Dress For Success In the Workplace

dress-for-successAs superficial as it sounds, what you wear matters. How a person dresses is both a physical expression of respect and a nonverbal communication. While the old saying goes “you can’t judge a book by its cover”, everything you do makes a statement about who you are. It also has an immense impact of how people perceive you the first few seconds they meet you and can have lasting effects on your career. Obviously, where you intern/co-op matters, as the workplace and field have their own unique cultures, from conservative suits and ties on Capitol Hill to swag free t-shirts in Silicon Valley. The bottom line for dressing well, therefore, is to align with the brand you want to communicate. So how do you look the part?

Here are a few ways you can use a guideline as you navigate your job:

1. Do Your Research:

In advance of a job interview or going to your job on the first day, do your homework and observe how employees there dress. Most fashion stores have clothing line that gears towards young professionals, such as Ann Taylor, Loft, Zara, The Limited. For high end shops, you can go for more established brands such as Brooks Brothers, Tommy Hilfiger, PINK, Ermenegildo Zegna (men only), etc.

2. Tailor It When Possible:

Though some college students might be living on a budget, do remember that tailoring your clothes goes a long way to making a difference. If the clothing is too tight or too loose, it gives off the vibe that you are sloppy and not cleaned up. When you are investing on good presentable clothes, you want to make your investment count. And unless you have a sewing machine at home, you should always go the extra step to go to a tailor to make it fit your body type. It will also give you an extra boost of confidence as well. You won’t regret it!

3. Pair Everything With a Blazer:

Say you are going to a networking event or a cocktail event after work that requires you to dress up, but you are not sure how dressy the event is or you don’t have time to go back home to change – what should you do? Pair everything with a blazer, because it allows you the flexibility to dress up and down. Now the big question is what color, according to hiring managers, blue is the safest choice because it sends the message that you are credible and trustworthy, and inspires confidence. Avoid brown because it signals old-fashioned, and black which conveys leadership and over-confidence. You don’t want to come up too strong and overpowering especially if you a just a low-level assistant. Save it for the future.

4. Other Do’s and Don’ts for Women and Men:

It’s a fact that women can lose respect in the work place if they wear too revealing clothes. A good rule of thumb is, the younger you are, the more conservatively you should dress. As you move up in your career, consider changing your wardrobe style and making a bit of statement, but for now, no short skirts and revealing tight tops. Also, refrain from wearing too much makeup but do put on deodorant. For men, generally there is much less to worry about. However, you should wear your hair in a clean and neat style; while hair gel is not necessary and depends on your personal style, sometimes it does do the trick to tidy your look. Another thing that employers notice are shoes. Make sure they match the color of the suit you are wearing, and that they are polished and clean. Try not to show too much socks when you sit and wear pants that suit your height. Lastly, for both genders, if you have any visible tattoos and body piercings, you should always err on the cautious side to conceal them.

You wore WHAT?!

some positives, you wore pants today... good job. Now about that hat... source: someecards.com

some positives, you wore pants today… good job. Now about that hat…
source: someecards.com

Throughout my young life, I’ve have the pleasure of working in a multitude of different environments. From the publishing company where you could wear pretty much anything (no lie, people would go for a lunchtime bike ride and sit in their sweaty clothes for the rest of the day), to corporate sales where suits and stockings were the norm; it’s safe to say I’ve seen it all. Inevitably, when working with clients, especially around peak recruiting times, I always get the question(s) “is this okay to wear *enter description here*? Or “what should I wear?”

Despite my various attempts to explain in detail– with pictures mind you, some people just don’t get it. I reached out to my social media network to ask peers what are some of the worst “work” outfits they’ve ever seen and rounded up the list here. Please, please, please, never do this. Whether you’re a new grad, a seasoned pro, or somebody that works in a “cool, hip, place”—I’m talking to you Google, it is never OK to wear leggings as pants unless you’re working out or employed by Lululemon.

Leggings/Yoga Pants

This one came up multiple times. Ever since fashion of the 80’s/early 90’s made a comeback in the mid-2000’s it has become more and more commonplace to find people wearing leggings as pants. If you want to do this on your leisure time, not a problem (please make sure they’re not see-through!), but at work this is never OK. Would you take

Use this as your pant guide source: sadlyleggingsarenotpants.blogspot

Use this as your pant guide
source: sadlyleggingsarenotpants.blogspot

your supervisor seriously if she/he is wearing leggings and/or spandex workout pants while going over progress reports with you? The correct answer is “no”. That said, why would your boss take you seriously if you’re sporting leggings at work? Even if casual attire is encouraged, you’re pushing your luck with workout wear to actual work. Just leave it at the gym.

Too Revealing/ Too Tight/ Clothes That Don’t Fit

This was mentioned for both girls and guys. Ladies, keep your low cut tops for the weekends and guys, a deep v-neck is never attractive in an office environment. If somebody keeps looking down at your chest and not in your eyes while you’re speaking to them, that’s a bad sign. Given that selfies are all the rage, take a picture of yourself and send it to a trusted friend if you’re not sure. My personal recommendation is if you’re not sure, than you probably shouldn’t be wearing that.

Additionally, make sure your clothes fit. Something too baggy looks sloppy and something too tight… well, read between the lines. Independent tailors are generally affordable and help make you look better in the clothes you already have.


I know here in New England, especially after a long winter, the moment the thermometer hits 55 degrees people start whipping out the shorts. Even ignoring my initial reaction which is “relax, it’s March”, shorts are never appropriate even on the hottest days at the office.

source: telegraph.co.uk

source: telegraph.co.uk

I know there are certain work cultures and environments that say shorts are fine, but a few words to the wise: no gym/mesh shorts should ever be worn in a professional environment and anything that is not right about the knee (ladies, I’m talking to you) is not appropriate. Daisy Duke worked in a bar for a reason and mesh is for the gym, let’s keep it that way.

Mini Dresses/Over-the-Knee Boots

I was genuinely surprised how many people commented that this was something they saw at work. Unless you’re trying out to be the next Pretty Women, leave this look at home.

The moral of the story is common sense goes a long way. No need to don the power suit every day, but dressing well can make a positive impact on your career. Look around your office and take note of how others are dressed, especially in those positions you aspire to be one day. If you’re the outlier, it may be time for a makeover.

Kelly Scott is a Career Advisor at Northeastern University and social media enthusiast.  A Gen Y, she enjoys writing about workplace culture and personal online branding. For more career insight, follow/tweet her at @kellydscott4.