Once you get over the initial excitement of dressing up for your first job, the task of choosing something “office appropriate” each week can become a daunting task – particularly for women. Men have limited choice in terms of their professional wardrobe. It’s all really just different types of pants and tops that vary in formality. For women, the variety of choice in clothing not only makes every day decisions of what to wear difficult, but it poses a whole new issue – how to dress for work. It is very easy to cross the line between appropriate and not appropriate; which can cost you your job.
Men must ensure that they appear well groomed – shoes are polished, hair is combed and their shirts are ironed. But for women, in addition to these, there exists a few more boundaries. Unfortunately, the line is simply a bit harder to stick to than it is for men. We begin to question: What length skirt is appropriate? What necklines are appropriate? Are heels expected? Does the job allow for you to dress according to your personality, or are you expected to wear a suit with the men? Nobody should treat a woman differently for how she is dressed, but perhaps there are some considerations to be taken into account. We’ve collected some advice from corporations around the world to try and find a general consensus on the top 5 ways to dress for the job.
1. Avoid anything that reveals your underwear
This may seem like a no brainer. But it doesn’t just mean to avoid anything see-through. It also suggests that where your clothing is perhaps a little tight, make sure you’re wearing appropriate coloured and cut underwear. Thin strapped or strapless tops that reveal your bra may also not be appropriate for an office. It might seem unfair, but unfortunately it will affect how employers perceive you.
2. Make an effort to learn the culture of your workplace
It’s always safer to start out dressing conservatively. You don’t want to turn up in a sundress when everyone else is wearing neutrals and button shirts. Take particular notice of how senior women are dressing to work. If you work in a more creative industry or a small company, you may have the freedom to dress to your personal tastes. However, if you work in a business field such as accounting, the most adventurous choice you may be able to get away with is a coloured pair of shoes. Suss it out.
3. Invest in a few staple work pieces
Consider spending a little more money on a few items of clothing that you will wear over and over again. These items should be able to transform any outfit into a professional, workplace friendly outfit. Consider a neutral coloured blazer, a knee length, high cut dress in a block colour, a pair of staple flat or heeled shoes in a neutral tone, or a pencil skirt. Adapt these choices according to your field. Avoid neon colours as they can appear unprofessional.
4. Learn one easy-and-quick hairstyle
We always plan to wake up on time and get to work feeling refreshed, but when the reality of life sets in, sometimes we begin to get lazy – or we simply begin giving ourselves more sleep and less time to get ready in the mornings. Whether it’s a bun, a simple blow dry or a trick with a bobby pin to pin loose strands of hair back, it is an invaluable time saver to know how to do a quick hairstyle that is work appropriate. Also, never turn up to work with wet hair.
5. Carry your outfits with confidence and professionalism
Whilst there is definitely a grey area surrounding whether or not women should be told what is office appropriate or not, the definitions of what is appropriate also varies not only between industries but between managers. If you stick to the basic rules, and you act professionally and confidently, your employers are unlikely to get the wrong idea.
Whether you like it or not, how both men and women dress in the workplace can affect professional perceptions of your character, dedication and capabilities. Whilst no employer should apply sexist or outdated rules about what you wear, the general principles of male tidiness should be applied to the various clothing choices available to women.
WORDS BY CYNDALL MCINERNEY. If you need more career advice, why not sign up for our mentoring program and get personalised advice for your relevant industry?
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