I remember vividly the shopping trip I went on right after graduating college. Much to the chagrin of a beloved professor, I was moving to New York in a couple weeks to find a journalism job in the Big Apple. A adult job required an adult look to go with it, so my dad took me to the mall and bought me a three-piece suit (jacket, pants, skirt) as well as a pair of classic, sensible black pumps and a maroon silk blouse. I remember thinking I looked so professional in the outfit. And I wore that to every informational interview and real interview I went on in the first months I was out there. I even wore it on the informational interview that landed me my first ‘big girl’ job at the New York Times. Looking back I can now admit, the sensible black pumps, suit set and button-up blouse is so not me. But at the time I thought that was what you HAD to wear if you were going to be a professional. That there was no in between ground. There was no room for personal style because I was supposed to be business professional – At All Times. So soon after landing that job my closet began to fill with stuffy button-up shirts, pencil skirts, and kitten heels (so that I was not too tall but still in heels after all). I hated most of the things in my closet. I felt frumpy and old in them. But I did feel professional.
At one point, while I lived there for more than a year, I went on an interview to work for a home design magazine. While I didn’t wear the suit, I did go in a very professional looking pair of black pants and a blazer. The editor I interviewed with thanked me for dressing well for the interview telling me most candidates had shown up in strappy sundresses. I hadn’t even considered going in anything but a blazer.
Still, it wasn’t until years later when I had been freelancing for awhile, that I realized it is possible to combine professional attire with personal style. It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing kind of thing. Take this look, for example. It is structured and professional looking, but yet still totally me. The little black dress is a classic, somewhat formal piece. The jacket looks put together but the pattern shows off my personality and sense of style. The shoes are sensible and yet current without being flashy.
Tips To Mix Professional Attire and Personal Style:
ONE:: Figure out what your style is.
To be honest, this is probably the hardest part. Some of us know our style and embrace it early on. For others it is an every eye-opening journey. The best place to start is to look at your closet and consider the things you don’t like to wear or you don’t feel amazing in when you put it on. Chances are you shy away from those pieces because they aren’t you. Now do the reverse. What do you love, feel amazing in and get complimented on? That’s your style. Your confidence and love for the piece will shine through so that even others notice.
TWO:: Research the dress code of the place you work or want to work.
Every place has a different set of rules for the work environment. Don’t think of them as restrictions. Instead think of them as the frame with which you get to paint within. Even with really strict dress codes, which let’s be honest are less and less frequent these days, you still have a lot to work with. Good thing most businesses print a dress code, but it’s also a good idea to talk to co-workers and maybe even your boss, to see what is expected of employees. At times there might even be different standards during the week and on Fridays or during the winter and the summer months. Better to research and ask up front than to be left with a closet full of things you can’t wear.
THREE:: Find pieces that work well within the dress code parameters, but also allow your personality to shine through.
Now that you know the parameters, get creative and consider how can you work with the things you love with the standards you’ve been given? Maybe you have to have closed toed shoes. Okay, so what adorable wedges or funky flats can you wear that speak to who you are and still follow the company policy? Get creative and enjoy the process. For instance, at work we do have a closed-toe policy for shoes. At first I mourned my peep-toes but then decided I was going to find some really great looking shoes. Now my closet is full of shoes I love that all meet the standards set.
FOUR:: Use only one bold personal style piece so as not to come across as too flashy.
Instead of wearing five things that are pushing the envelope or speak to your personality, while remaining in the standards, consider wearing one or maybe two pieces. Maybe a colorful jacket, or a bold set of heels. But don’t wear it all at once, since that tends to draw needless attention, and can often get you in trouble unnecessarily. This too is just smart advice for every fashion personality, because it assures that you don’t end up looking either perfectly packaged – Barbie style – or like an unmatched child who is first learning to dress herself. Mixing classic work attire pieces with one or two that are more you makes sure there is balance to your look.
FIVE:: Make sure your look is polished and complete.
Yes, this applies to every look, but perhaps even more so for work. Sure, it is the daily grind but we have to dress for the job we want to perform that day and the job we want to have one day. So that means making sure that your look is polished and professional. Consider your accessories – earrings, necklace, bracelets, rings – as well as makeup and hair. I well put together look is going to draw more positive attention than someone who doesn’t take the time to look her best. This too is where some of your personality can stand out. Maybe it’s a tassel earring or a bold red lip that is SO you.
Those are my tips, would love to hear if you have any suggestions for being totally you in the workplace.