gender that the other doesn’t have to deal with. Regardless of which gender has the imposition, it feels unfair.

      While the rules of workplace attire may not be fair, or right, or good, they do exist — for now. It’s easy to find a way to navigate them, but in doing so, does that perpetuate the rules themselves?

      These are definitely interesting questions, and I think I’ll give them some time to percolate and hopefully address them in a future post!

  2. Yeah exactly, ‘does living within the rules perpetuate them?’ and how does one get ahead without acknowledging and adhering to the current set of rules? Evolution or revolution? (I think most big social change has been the latter, not the former)

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