Making the right impression at work isn’t hard if you keep in mind three basic points when buying clothes for the office:
1. Presentation counts.
2. Casual shouldn’t mean slovenly.
3. Dress as you want to be seen: Serious, professional, upward-bound and ready to meet clients.
Before you head to your store in search of new clothes, size up your office. If you want to be a manager, check out what the successful managers wear. Next, check out the rising stars in the office. Here’s betting they don’t show up for work in their weekend grubs.
If your office has a written dress code, your problems are solved, and you can dress cookbook-style. If necessary, go shopping with the dress code in hand and pluck appropriate stuff from the rack. But many offices don’t have written standards, and it’s up to you to get it right. So, here’s a rule of thumb: Understated elegance beats flash and trash five days a week. That means men shouldn’t dress like aspiring rock stars, and women should shun the Paris Hilton look.
For men, traditional attire includes:
—A button-down shirt.
—Polished black shoes.
—A blue, black or gray jacket.
—Slacks that complement the jacket.
—You can’t go wrong with a conservative tie.
—Don’t forget the socks. Here’s a hot tip for fashion-impaired Y-chromosome types everywhere: buy two dozen pairs of identical black or blue socks so you can pluck two at random from your drawer each morning and always have a match.
There is some slack in the grand scheme of things. Blue and white shirts have been around since time began, or so it seems, but there’s also room for the occasional yellow, pink or (if you’re an aspiring poet) black shirt. However, if you don’t know what you’re doing, stick with blue and white shirts, because otherwise you’re almost certain to step in it.
For women, the traditional look includes:
—A skirt that hits just above the knee, slacks and perhaps pantsuits.
—Just a hint of makeup. Skip the perfume, especially during a job interview or the first few days at a new job. If you use perfume thereafter, go easy on the saucy splash behind the ears, because you can bet that someone might complain about headache or nausea.
—Polished flats or moderate heels.
—Pantyhose may be the office standard. Ask.
Remember that you’re not dressing to attract attention at a rowdy bar while guzzling beer; you’re dressing to underscore your professionalism and competence. Some young workers don’t understand the difference and damage their careers. Getting it right is especially crucial when interviewing for a job or sitting down to a new one. Overcoming a bad first impression is as difficult as un-ringing a bell.”)
When starting a new job, remember that you’re being sized up all the time. Little things count. How you dress will tell the boss how you see yourself and how you approach the job. Some people, especially young workers, overlook this basic point, flub it and wonder why what seemed like a promising opportunity turned sour.
You want to be noticed for the quality of your work, not the horrible miscalculation of your duds or what you think is a glorious bod.
It’s better to overdress on your first day at a new job. If you dress too formally, you can count on the critter in the next cubicle poking you in the ribs and saying, “Nice outfit, but it’s not necessary unless you’re calling on clients.” That beats the boss thinking that the surplus store is your tailor or, worse, that you don’t take the job seriously.
Rule of thumb: Always dress for the task at hand. If you’re a civil engineer headed for a construction site, jeans, a flannel shirt and work boots are fine, but that’s not how to dress when making a formal presentation to the grand pooh-bahs at the office. Believe it or not, otherwise intelligent people are remarkably dumb about this basic point.
Appearance can create credibility. You know this from your own experience watching TV food-fight shows focusing on politics and other chin-pulling topics. Think of the number of times experts from opposing sides of an issue have made good points during an exchange, but you remember what one said simply because that person was better dressed and came across better on screen.
As usual, Mark Twain said it best: “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence in society.”
Do not go naked (or inappropriately dressed) into that good night.
Ontario Fabricare Association
120 Promenade Circle, Suite 910 Thornhill, ON L4J 7W9