What do you need to wear at work so you can impress your boss and dazzle your co-workers and customers/clients?
After all, there have been some dramatic changes. With the increase in work-from-home or hybrid office jobs during the pandemic and a younger workforce that tends to dress more casually, there is a variety of expectations and styles among companies these days.
Here’s a look at how to navigate the world of work fashion.
Create a Strong Interview Impression
It’s good advice to overdress – but not too much – for an interview. For example, a suit and tie might be a bit much for a car wash or retail clerk job. In those instances, a collared shirt and a pair of nice jeans or khakis would do. However, a suit and tie would be perfectly appropriate for an interview at a bank or IT consulting firm.
If your interview is in-person, you will show the human resources representative, hiring manager and others that you mean business. You’re showing respect for the company and the position by the way you dress.
During the interview, you’ll also get an introduction to the company’s culture. Are people wearing suits, or sport jackets, nice shirts or are they wearing jeans? Unless it’s a designated “dress down” day, you’re likely getting the full picture as you look around.
It’s not worth asking about the dress code during an interview. You should wait until you get a formal offer.
Your First Day(s)
This is where it can get tricky. Some might say the dress code is “business casual,” but it’s anyone’s guess what that might mean at a specific company.
If you’re in a mostly or partly remote position, it’s a lot easier. Just make sure you wear a nice top, look presentable on camera and you should be okay. You don’t want to look like you just stumbled off a fishing boat or just woke up, but you can ease off the suit or even a high-end shirt or blouse that might be better for in-person interactions.
If you’re in-person, here’s what the business dress parameters might be:
- Business professional: A button-down shirt, possibly with a tie and jacket, and dress pants or at least decent khakis for men. Business professional dress for women includes a nice blouse and dress pants or skirt. Jeans are too casual in this environment. Take a hard pass on athletic shoes/sneakers and beach-appropriate sandals. Men and women should wear dress shoes in this situation. There are certain workplaces (e.g. corporate law firms) where the culture is even more formal, sometimes called business formal, and a suit and a tie might be more appropriate. Do some research and ask around if you’re unsure.
- Business casual: This is an environment where a polo shirt and jeans might be okay, but only denim that is neat and appropriate for a more laid-back business meeting or customer encounter. For example, if you work at a marketing firm, you might wear jeans and put on a sports jacket for a client meeting. The variety of shoes you could wear will vary as well, and there is more opportunity for variety, possibly even including tennis shoes. Some workplaces will have a “dress for your day” requirement that allows you to wear jeans on days when you don’t see a client/customer and more professional business attire on meeting days.
- Casual: You might not dare to wear shorts in most business environments, but they might be okay in a casual workplace. Work from home is usually a more casual setting, and some companies will loosen their regulations in warmer weather or if they’re in an outdoor location.
What if You Wear a Uniform?
Healthcare positions are among the many careers that require uniforms for their employees, which makes the discussion around work dress much easier. You might be required to wear a certain color and style of scrubs, but some allow you to personalize. For example:
- Style and color: If you can wear multiple colors, go for it! Otherwise, you can still differentiate your look in the same color with an eye toward comfort (such as stretchy fabric) and style (tops that serve both function and fashion). It’s also possible to find playful scrub tops that make patients smile – an ideal situation in a high-stress hospital or clinic visit.
- Footwear: If you need to wear gym shoes, see if you can vary the color. You might also prefer clogs or another type of shoe that is comfortable for a job in which you need to spend all day on your feet.
Why is Appropriate Dress Important?
By following guidelines for your work clothing, you’re showing that you respect the rules of your employer as well as anyone you might interact with – such as a client or customer.
That’s why it’s important to discuss a major wardrobe change with your supervisor before you waltz through the door with a hot pink silk outfit or cutoff jeans and flip-flops that will bring you the wrong kind of attention.
The appropriate dress also helps you build confidence. When you look good, it can give your mood a boost, which can give you momentum in a meeting or even at your desk when working with co-workers.
When you start a new job, there are plenty of things to worry about and prepare for, and making sure you follow the dress code and internal fashion cues is one of them. If you pass this test, you’ll not only fit in with your co-workers, you’ll also set yourself up to perform at your best.