How do you dress for professional success? That question has probably haunted every employee at some point in his or her life, especially people preparing for their first job. The professional world has an implicit set of dress codes and unfortunately, not everyone is able to understand them right away. For those of you who spend endless hours in front of their wardrobes thinking about what to wear to work the next day, here is a small guide to professional dressing.
Decode the jargon
Just like all other things at your office, the company dress code is usually covered in jargon. Terms like business casual, business professional and campus professional are commonly used to define dress codes for particular events. The problem is they all sound so similar, it is difficult to understand the minor differences between them. Here are some guidelines that should help you out: Business Professional - This is as conservative as you can get in terms of professional dress codes. Imagine Don Draper in his dapper suits with matching ties, polished shoes and tightly held back hair. Women can opt for suits or below-the-knee skirts with regular formal shirts in soft colors. Complete the look with natural or beige hose, medium heels and minimal jewelry. Business Casual - Don't be mislead by the word 'casual'; you still have to keep your outfit relatively formal. For men, business casual usually means khaki pants with a polo t-shirt or a linen shirt with formal shoes. Women can afford to wear knee length skirts with tailored blouses or knit sweaters with less formal heels. Campus Casual - This is what Mark Zuckerberg probably wears to work - a jeans with a tee shirt and flip flops. If you happen to work at a liberal start-up, this might be acceptable, however, most professional workplaces tend to lean towards more businessy outfits.
Dress the part
Remember the nightmare when you go to school dressed in your underwear? That's probably how you will feel if you misunderstand the dress code of a particular workplace. The regular attire of, say, an employee at Morgan Stanley will be radically different from one at Vogue or Facebook. That's because every company has a different vibe which is determined by the nature of work it does, the amount of interaction with clients, the average age of the workforce, etc. For instance, if you are working in a real estate or law firm, stick to a business professional dress code; in an advertising agency, you can afford to follow the business casual model, while in the fashion industry, you can dress like a character from Sex and the City. At the same time, consider the nature of the event your are supposed to attend. A formal black dress (make sure it's not revealing at all) works best for events like an official dinner with clients. In most cases, men should stick to their suits or switch to a slightly more casual blazer. Remember it's an official dinner, which means that technically, you are still at work.
Keep things clean and crisp
The best of outfits is bound to fall flat if it doesn't fit well or isn't properly ironed. Similarly, you can make an average outfit work wonders simply by removing all stains and creases. Every night on weekdays, make sure that your clothes are properly washed and ironed. Additionally, if you feel unsure about an accessory, always say no instead of yes. As the legendary Coco Chanel once said, she always took off one accessory before leaving the house to ensure that she din't overdo things. The mantra is to keep things simple and classy.
Look the part
Dressing professionally isn't just about clothes, shoes and other accessories. It is also about paying close attention to your personal appearance. Both men and women have to be on top on their games in this department. Nails should be trimmed and clean for men and manicured in case of women. Also, men should be clean shaven or they should maintain a proper stubble or beard. Finally, keep your hair clean and held back at most times. Lastly, don't be overwhelmed with all these tips. Once you get the basics right, you won't even have to think twice before putting together a perfect outfit for work.