Dressing Professionally in the Workplace

But what if your job can sometimes get dirty?

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If you’ve got a question that needs the female treatment, chances are you’re not the only one who wants to ask it. Beth is our source for the answers. From opinions on men’s style to decoding the sometimes mysterious ways of women, she’ll take on a different question every Thursday. She also might provide an answer without waiting to be asked. That happens from time to time too. Click here to get to know Beth, then get in touch with her by sending your question to: askawoman@dappered.com .

 

Beth,

I’m a recent college graduate who has just started a new job with a company I interned with for a number of years during school. I’ve tried to elevate my attire accordingly, however, I seem to have been unsuccessful at doing so (my boss has recently hinted at me dressing more professionally). There are two issues I run into in this department.

1. I work in an office of exclusively women, so role models of appropriate male attire are non-existent in my office.

2. I work for an event production company, which means my day-to-day tasks vary widely. I can be meeting with the industry professionals and board members one minute and then doing some more physical tasks the next. Most days are simply spent in the office with my coworkers, but when I have meetings I need to be able to dress accordingly.

I’m young, and I want to be known for more than my age and my apparent youthful appearance. Any ideas on how I could blend dressing appropriately, perhaps a little older, yet still be able to get my hands dirty when I need to?

- Jay

 

Hi Jay,

Congrats on your new job; it sounds like an exciting time in your life. Hopefully you can walk away from today’s post with some ideas on how to make it as positive and successful as possible.

You don’t mention what you’re wearing now that your boss finds objectionable…so I’m going to have to cover the whole gamut—forgive me if some of this seems obvious. Presumably you know that sweatpants, stained clothing, ripped clothing, flip flops, baseball hats, etc. aren’t appropriate in a professional setting. Good rule o’ thumb: if you would wear it while recovering from the stomach flu, it doesn’t belong in the workplace. So does that mean you’re wearing jeans and t-shirts? If that’s the case, then your boss would probably prefer, at a minimum, that you wear khakis or chinos or dress pants and button-downs or sweaters. Maybe a blazer thrown in once in awhile. Or are you wearing khakis and button downs now? If that’s the case, then your boss would probably prefer suits and ties. It’s hard for me to tell you WEAR THIS because I don’t know what you’re wearing now. But whatever you’re doing isn’t cutting it, so take it up a notch. If you still feel at a loss—flat out ask your boss. This is your first real job, I don’t think it’s unreasonable that you ask for guidance with something like dress code, especially since there aren’t any dudes around for you to emulate.

Once you figure out what the dress code is, execute it well. Here is where many people fall down. Changing from a tee with a beer brand graphic on it to a button up shirt is all well and good, but if the shirt is wrinkled and not tucked in and too long in the sleeves, you’re still going to be presenting that youthful, unkempt, unprofessional appearance that you’re trying to avoid. It can take time to figure out how something is supposed to fit on your specific body type. The good news is that Dappered has a ton of resources already available on this topic (and there’s no point in me rehashing all of it here verbatim), so take a look around the site, then compare the information you’ve gleaned to what’s hanging in your closet. Stand in front of a mirror, try on all your clothing and ask yourself, does this fit the way it should?

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If you’re in need of a wardrobe reboot, take notes and bring them with you when you go shopping. Again, I’ll point you toward Dappered’s excellent resources–take note of weekly sales highlighted, shoe reviews, and the like. As you look, as you shop, as you wear better fitting and higher quality clothing, you’ll figure out your personal style. Also consider finding a tailor of repute and flagging some of your clothing budget to go towards tailoring. You’ll look much more put together buying fewer items, but having those items fit you perfectly, than boasting a big wardrobe of ill-fitting duds.

The other challenge you mention is that you sometimes have to get down and dirty. I think the easiest solution here—assuming that when you’re doing these manual labor tasks, you’re not seeing anyone important you’d need to impress—is to store an additional set of clothing at work. Say you know you’ll be spending the morning schmoozing with VIP, but then in the afternoon you’ll be setting up folding chairs and lifting heavy boxes. Wear your finest to the office, present that professional front, then after lunch, change into something more suitable for physical labor. If that’s not possible, simply alter your outfit to make it more conducive to the work—take of your suit jacket and tie, then put them back on afterwards. I don’t advocate doing your best to wreck your finest clothing, but most quality clothing can take some hits and not suffer too badly for it.

Finally, even on the days you’re not meeting with industry professionals, and maybe your boss doesn’t care as much how you look, consider maintaining that high standard of dress. Everything you do at work, including how you physically present yourself, is a category in which you’re judged—fair or not. One of the oldest pieces of advice for anyone starting out in the workforce is to dress for the job you want, not the one you have. Make yourself stand out for those promotions, perks, big responsibilities, and exciting challenges, by presenting the very best version of yourself, appearance-wise. Then back it up with good work product. Good luck, Jay!

-Beth

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