Knowing what to wear to work can be difficult, especially when you have little or no experience in the business world. Two words: simple and conservative. Your outfit should not be distracting. When you make that presentation in the conference room, you want people to pay attention to what you are saying, not what you are wearing. Now is not the time to show off your straight-off-the-runway, haut couture fashion sense. Stick with the business basics — a nice suit with classic lines. Women’s accessories should be unique but not flashy. For men, a nice watch is a must, but it should be understated — leave the bling at home.
Working in a more formal environment is relatively easy — wear a suit — but figuring out what qualifies as “business casual” is a different story. There is no real standard for business casual — it’s typically something less than a suit but more than jeans (although in some workplaces, “nice” jeans qualify). What do you do? Pay attention to what your boss wears. In most cases, his/her wardrobe will set the standard. There are, however, situations where your boss is a little eccentric or clearly less formal than the rest of the office. In that case, take stock of what most of the other higher-ups are wearing and follow suit, so to speak. When in doubt, go more formal, not less. No one will be offended if you are overdressed, but wearing jeans when everyone else is in a nice skirt or dress pants will draw some disapproving glances and may even result in an embarrassing conversation with your boss about appropriate attire.
If you’re really lost, turn to the experts. For men, a trip to Jos. A. Bank is a good idea. The salespeople there are well-versed in the necessities of the business wardrobe, and there are frequent sales that make a good wardrobe within reach. For ladies, Ann Taylor is your best bet. It’s pretty pricey, though, so you may not be able to stock up on their styles. Look around, take a few pictures, and then go to the discount stores (TJ Maxx, Marshalls, Nordstrom Rack, etc.) to find similar items. For more ideas, check out these helpful suggestions: 5 Ways to Dress for Success on a Budget-Kiplinger
Other things to think about are fit and color. According to wardrobe and image consultant Amanda Sanders, once you have found clothes that are appropriate for the workplace, you should have them professionally tailored. Obviously, if something is too long, you need to have it hemmed, but tailoring is more than hemming — your clothing should skim your body, which means having seams taken in or let out. Color is also important, particularly when it comes to accessories. As image advisor Tom Henske notes, we’ve all heard of the red “power tie,” but other colors are equally important. For example, blue suggests loyalty, intelligence, and honesty, while pink shows friendliness and caring. For additional fashion advice from Sanders and Henske, check out this video on the WSJ website: How To Dress For Success in Business
Be simple, conservative, and more formal, not less. When it comes down to it, you want to get noticed because of your work, not your outfit.