I admit that I do not actually work in the corporate world. I’m definitely the creative type and have worked in that field for so long that I no longer even own a suit. But, when I first graduated my dad took me out shopping for the essential professional wardrobe items. As the vice president of human resources for a fairly large company in Chicago, he’s interviewed a lot of people and has definite opinions about what is and is not professional attire. Now, from time-to-time I help my friends and relatives get ready for their own launch into the working world. Here’s what I’ve learned:
- a good quality solid-colored suit. This should contain both a skirt and a pair of pants and the jacket to match. Black is ideal for most of us. (I got mine from Ann Taylor and it served me very well for a number of years.)
- a variety of shirts to be worn under the suit. Think button down in a variety of colors, dressy blouses with a little frill.
- a pair of basic, comfortable heels. Don’t go for super high heels or for flats. Try to find the middle ground.
- a variety of nice accessories. A couple necklaces, bracelets, earrings. Maybe a scarf or pin.
- a quality purse large enough to hold a folder. You need to be able to bring your resume, references, samples of your work, etc… search for a bag that allows that without looking like a bag lady.
But wait! Shouldn’t we be able to have our own style and flair? Yes, of course. Part of your clothing choices must be dictated by the environment you are working in. The other part needs to be informed by your own sense of style and your personality. But meshing the two together can be tricky. Whenever buying items that will be used for professional purposes there are a few mantras to keep in mind:
- Be put-together. Outfits should match and should be complete. Just throwing on dress pants, a nice top and black pumps does not make an outfit. Include accessories. Take the time.
- Avoid flashing flesh. In the business world, especially for a woman, we need to be taken seriously in order to get work done. Dress in a way that says, I’m knowledge about the subject at hand. I’m capable of getting the job done. I have brains and a go-getter attitude.
- Dress for the occasion and the job. Working in the creative field is going to require very different clothing than someone who works at a bank.
- Bring out your personality. This may mean through a colorful bracelet and matching set of earrings, or it might mean some fierce animal print heels. Skip the trends and fads. Go with what works for you.
- Be current. Sometimes it is easy to get stuck in the old-school corporate mentality that tells women to look like men in shapeless suits and white button-downs. That is not the case. Wardrobe items, even the classic essentials, need to be updated for the latest model.
For example… Try this for a little more flair to the classic corporate look. It still says ‘I mean serious business’ while also saying ‘I’m current and put-together.’
Or for the more bold professions that still should come across as business oriented:
(This post got me thinking… I’m going to do a what not to wear/do at an interview post. Stay tuned.)