That is the question. Trust me when I say that the phrase “dress for success” is a real thing. No, really! You want to look like someone who takes their job and their career seriously.
There are two parts to this post: What to wear to an interview and what NOT to wear to work once you have a job. Here are some considerations for interview wardrobe selection:
- Company Culture: Our first recommendation is to think a little bit about the company and the job that you are interviewing for. So, are you applying for a creative-type job where you can be a little more expressive of your personality? Or are you going to a more conservative corporate business role like accounting, legal, consultancy, administrative where the important thing is to NOT stand out? Are you applying for something that is more hands on, manufacturing, labor intensive where you’d want to look nice, neat but also practical? Keep these things in mind as you choose your work wardrobe.
- Err on the side of caution: As a rule, for an interview, it’s always better to be too dressed up vs. not dressed up enough. It’s ALWAYS respectful to dress up. First impressions matter. You won’t “lose points” for over-dressing but you will for under-dressing.
- “Sexy” vs. “Put Together”: There are two types of “dressed up” for women. There’s fancy, party, night-on-the-town dressed up, which usually leans a little more towards “sexy” and “alluring” (read: tight and lots of skin), e.g. not work-appropriate. Then there is “dressed up” to look stylish, neat, classy, professional and my favorite term: “Put together.” Always go for this in a work environment.
- Men have it easier. For men, “dressed up” is usually just “dressed up”. Nice slacks and shoes, a button-down shirt (side-bar: Nicely ironed or, if you don’t iron, “wrinkle free”, though that is sometimes false advertising and you really should have an iron/learn to use it) and a nice/interesting/colorful tie: This is about as dressy as most companies get these days. I can’t say a suit coat is required unless you are really going for a big interview at a large, conservative corporation, but again, better to over than under-dress. (Disclaimer: This advice is based on living in the more conservative Midwest.)
- So, Men: Sorry, we don’t have a lot of clothing advice for you. Get a few nice pairs of slacks and button-downs that coordinate. Once you see what your colleagues are wearing, add to your wardrobe from there. Sweaters. Golf shirts. Invest in two pair of nice leather shoes… Perhaps we should find a guest writer/interview to speak about men’s wardrobe? (If so, please comment. For starts, I posted a Pinterest page below.)
- One “No” for men: No cologne/aftershave/Axe/strong smells, just deodorant or antiperspirant.
- Also, make sure your facial hair, if you have it, is neatly trimmed. If not, of course, be cleanly shaven; trendy stubble could be misinterpreted..
So, getting on with a work wardrobe for the women. A work wardrobe can be wildly varied and should suit your personality and work culture, role and environment, so it’s easier to give you general rules for what NOT to wear. (And remember, just because you see a few people at the office wearing things on our “NO” list, doesn’t mean that it’s okay. It just means these people are in need of some unfiltered advice.)
- NO Leggings. I know that athleisure is really in right now. But it was not ever meant to be worn in a professional environment. Because NO ONE should have to see your ass, and I don’t care how tiny and cute it is. As a rule, unless you are exercising, if there are no pockets on the seat of your pants, you should cover it up. On a similar note, your pants shouldn’t be too tight in the back OR the front: My boss once had to have a “cameltoe” conversation with an employee. Can you imagine how THAT went? I don’t know who was more mortified.
- NO Cleavage. Same general story with your top front side. I should not be able to see serious cleavage, even when you lean forward. (And make sure are wearing a t-shirt bra and/or a tank top under that thin/white blouse. No one wants to see your nipples either. AWKWARD.)
- Midriff: I know cropped shirts are also in. NO BELLIES, no matter how flat. That is how belly-dancers dress, not professionals.
- NO COCKTAIL DRESSES. No sheath, “bodycon” or otherwise body-hugging dresses of any length, especially short. [Story: One evening after work, I ran into a young colleague friend on her way out of the building. She was in a little skin tight, short, fancy dress and heels and I (assuming she had just changed in the bathroom) said, “You look nice, Sam! Are you going out tonight?” and she said, “No, I had a client meeting today.” (A conservative client, no less.) Facepalm.] In sum: If you would wear it on a date or out dancing, don’t wear it to work.
- Dress Codes and the Fingertip Rule: Most companies have dress codes. Because they have to; if they don’t, it’s a free for all! Usually there is a “fingertip rule” for skirts and dresses. (Shorts and rompers are also not work-appropriate, though lately dressy LONGER bermuda shorts are in fashion, which can be classy/preppy.) Work clothes should come a couple inches above the knee, NOT a couple inches below your crotch. [Story: This summer, I walked up the open lobby stairs behind a woman in a short summer dress and was shocked to accidentally see her underwear. Aaaaiiiieeee! This is beside the point but, really, how does she sit down at her desk? Is she flashing everyone? And more practically, isn’t she cold?]
- Let’s Review: No ass/front bottom, no belly, no boobs/nipples, no underwear flashing, no upper thigh. It’s surprisingly easy to avoid these things if you make the effort to stock your wardrobe like the professional adult that you aspire to be.
- A last hint: Before you walk out the door in the morning, look at yourself in the mirror. Check all your private parts, and after assuring all those are covered, ask yourself: “Would I wear this to the beach?” “Would I wear this to a nightclub, bar, dancing or on a hot date” or even, “…Out shopping or to the movies with my friends?” If yes to any, then, NO – better reconsider.
- On the other hand, does your work outfit make you feel smart, professional, organized, mature, confident, competent and/or ready to be the best version of your professional self? If yes, then YES!
At this point, if you’re asking, “Well, then, Kim and Karen, what DO I wear?” Excellent question. We are not fashion experts, we are career consultants, so please allow us to direct you to Kim’s Pinterest board for some starter ideas, or search for yourself! Keep in mind the personal brand you are trying to build for yourself and, forgive me, but “Dress for Success.”