Have you ever felt confused about clothing choices in the workplace?
You can usually work out what definitely isn’t appropriate, but many still struggle to work out exactly what the new standards are.
In my opinion, what is appropriate for your work wardrobe comes down to showing yourself at your best, being respectful of others, and gaining their respect back.
As Sylvia Ann Hewlett states in her book featuring research on Executive Presence,
“Your appearance should focus your audience on your professional competencies, not distract from them”
Here are 10 simple rules to follow to ensure you are displaying professional courtesy in the workplace.
1. While some people ‘get away with’ dressing in clothes that might be deemed too casual for the workplace, do you really want to take the chance that you look too informal?
Don’t underestimate the message your clothes are sending to the leaders in your organisation, who believe me are always looking out to see who has potential. Think about your appearance and dress for the job you want. Looking put together and well groomed sends positive messages.
2. It’s important to stand out as a professional. ‘Finishing’ an outfit or looking ‘put together’ is key.
This means there’s more you can do once you’ve picked out your dress or top and trousers. You need to add accessories (just not noisy ones), wear shoes that aren’t scuffed, and be sure your nails and hair are groomed. Your work outfit isn’t finished until you’ve attended to these extra details.
3. Check the mirror once or twice before you leave the house in the morning. Consider installing good lighting in your wardrobe. If you don’t have a decent sized full-length mirror, you need to get one! Check yourself from all angles. Is your hem coming down? Are there stains on your jacket? Is your bum coated in cat hair?
4. Wear enough makeup to have a ‘polished’ look. Having a too-made-up face makes you look overdone and is a distraction. Wearing no makeup is not professional either, a discussion that comes up a lot with me with my clients. Consider a minimum of a lip tint or tinted balm and some eye definition with mascara, neutral eye shadows or brow pencils. I would really encourage you to get a professional opinion if this isn’t your strong suit. My go to brand for beginners is either Bobbi Brown or Bare Minerals.
5. Appropriate coverage ensures that no one gets the wrong message or a mixed message at work. Revealing clothes are another distraction from your abilities. Don’t show cleavage, don’t gape between buttons or wear short skirts. You shouldn’t be tugging or pulling at your clothes to make them more comfortable or more modest. There are too many other things your mind should be on, and your clothes shouldn’t be one of them.
6. Unless it’s part of your established Personal Brand or the job that you do, your work outfits shouldn’t be the place where you express your strong creative side. But this doesn’t mean you need to look boring. Again, getting the right mix is important and a little flair in your outfit can make all the difference to help you stand out from the crowd, especially in more traditional professions.
7. Consider what is or isn’t age appropriate. Looking either too old or too young can be detrimental to your professional image. Looking professional is easier if your wardrobe has a large dose of basics in neutral colours, in natural fibres with few details like ruffles, bows, or buttons. Be careful though, as too much of a classic look can make you look old and frumpy. Simple, but stylish. Current trends with more colour and detail may have a place in your work wardrobe, but being dressed in daring, exaggerated styles can make you look too young.
8. Keep the noisy jewellery at home! Don’t wear accessories that can be distracting to your workmates. Avoid stacking lots of bangles, which can clank against each other with every keystroke you make on your computer. Less is more. Having a few but distinctive accessory focal points is a great idea.
9. Check the fit of your clothes. I find most people wear clothes that are a size too big. Oversized, crumpled clothes take away your credibility as you can appear to lack self-awareness and look sloppy. The antidote to this look is well-fitting clothes in fabrics that don’t crease too easily. Are they in need of some alterations? If you need some help, I can assess what’s worth fixing and what isn’t.
10. Remember your deodorant and a little perfume. As the days get warmer, a deodorant is essential and an addition of a bit of a scent helps to keep you smelling fresh all day.
Wouldn’t it be nice to completely stop thinking about what to wear to work, and to know that you look your best while you’re doing your best?
I’d be happy to help you put your wardrobe together, so you’re seen as the asset you are.
Lizzie Edwards is the best personal stylist and corporate image consultant in London working with women over thirty five.