“I just had an idea for an article I would love to read! About how to dress for work – highstreet stuff you like, for wallets ranging from H&M to Urban Outfitters… that sort of price range. How to look the part but keep your individuality, and stay fashionable. So much work-wear out there is so boring! It’d be an enormous help to me and I’m sure many other readers, and a nice way to start out the new year!”
irstly, let’s put to rest the myth that work-appropriate attire has to be boring or uninspired. This is absolutely not true. Yes, there is a lot of drab “corporate” clothing out there, but there’s also plenty of drab lingerie, drab sleepwear, drab knitwear & drab designer duds! All you have to do is avoid the things which bore you senseless. We’re pretty good at this intuitively — we tend to stay away from things we don’t like naturally — so don’t worry about it, you can do it!
All offices are different. Graphic designers tend to “get away with” more than lawyers, while younger companies often have a more relaxed dress-code than their long-standing competition.
Here are some things to keep in mind, wherever you work.
The better you look, the better you’ll feel.
What this really translates to is make an effort. If you feel confident in your appearance, you will be happier & perform better. We all have different ideas of what it means to make an effort. For some it will be not wearing a stained t-shirt, for others it’ll be 6″ heels & a slash of lipstick. Whatever it is, if you put in a little extra time before you leave the house, you’ll definitely feel the difference.
Don’t show too much.
This is a good general rule for dressing, unless your work revolves around you wearing a bikini or it’s hallowe’en (seemingly the one day a year where all rules go out the window for the majority of people). Don’t show everything — keep something hidden. Concealing your body a little bit is much more attractive & appealing than letting it all hang out, so to speak. So if your outfit is designed around showing off your legs, keep your arms or cleavage covered. If your outfit is low-cut, wear a long skirt. You get the idea.
Dress for the job you want, rather than the job you have.
As well as demonstrating to the higher-ups that you take your work seriously & that you’re mature enough to take on additional responsibility, it also shows that if you were to be promoted, you would instantly fit in with the other people in your department.
Let your personality shine through!
Don’t be afraid to show your personality in the way that you dress! From crystal-emblazoned accessories to a radical pair of shoes, these choices say a lot about us & are, I would argue, an integral part of our personalities. Working in an office or in a shop shouldn’t require you to hang your personality on a coat-hook once you step through the door!
…But don’t go too nuts.
At the same time, everyone you encounter needn’t be bashed over the head about who you are & your views on life. Again, what you can get away with will depend on your place of work, your role & the length of time you’ve been there. The Dish wears the most hilariously inappropriate shirts to work, but he has been there for 15 years… If in doubt, don’t do it!
“I don’t understand how a woman can leave the house without fixing herself up a little — if only out of politeness. & then, you never know, maybe that’s the day she has a date with destiny. & it’s best to be as pretty as possible for destiny.”(Coco Chanel)
@StyleSample My style is NOT conservative but my office is. I add a black blazer & simple heels to counteract my wacky wardrobe!
@stellastellarum Clean clothes, hair, nails. Nothing too sexual (heels & lipstick are ok, but not worn with seamed stockings). No other rules!
@damsorrow i’m into dressing like the bands that would be equivalently appropriate to listen to at the job–for instance, most of the time i’m belle and sebastian–pretty fancy, not showy, a little punk rock in a precious way.
@crinaeae_rai I’m a stylist, so I wear black, stain resistant clothes that I can move in and are stylish. Also, lots of crazy jewlry. I think if I had an office job, I would be rebellious with the dress code as well. Big red lips and plastic hula girls hanging off my jewlry!
@staygo1dkid I take as many liberties with the dress code at work as I can. I hate being told how to dress. Ugh.
@samantharcher I always think it’s important to stick to dress codes- it gets you more respect, and it’s just polite. I don’t think it’s a huge deal either. I can dress how I want on my own time. if I really had a problem with a dress code somewhere I just wouldn’t work there.
@lohlaramona i’m still in school and i’m the only one there who makes any sort of effort to look A] put together and B] un dronelike . i wear lipstick and heels to class because wearing ridiculous things makes me feel better about being there, or anywhere really. also as much sparkle as possible.
@Angeliska There’s not any dress code wear I work, but I stand all day, climb ladders & haul heavy stuff at times, so no high heels (wah!). Also, I don’t wear a lot of white, because I’ll just muck it up. It’s a challenge to find outfits that are cute + utilitarian!
@ashemischief At current job, I have to be careful not to dress too funky/playful bc with my age, it’s easy to get mistaken as a student. at my old job it was always black/grey pants with a vibrant shirt. Style but appropriate for when donors magically came by.
@crysticouture Dress up! Even on ‘Casual Fridays’ I dress up. No lipstick, lipgloss is fine. My bright red trench peacoat is my signature.
@Ragani a friend once shared her work dress philosophy as: dress as well as your boss (if same gender), which has worked well for me. I still insert very “me” notes, sometimes in little ways. Often with more color & bits of historical styles thrown in.
@midorigreen I generally avoid jeans. Also I put together half a dozen outfits every few weeks and wea those combinations until I get bored.
@wishfulpinking I totally dress up for work with coloured eyeshadows. Maybe high heels and always almost always do some eye thing.
@weily Worked in an environment that encouraged “fitting in” so I had a drawer for all my things in neutral colors that fit well!
I did my time in offices, but I never managed to master that corporate dressing thing. I think I was too young to really wrap my head around it. Basically what happened is I left school a year early to go to university, but when I got there, realised it was the LAST thing I wanted to do. Statistics lectures at 9am didn’t grind my crank much either. So I dropped out, but as I was still living with my parents, they told me I had to get a job. “No free rides”, they said. So I got a job at a bank, selling home loans & term deposits.
It was bad. I was never good at toeing the line. I had loathed wearing a uniform & going to school, & then all of a sudden I loathed wearing a suit & going to work. My lingering teenage rebellion persisted which of course resulted in my looking like a complete mess. The bank graciously supplied me with a suit, & looking back on it, it wasn’t so bad. But I hated being forced to wear something that was so very not me, & thus I would wear my suit with… New Rock combat boots. It was so ridiculous. But I was so angry about feeling backed into a corner that I felt like I need to Individuate! Myself! Above! All! Else!, despite multiple warnings. Anyway, eventually I quit & started taking jobs which allowed me to dress a little more like myself. I was still never very “appropriate”, but it didn’t bother me much because I had no aspirations of climbing the corporate ladder.
Don’t be afraid of loud colours or bold prints — just give it some thought.
Don’t be afraid of putting them together, either. There’s no rule that you can’t embrace your love of colour in a corporate setting — you just might want to keep it slightly more controlled than you do on your days off. I think a lot of people fall down or look less professional when they try to put too many colours together at once. While the adventurous spirit required to do this is to be commended, I think a lot of us would look more polished & put together if we reduced the number of colours in the mix, or switched up the proportions. I love to add colour to black, it’s punchy & poppy & wonderful, but if I wore blue stockings, blue shoes, a blue shirt & a blue bag with a black skirt, well, it might be a bit much. Really when you do this, what you risk is looking “costumey”, & unfortunately to most people that does not equate with being “professional”. So pull it back a little bit, & see whether people react differently.
Plan your outfits in advance.
There’s nothing worse than an early morning scramble in a half-dark bedroom to find things that sort of go together! Odds are excellent that you won’t notice that cat hair all over your cardigan until you’re almost at your desk, & the tiny hole in your stockings will have turned into a massive run by midday. The horror! It’s awful to feel doomed to a failed outfit for 8 hours! So, take the time the night before & work out what you’re going to wear. Put it on a hanger & dangle it from the outside of your closet. That way, when you roll out of bed in the morning, you have wonderfully eradicated all panic & drama from the scene. Mornings should be peaceful, after all!
Have an outfit rescue kit at work.
Not because your capabilities are in doubt, simply because accidents happen! Your outfit rescue kit might include a lint roller (for aforementioned cat hair “issues”), a bottle of clear nailpolish (a cheap bottle will do, it will stop a run in your stockings in two seconds flat), a pair of plain ballet flats (ready to deal with anguished trotters after breaking in a pair of heels) & a plain cardigan (in case you need the extra warmth — we all know how offices love to crank up the air conditioning!). A bit of powder would be a good thing to have too. These things should fit into a desk drawer pretty easily, & you can just leave them at work in case you ever need them.
Consider having a “work only” drawer or section of your wardrobe.
While it’s fantastic to have a wardrobe which goes from work to casual & back again, few of us actually have this — & those who do tend to be in jobs where the dress code is much more relaxed, anyway. It can make your life so much more simple if you physically separate the two wardrobes. It will keep you sane & organised, & hamper most attempts to work a tutu into your board meeting ensemble. (“Maybe if I put it with this blazer, it would work…”)
Upgrade your work wardrobe regularly.
This will also keep you sane. No one can wear the same few pieces of clothing for the rest of their life, unless of course, you are a monk, & even then I am sure they have a few robes they can choose from. Go on dedicated work shopping trips, & do not stray! Do not go near the puffy tulle thing, do not finger the leather-look bustier, do not try on the rhinestone-encrusted rabbit ears or pink Marie Antoinette wig. (Make a mental note; come back later; stay on task. Tough love!) Even if you just pick up a few things every so often, it will make a huge difference to how to feel about your work attire. Get a new v-neck sweater in a great colour, buy a fantastic pencil skirt or a rad blazer with sharp details. It’ll spruce up everything else you have.
Come up with a kind of work uniform.
If you have a dressing formula which works, stick to it! When the weather allows it, I mostly wear high-waisted a-line dresses or skirts with tanks, a belt & either a pair of heels or motorcycle boots. It flatters my shape & makes me happy. Your uniform might be a pair of capri pants & a cardigan, or a pencil skirt with a loose-fit collared shirt, but if you stumble upon something which flatters you, keep at it! If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, & all that!
Remember that workwear need not break le bank!
It really doesn’t have to. I think that those of us who read a lot of fashion or style blogs sometimes get disillusioned & believe that most women have ten thousand pairs of Christian Louboutin red-soled stilettos in their wardrobe. Guess what? They don’t! Most women don’t even know who Christian Louboutin is! As much as we all love the idea of expensive shoes, that isn’t real life for most people, & you shouldn’t feel any pressure to live up to that kind of nonsense. Keep it simple! Many chain stores sell great things which are well-made & inexpensive. Get membership cards (this will give you great discounts), know when the sales are, sign up for sale websites (I absolutely love Gilt & Rue La La), & don’t be afraid of shopping online — that’s always where the best bargains are! (Plus there is no reason to be afraid, almost all online retailers offer free returns & exchanges!)
Here are some outfits I’ve come up with. I’ve avoided designer stuff as much as possible to keep it realistic. A couple of these outfits would work in a corporate office, while others are more suited to a feisty librarian or sassy barista! (Remember that I have been out of the “corporate world” for years now & my grasp on reality is tenuous at best.) Despite that, I think they mostly fit the bill of being work-appropriate (well, relatively!) while maintaining plenty of personality!
…Just kidding. It is my favourite though, & you better BELIEVE I bought that hat!