There is no one dress code for every business or industry in the world. Most businesses in the corporate sector have similar dress codes. As a woman, you will often try to dress the part by relying on the clothing seen in the career section of department stores. You get office dress ideas from fashion magazines and style blogs. However, are these resources actually helping you or hurting you professionally?
Department Stores, Magazines, and Blogs Are Primarily about Style
If you look at the career section or “wear-to-work” section of many department stores, you will see a mixture of styles. Some are more streamlined business attire. Others tend to look more like after work and weekend attire.
It is unlikely that an office dress code will allow you to wear miniskirts or skirts that fall at mid-thigh. Shorts are rarely acceptable and strapless garments are out of the question. However, when you look at some department stores “wear-to-work” sections you will see these items. To avoid falling into the trap of wearing some of the inappropriate styles department stores place in their career sections, follow four simple guidelines that ensure you will dress professionally.
Guideline One: Dress for Where You Want to Be
This may sound weird considering you may already be employed at the company you wanted to work for. Take a moment to think about where you are within the company. Are you satisfied with your current position and pay scale? If you work in an office without much contact with important internal and external clients, then you can probably take more liberties with your clothing. Your interpretation of business casual attire may suit you fine.
If you want to move up into a higher position and make more money, you need to dress for success. This means adhering to the dress code in its literal sense. If the dress code has casual Fridays, then go preppy casual by mixing colored jeans with a blazer and wearing a pair of dress loafers. Otherwise, purchase clothing that fits the dress code as it is written.
Guideline Two: Dress for the Occasion
If you are going to a meeting that includes other departments or external clients/partners, a professional dress code is needed. A pantsuit or skirt suit is best. Make sure your skirt is no higher than a thumb’s length above the knee. A suit jacket worn over a dress shirt — with no more than two buttons undone — is best.
In regards to shoes, look for heels no higher than two and half inches high. Leave the platform pumps at home. Also, wear a closed toe shoe. You can show off your pedicure on another day. Keep your jewelry modest and at a minimum. Stud earrings, a thin chain necklace, a stylish watch, or a modest ring are the best choices. If you need to wear a belt, choose a thin one that is leather or leather-like or a modest chain belt that will fit through the belt loops, not over them.
Guideline Three: Choose Neutral Colors
This does not mean you have to wear neutral colors from head to toe. You should wear mostly neutral tones in your professional dress. Instead of the red suit, choose a black or white suit with a red dress shirt for contrast. Save metallics for your accessories like your shoes and handbag. Black, white, browns, and muted tones (like a grayish-blue) are best. For example, if you want to wear a purple skirt suit, skip the brighter grape shade and go for a smoky mauve or lavender.
You can wear prints but choose wisely. Printed dresses and skirts in a black/white pattern or motif are safe because they successfully pair with a simple black or white suit jacket. Printed pants are hard to look professional in, so don’t risk it.
Guideline Four: When in Doubt, Dress like a Man
If you are still at a loss as to what to wear for success, then be influenced by menswear. These six menswear career dress elements are good for both sexes:
1. White dress shirt
2. Single-breast blazer
3. Suit vest
4. Dress trouser
5. Leather loafers
6. Simple gold or silver watch
These four guidelines are to be applied and adjusted based on your office dress code. Remember, department stores and magazines will show you what they think looks stylish, not what will get you ahead at work. When in doubt, borrow from the fellas!