Moving up the corporate ladder? It is likely then that you spent your time putting in the due diligence that your position requires, while your business outfits slowly became outdated if not threadbare. As you look around your new private office, stop thinking about decor and start thinking about making a solid first impression with your new upline. Let’s be clear: clothes do not make the man or woman. That said, prospects and corporate movers and shakers take about 5 seconds to make their decision to work with you or not. This way, that axiom about putting your best foot forward was never more valid. In this article, we’ve assembled the top tips to building a 9-to-5 (or should we say 24/7/365) so you can quickly assemble your work outfits, gain more time in the morning, as well as be optimally dressed for the demands of daily corporate life.
This article covers corporate and office attire. For those who work in construction and outdoor trades such as landscaping, pest control, and even window washing, we’ll give you sound wardrobing advice in our next update. We’ll address your specific needs relative to fit, fabric, environment, and audience. Next time!
The concept of ‘dressing for success‘ is far from new. Yet many office workers do not know how to begin. Just like your career, start at the bottom and work up. Shoes, women should stick to low heels in neutral colors. Men, two pairs, one black, one brown. One laced, one slip-on. Your choice. Women can get more variation from separates- that means skirts, pants, blouses, and tops. If dresses and jackets are your preference, know that your outfits will be more limited.
As for fabrics, knits are more wrinkle-resistant, which is something to consider if you commute by bus or rail. Poly blends wear well; sadly, moths like to eat wool and silk so limit items in these fibers. Banish acrylic. It is a cheap fiber that does not wear well. Hint: bigger ticket items such as rain and winter coats should be in neutrals. Add pops of color with scarves, gloves, a handbag, and footwear. For men, different color shirts, and ties, even pocket scarves can vary your workday wardrobe. As for color- select two to four colors and only buy those colors. This way you can pull an outfit together quickly as everything will ‘go’ with everything else. Here’s a quick rundown:
Skirts: 4-5 options in the pencil style or modified a-line. Pencil skirts say “I mean business”. Keep the boho looks for when you’re home, not to make an office appearance even on casual Friday.
Pants: 2-3 pairs of dress pants. Cuffs to fall at the midway point of shoes. Buy neutral colors.
Dresses: 2-3 per season. Sleeveless or ¾ sleeve sheaths either below knee or midi-length can be paired with jackets, blazers, or a cascading cardigan. Solids offer more styling options than prints, while knits are easier to keep fresh and wrinkle-free.
Tops/Sweaters: 3-5 tops including tunics. A white button-down, wrinkle-free, shirt is essential. Stick to solids, then consider only classic prints such as dots, pinstripes, and paisleys. Better to err on the side of conservative than to appear too gaudy. Remember you’re there to establish yourself through your work first. Creative industries such as ad agencies may have a more flexible dress code, but get the lay of the land first.
Jackets: 2-3 Fitted suit jackets and a blazer. One must be black. Avoid too trendy wide lapels, etc. These choices can span three seasons and are classic.
Coats: A long coat, a car coat, and a raincoat. Consider a ‘winter’ coat with a zip-out liner to serve double duty as a raincoat when it’s warmer. Again, select a balmacaan or classic trench. Here’s lookin’ at you kid!
Handbag: Totes or leather designer backpacks will hold everything you need including your mobile devices with ease.
Hats: Not currently popular and could obscure vision on crowded sidewalks. For winter, consider ski headbands and wrapped earmuffs with Bluetooth compatibility.
Suits: In a traditional office, there’s no getting around it. Men need suits in navy, black, and gray. No, resist the urge to mix and match. Wear gray trousers with a matching jacket…etc.
Fitted sport jacket and or blazer: Ideal for business events. It can be worn with suit pants or designer chinos as required.
Jeans: 1-2 pairs. Dark denim, the length is slightly longer than suit pants. No rips, tears, fading, or bleach, please. Ideal for creative environments and casual Fridays.
Shirts: 5 minimum. Colors should range from white through pastel blue to black if in creative. Opt for wrinkle-free if you do not send yours out to the cleaners.
Sweaters and Tops: Have 3-5 options. Opt for designer label polos. As for sweaters, if you loved a good shetland in college, you’ll love owning the same style in cashmere.
Ties and Pocket Squares: 3-4 ties, 2-3 squares. Adds polish and professionalism to your appearance. For ties, buy rep silk stripes and solids in neutrals to match your suits- navy and gray. Dots and discreet paisleys are also classic options. If you wear a pocket square wear a solid color tie to avoid a clash of patterns.
Get to know these icons and see which is the best fit for your work environment: Burberry, Coach, Jones New York, Michael Kors, Talbots, Ralph Lauren, Florsheim, J. Crew, Kate Spade, Tory Burch, Hugo Boss, Dooney & Bourke, Nicole Miller, Stuart Weitzman, and Vince Camuto.
TIP: Shop where the store offers in-house tailoring, or find one near you. No point in wearing ill-fitting investment clothing.
If you are still paying off grad-school, balancing car loans, Johnny’s braces, and a mortgage, there’s no need to despair. You can still have a great working wardrobe. There are several options. Online resale stores such as ThredUp carefully curate submissions and accept only the cream which is then competitively priced. Example: this author just scored a $1,500 Fleurette coat new with tags for only $88! That is not the norm, but there are true bargains to be had as well as solid quality for your spend. There are also numerous online businesses that offer style quizzes, send apparel based upon your answers- just pay for what you select, and return the rest.
One caveat: building your new corporate image is not an excuse for maxing out your credit cards. It is not necessary to buy a Rolex, those Manolos, a Hermes bag, or Louis Vuitton briefcase. Your new position is not a dress rehearsal. You’re expected to shine straight out of the elevator and have been prepping your day on your laptop on your commute. Overdoing it with extravagant daywear calls undesirable attention to your appearance instead of your work ethic. Besides, dressing better than your bosses makes your decisions questionable and you expendable. Congrats on your new position, now get shopping!