Have you ever stopped to ask what others think when they see you? Do you have the professionalism and concierge of a flight attendant? Are you friendly? Or maybe you’re a bit stoic and serious. Once you set foot in the office environment, your looks matter, and it could be the one thing between you and that opportunity you’ve been seeking.
Cue the work uniform, and I’m not talking polos and khakis, either. This is the style staple that you’ll create for yourself to put your best heel forward in any and every setting, whether you’re cute and casual, or a boardroom beauty.
It’s kind of exciting to read the words “casual” in the company dress code. But for the career girl, this is a call to be something more than average. We’re going for a little competitive edge with a look that helps you stand out while staying within professional bounds. But casual can easily turn into chaos unless you settle on some practical staples in your work wardrobe.
Building Your Look
Since we’re not in a business setting, it’s okay to have some fun with color, prints, and patterns so long as you contrast it with color blocking. (For example, a leopard print blouse pairs best with a solid brown or black skirt.) This keeps your look from becoming extra.
For your top: You can go as simple as a tee or as fancy as a sheer top layered over a cami. (Just keep any and all cleavage out of the picture.)
Bottoms are best in solid colors to keep attention above the waist. And even though the company policy says casual, you’d do well to avoid denim anyway (or at least until jeans day comes around).
Bottoms are best in solid colors to keep attention above the waist.
Accessories: This is where you go all out from head to toe. Express yourself with eye-catching earrings and the sharpest shoes (because these are great conversation starters). The key is to be just above casual to get noticed but not so much that you take away from your great personality and the customer service experience.
Shoes: Any kind of comfortable heel should do. But if those toes are exposed, please don’t skip your Saturday pedicure appointment.
Many business environments call for muted colors like black and navy. Dark grey works, too. Whatever you do, avoid being loud and flamboyant with vivid colors like red and yellow. Why? This creates a sense of discord among your colleagues, and in some cases, this communicates a negative, self-absorbed ego. Instead of saying, “Here I am to help our team solve problems,” a brightly colored suit says, “Here I am, look at me! I’m the most important person in the room.” The latter doesn’t speak to a unified front, especially if your team is meeting with another team or business partner.
If you really want to be the baddie in the boardroom, a blazer is your new best friend. There’s nothing jivey or retro about it. You’ll want to keep a blazer handy in your office in case the CEO happens to bring visitors by. It doesn’t have to be boring either. Add a stylish brooch or tie a satin scarf to add a hint of self-expression.
Building Your Look
For your top: keep it simple with a crisp cotton collared shirt or solid color blouse so you can throw on a complimentary blazer to pull your look together. Speaking of blazers, slip it on at least a half hour before an upcoming meeting so that you’re not caught unprepared or looking disheveled.
In a work setting like this, it might be worthwhile to invest in a couple of two-piece suits, then run to the tailor to tighten things up for a perfect fit for acing those presentations.
Bottoms: Slacks or a pencil skirt that’s past the knee are just fine, but avoid frills, splits, and tight cuts. A solid shift dress is my favorite go-to item. Just avoid revealing and distracting cuts like cold shoulders, spaghetti straps, keyholes, and deep plunges in the front or back. (We want to see your business summary, not your skin.)
Jewelry should be simple and refined.
Accessories: Contrary to popular belief, this is not the time to be extra. Instead, focus on being polished. So keep your jewelry selection refined. A thin chain necklace adds softness and femininity to your form, as does a pair of small dangle earrings, or diamond or pearl studs. Perhaps add a charm bracelet for a little individuality. But remember, you didn’t come to the office to play.
This is truly the best of both worlds. Shift your style up and down to take advantage of environments that embrace a semi-casual dress code.
Other Office Essentials To Stay on Style Code
A decent sized purse: Get the bag in the boardroom, but also stay prepared. A medium to large sized purse makes room for a pen, notepad, makeup bag, company ID, and bottled water. Consider this your adult backpack.
Blazer: As mentioned before, this article of clothing should really have a place in your office for those special occasions. It also hides the unfortunate wardrobe malfunction, stain, or tear.
Comfortable heels: Because you never know if you’ll be sitting in an uncomfortable chair or standing for long periods of time. It’s not unusual for women to keep an extra pair of lower, cozier heels under their desks. Take note.
It’s not unusual for women to keep an extra pair of lower, cozier heels under their desks.
Emergency sewing kit: This may sound archaic, but it will spare you from an embarrassing moment. Store extra buttons, needle and string, or safety pins in a nearby drawer at the very least. (Your grandmother nods with approval.)
About that makeup bag: Stock up on only your best colors and shades to put your best face forward in case the corporate office rep decides to stroll on by. Touch up on your lunch break with concealer, a friendly lip color (that isn’t fire engine red), mascara, and a mattifying powder foundation, and this should get you through an 8-hour shift without a makeup meltdown.
Image isn’t everything, but your appearance says more about you and the company you represent than you may realize. That said, building your own personal work uniform doesn’t mean ditching individuality or looking like a corporate clone. It’s entirely possible to express yourself and make a solid first impression that could take you up the company ladder someday. Of course, settling on your signature style takes trial and error, so don’t be afraid to ask a style-savvy colleague or mentor for advice. But know that a more classy and confident you could be just an outfit away.
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