Dressing appropriately for work can be a delicate task. Professional attire has certainly evolved to a younger, casual style in some office environments, but remains staid and conservative in others. Deciphering the dress code at a new job takes a bit of research, a bit of observational prowess, and, yes, a bit of shopping sometimes.
1. Dress for the impression you want to give others
Just because you’re working at a startup doesn’t mean it’s okay to look like a slob. Last we checked, slacker chic faded away in the 90s. Make sure your casual look says “ready to succeed in life” and not “just rolled out of bed.”
Likewise, if you work for a firm where business formal is the standard dress code, it’s likely because you’re meeting with clients and engaging with the outside world. Your clothes don’t just represent you, they represent your entire company, so pay attention to the details.
2. Make sure your closet is ready
For men, this means having the following items ready at your disposal at all times: a freshly pressed white shirt, a dark suit, a conservative tie, a pair of polished shoes, a jacket that goes with everything, a dozen pair of black socks so that you’re never without a pair. And remember, white socks are NOT an option!
For women, a knee-length skirt that can be dressed up or down, a pant suit, jacket that goes with everything, simple jewelry, polished flats or medium-high heels, an extra pair of pantyhose.
3. Use your powers of observation
Look around to see what everyone else is wearing. Don’t stray too far from the norm, especially during your first several weeks on the job. If everyone sticks to dark colors and avoids patterns, don’t show up in red or leopard print on your first day. Pay attention to the details--do men wear conservative or modern ties? Do the women wear hosiery?
4. When in doubt, dress up
If you don’t have a clue about how to dress going in, it’s best to dress up instead of down. Here are some basic rules.
Men: Wear a dark, tailored suit with a white dress shirt and conservative tie. Make sure that all three items are freshly pressed and wrinkle free. Do not mix patterns between your tie, shirt and suit. Wear black socks and be sure to polish your dress shoes.
Women: Wear a neutral colored suit or skirt with jacket. Be sure the skirt is no shorter than two finger lengths above the knee, and shoes should be closed-toe.
Both men and women: Pay attention to personal grooming like having clean nails, neatly groomed hair, and no flashy, large jewelry.
5. Elegance always wins
Keep this in mind when shopping for work clothes. We all want to let our personality shine through in our wardrobe, but if the adjectives you use to describe yourself are rock-n-roll or adventurous cougar, its best to choose a look for work that conveys a slightly more conservative version of you, even if you work for a company with no set dress code. Choose an understated, less-is-more look. If you can’t go without patterns, wear one at a time. If the word suit is not part of your vocabulary, consider at least having a jacket to dress up your jeans and tee shirt look when necessary.
This article first appeared on hosco.