A Guide to Workplace Attire

A Guide to Workplace Attire

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You start a new job next week, but you have no idea what to wear. While I can't take you shopping, I can help you decide what's appropriate - and what's not.

First, you'll need to determine the right level of dressiness to aim for. Hopefully you were able to figure that out during your pre-interview research, or at least during the interview itself. If you weren't able to figure it out then, HR may send you an information packet before you start. Still no luck? Just ask, hopefully you'll be able to get in touch with your new supervisor for all the little first day details. If all else fails, dress up. It's better to look a little over dressed than way too casual.

Accents not necessary.

Professional/Corporate

This is the most formal type of workplace dress code. Think banks and law offices. Your clothing options will be more restricted, which can at least take some of the stressful “What am I going to wear?!?” choices out of your morning routine, but you can still add personal touches.

Men

A corporate look means a suit and tie, plus nice shoes. Unless your office is particularly stuffy you can probably have some fun with your shirt and tie choices, but remember to coordinate. If you opt for a complex pattern or bright colour for one, opt for a solid or neutral color for the other.

For an added boost to your look, consider adding a vest, pocket square, or cuff links.

Women

Ladies tend to have slightly more options than men for a corporate look. You’ll still need a suit, but you can choose a skirt or pants. If you opt for a skirt it should reach at or near the knee, and you’ll want to pair it with hosiery. You can also invest in some great dresses for work, but these should still be paired with a blazer (you can take it off at your desk) and the same length rules apply.

As for accessories, keep them fairly simple, nothing too large and chunky, and one statement piece is generally better than overloading on jewellery. Flats or heels are both acceptable, but keep your heel height reasonable.

Business Casual

This will be the look you’ll come across in most office environments. Your clothing options are fairly open here, although some offices lean further one way or the other. For your first few days dress more towards the business side, a new employee has rarely gone wrong by looking too professional. Once you figure out the office norm you can dress to match. Keep in mind that for "big" days it's always in your best interest to dress up a little. Think interviews, presentations, client sessions, or important meetings.

When choosing your wardrobe consider your place in the office. If you’ll be managing people you may want to dress more on the formal side, especially if you’re a younger manager. On the other hand, if you’re having trouble connecting with your employees, dressing on the casual side can make you more relatable. Either way, consider the message you’re trying to send with your wardrobe choices.

Men

While it's not a universal rule, dark jeans are accepted in many business casual offices. They should fit well and be free from any rips or wear marks. Pair  jeans with a nice belt and collared shirt to keep the look work appropriate. Not sure if jeans are okay at work? Wear dress pants for the first week until you have a chance to ask or to scope out your co-workers.

In some offices you could also pair jeans or dress pants with a blazer and a well-fitting t-shirt, but stay away from large logos or graphics. This isn’t the time to share your favourite movie quote.  

Consider buying a nice vest, it can dress up an outfit without adding the bulk of a blazer or suit jacket.

Dress shoes or loafers are advised, but not mandatory in most cases. You can probably wear sneakers or converse if you keep them clean, and opt for darker options over white or neon. Again, take your cues from your environment.

Women

Dresses, jeans, dress pants, skirts, and all sorts of sweaters and blouses are usually fair game here. Just make sure you aren’t revealing too much skin (a tank top can help under any questionable tops), and while skirts can be shorter than corporate options, use the fingertip rule: If your hem is shorter than your fingertips reach, it’s probably not an option for work. If you're wearing jeans ensure they're not too tight, too low, or too baggy, and definitely not ripped.

As for t-shirts, the same rules apply: They should be properly fitted, and paired with a blazer or nice cardigan, and again, stay away from the large graphic prints.

Feel free to have more fun with shoes and accessories, but be wary of anything overly large or distracting. If you opt for heels, please just make sure you can walk in them. You don’t want to be that girl teetering around the office, barely able to stand up.

Casual

Some work places don’t have much of a dress code at all. T-shirts and shorts may be perfectly acceptable office wear. However, just because you can wear almost anything doesn’t mean there aren’t any rules to follow. For example, dirty, smelly, or ripped clothing doesn’t belong in any office environment. Basic hygiene should also be considered mandatory.

Men

Although shorts and t-shirts may be spotted around the office, don’t go super casual for your interview or your first day. For interviews or client meetings wear jeans (maybe even dress pants) and either a collared shirt or a blazer over your t-shirt.

In some workplaces logo shirts may be completely acceptable, and even complimented, but keep it classy. If you work for a video game designer, than a quote or image from your favourite game or TV show would probably fit right in, but remember, even the most casual offices have HR departments, who may not appreciate your “joke” shirt.

Women

Your advice is similar to the boys here. As mentioned above, follow the fingertip rule for skirts, and if you opt for shorts don’t go with anything that could be mistaken for something Daisy Duke would wear.

If your office is this casual, it’s likely a creative environment as well, so feel free to show off some of that creativity with your bags and accessories.

Now you should be all set to start your first day off right.

Beyond the Article

Posted on October 22, 2013