What to Wear on Your First Day at Work

by katyrose on September 22, 2011

Last week I stood in a friend’s walk-in closet and stared at her clothing options. It was 10pm and the following day she would begin her first day of teaching high school students. On top of worrying about lesson plans, first impressions, dis-interested students and the apprehension of meeting other experienced staff members – she was also freaking out about what to wear.

The first impression we make – in any situation – is so important. Others form, even unintentionally, an immediate decision about who we are and what we value based on the way we dress and carry ourselves.

While each profession has its own dress requirements and standards there are some basic standards to keep in mind as you prepare for the first day at a new job.

  • Figure out the industry standards for your profession and place of work. Is it casual, business-casual or business attire? How did the person who interviewed you dress? How did the other employees dress? Once you figure that out – step it up a notch. It’s better to over-dress a little more on your first day than to under-dress.
  • Pre-plan your outfit. Don’t wake up the morning of your first day and try to figure out the needed attire. It’s a sure-fire way to be late or over-stressed before the day even begins. Lay out your outfit the night before. Try it on, stand in front of the mirror, and ask someone else’s advice.
  • What are you comfortable wearing? You might be dressed in something amazingly perfect but if you don’t feel good in it – you won’t be able to give off the positive vibe. You need to feel absolutely comfortable in each piece.
  • Stay away from new shoes. We all have experienced the stupidity of wearing new shoes to a big event without breaking them in first. To be hobbling around by the end of your first day is one sure way to make a stressful situation worse.
  • Look after the details. Iron your shirt and pants/skirt. Polish your shoes. Make sure the hems are all in place, the buttons perfectly attached, the collar clean. Presenting yourself in a polished manner will send the right message to you and your co-workers.
  • Accessorize. This is more for the ladies – but it is important to polish off your look with a few key accents. For your first day you don’t want to overdue the jewelry but you don’t want to be a half-finished outfit by ignoring them all together.

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Alessandra September 22, 2011 at 5:38 am

What a great skirt! You look lovely, perfect outfit.
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Debbie September 22, 2011 at 6:09 am

Love this outfit, especially the skirt! Wow! I am liking the longer hair on you too. These could be my “foundational five” or six.
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katy_rose1 September 22, 2011 at 10:30 pm

Thanks Debbie – the goal is to start growing my hair back out again. I always go through phases of longer and short hair.

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Rachel Tatem September 22, 2011 at 7:00 am

You look good in pencil skirts!
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Mode Plus September 22, 2011 at 8:53 am

I remember wearing my first work outfit before a classroom. It was too short, too tight and I looked like a student not a high school teacher. I was mortified after that day, I thought I would never teach again. Ah well, I was only 21. Great tips again!
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katy_rose1 September 22, 2011 at 10:29 pm

Ouch! On the bright side you learned from that and know what to do in the future.

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Sylvia September 22, 2011 at 9:07 am

I think you will have made a Great impression in this outfit. Love that combination and your hair looks very good too in this picture…
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katy_rose1 September 22, 2011 at 10:29 pm

Thanks Sylvia – I actually wore this outfit about a year ago when I went to give a social media presentation at a local high school. I figured it was the perfect combination of youthful and with-it while still seeming professional.

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Kristen September 22, 2011 at 9:39 am

GREAT post – and certainly something to think about on “first days” of any kind. Whether or not we like it, first impressions are tough to break, so we might as well make a good one!
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ashley September 22, 2011 at 9:48 am

As an HR professional, I wanted to add that it’s always appropriate to ASK what is okay to wear in the office (even during an interview!). I frequently have candidates ask about dress codes when I extend offers – are open toed shoes okay? What about flip flops? Bare shoulders? Do I need to wear a tie? Always better to ask and know than not ask and be suprised.

Also, I think it is absolutely appropriate to be a bit more dressed up on the first day, and perhaps be dressed more conservatively than you normally would – you don’t want to be known as the new girl with the leopard print blouse – stick to classic basics, then once you’ve felt out the office, branch out (of course, for creative industries this doesn’t necessarily apply, but for a regular office I think it’s good advice).

One more – I really like your outfit in this post, but I think that exposed zippers can sometimes be seen as too much for an office (again, unless it’s a creative field). They’re a newer, trendier thing, and a lot of older people (late 30s and above) seem to think they scream “sex!”. I only mention because I get away with a lot of creative, more casual dress in my office and the ONLY thing my department VP has ever said was inapporpriate was a dress with an exposed zipper in the back and we had a LONG conversation about why. :)

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katy_rose1 September 22, 2011 at 10:27 pm

Ashley – Thanks for adding your thoughts, especially as an HR professional. My dad works in HR so I’ve grown up hearing a lot of this. I totally forgot about the zipper thing and you are so right if it’s a creative setting you could get away with it. If it is corporate the exposed zipper and even funky animal print is likely too much!

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Dancing Branflake September 22, 2011 at 11:00 am

I love your tips. Where do you work? Yesterday you mentioned it was an office and now I am so curious. I know you freelance but what else?
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katy_rose1 September 22, 2011 at 10:25 pm

I actually don’t work in a corporate setting anymore. Right now I’m the assistant director at a student residence; basically a glorified RA, landlady, and event planner.

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Laura September 22, 2011 at 11:29 am

I think this is an excellent first day choice. Black and white is very classic, and not too “scream for attention”. And you are nice and covered, while still being very chic. I always struggle with shoes in an office environment, because I tend to have very high heels, and I know they can be looked down upon in a work setting.

I also really like your tip of noticing what the person who interviewed you wore, and glancing around the office. That is a good way of getting the feel of a workplace!
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katy_rose1 September 22, 2011 at 10:24 pm

I think with high heels the skirt length is very important. We can get away with higher heels if the skirts are longer. When I’m rocking the tall pumps I try to make sure my skirt hits at knee or just below. It gives a great shape and makes your legs look longer too.

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Kristin September 22, 2011 at 12:17 pm

Pre-planning your outfit is clutch. I love this look. It’s fun, yet still totally professional! And that bag is just fabulous. Love the color!
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katy_rose1 September 22, 2011 at 10:23 pm

The bag is one of my favorites, especially since it came from Target and cost less than $30. It doesn’t get any better than that!

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Kari. September 22, 2011 at 2:49 pm

where did you get that skirt?!
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katy_rose1 September 22, 2011 at 10:22 pm

I got it from SteinMart. It’s a brand called Grace.

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Pencil Skirts and Lattes September 22, 2011 at 4:44 pm

Lovely outfit, fantastic article!! :) OH – and for Ashely’s third comment here – I recently wore a skirt and top with an exposed zipper (not in the same outfit, of course) and it TOTALLY sent the wrong message which is hilarious and tragic all at the same time. You just can’t win in the corporate world, it seems. But this outfit certainly is HIGH CLASS!!! :)

-Sarah
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katy_rose1 September 22, 2011 at 10:20 pm

It’s true.. the zipper thing can be tricky in a professional place. I tend to forget that now that I’m not working in a corporate setting.

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triskelos September 23, 2011 at 5:04 am

Great post! I agree with you, fist impression is the first important one) On my first day ant my current work i was so stressed out that I’ve decided to play it safe and wear something black. That outfit is still the most depressing of any I’ve created for the past year – black pants, black shirt, no jewelry. Ewww)))
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Allie September 23, 2011 at 11:15 pm

Cute outfit! I can still remember what I wore the first day of my current job – teal merino ballet neck sweater, black pencil skirt, leopard pumps. I found out the dress code was business casual and felt this was classic, traditional but with a touch of me with the heels. Your tips are great – step up a notch, and look at the details. I remember people commenting on my shoes that day – it was a great icebreaker and a way to show my personal style without going bonkers.

Great post!

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Kinsey Michaels September 28, 2011 at 4:42 pm

yay, the zebra skirt makes a comeback! this is definitely one of my favorite things of yours, and it looks super fun and sophisticated with the purse and pointy heels.
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Darcy May 26, 2012 at 5:47 pm

This is a great outfit. I think it worked really well for the first day seeing that it was in a school. I am currently wondering what I should wear on my first day I just graduated college and will be starting of as an HR Assistant.
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