Dressing Smart: Styles that work for you

Knowing how to dress appropriately at the workplace is a key element in establishing your creditability and career advancement

Dress smartNo matter what your age or business, your attire should reflect the tone of the business and lend credibility to your position. Dressing appropriately and doing it with ease is something that everyone can accomplish and can be summed up in a couple of words – selection and organisation.


All workplaces have commonalities and differences when it comes to the desired type of dress. It is your job as an employee or business owner to understand your company’s guidelines and the message you want to send. For example, accounting, banking and law require business dress; advertising and architecture, corporate creative; real estate, retail and the service industry require dress codes to which clients can relate; and, in medicine/healthcare, patients will feel much more comfortable with a doctor who is well-groomed. All industries have standards and guidelines. Whether you are an employee or business owner your success depends on how you are viewed and your appearance is a major component.

Take a casual approach

Office casual is an accepted mode of dress many companies; however recently, there has been a swing back to suits in certain industries. You need to check because the rules for casual attire are subject to tremendous company-to-company variance. At some, “casual day” is a Friday-only observance, where the dress code is slightly relaxed. At others, it’s shorts and sandals every day. The safest fashion rule for new employees to follow is dress about the same as your most conservatively attired co-worker. As a new hire, don’t try to “push the boundaries” of casual attire.

Wardrobe basics

Most people stand in front of their closet every morning not knowing what to wear. What do they do? They end up wearing the same reliable outfits they are used to – which is usually 20 per cent of their wardrobe. With a little planning, 100 per cent of their wardrobe can be utilised and with little effort. To get to this point requires a little work up-front, but will pay in the long term.

To get your wardrobe organised, start by getting rid of all the items that you haven’t worn in a year and, thereafter, start building a workable wardrobe. If you are starting a new job, changing careers, or simply deciding, to get your wardrobe under control, begin by buying the best classic items you can afford in year-round fabrics.

Dressing smart for women

A new wardrobe should consist of a jacket, skirt, pants, sari and salwar-kameez, in a solid, neutral colour such as navy, beige or black. These pieces should be bought together to ensure that they are all the same fabric and colour. Add a white blouse and two or three tops in your favourite colours and a print skirt and/or a print pant. With these items you will have several different outfits – jacket/pants and white blouse; jacket/skirt and white blouse; jacket/pants and green top; jacket/skirt and green top etc., You can then start adding jackets, pants and skirts that match.

Since your basic clothing capsule is a neutral solid colour, you can add a little pizzazz [depending on your industry] with colour and accessories. When your wardrobe consists of pieces that match, it is much easier to make wardrobe decisions.

Dressing smart for men

Start your wardrobe with formal shirts, trousers, ties, suit in dark grey, black or tan in a year-round midweight wool or wool blend; add a sport jacket. Sweaters and polo shirts are great additions for a business casual look. As your career and wardrobe progress your goal is to have two or three suits, a few sport jackets and pants and many shirts and ties.

Building a working wardrobe is an ongoing task that can be made easy through planning and organisation. When you decide you are ready to add more pieces to your wardrobe look at it as an investment in yourself. As a rule of thumb, each item you buy should match three other pieces in your wardrobe; they should also be well-constructed, easy to launder, and in a classic style.

What do your clothes say?

Is it true that clothes make the man or woman? Do people form an opinion about us based on the way we dress? I think so. Does that mean we should avoid any sense of individuality in the workplace? Of course not. But, some types of clothing are inappropriate for certain work environments. In addition, some work environments have a dress code that all who work there must follow. Sometimes you won’t find these dress codes in writing; but, if you look around you’ll find that all employees are dressed in a similar way.

Wardrobe essentials

  • Choose styles that are comfortable – that do not itch or restrict movement
  • All skirts should fall slightly above or below the knee for a most flattering look.
  • Avoid fashion fads and do not wear flashy or noisy jewellery
  • Always wear hose, or socks [for men]
  • Wear closed shoes that have moderate heel height – nothing too high
  • Avoid sleeveless tops and plunging necklines
  • Keep fragrances to a minimum
  • A full-length mirror is a must — always check the finished look before you leave home.

Looking Good at Work

You need to have a reasonable selection of everyday wear so that getting ready for work is not a struggle. Below are some tips for successfully and inexpensively building a working wardrobe from scratch – for both men and women:

  • A working wardrobe should consist of the type of clothing appropriate for the kind of workplace you work at. Clean, unwrinkled professional attire is a must for the office or retail setting. If you work outdoors, or in a shop setting, your “work clothes” may or may not be more casual, depending upon an employer’s expectations. If you are unsure, ask your supervisor or a trustworthy co-worker
  • It need not cost a fortune to build a working wardrobe. If you are on a limited budget, a second hand clothing store is a great place to start for both men and women. Do some experimenting, locate some favourite shops that seem to have the kinds of clothing you like, and be prepared to spend some time making your choices
  • When beginning to build a professional wardrobe, keep your outfits simple to begin with. Shop first for a few solid colour basics that match well, and build around them. Add accessories and print items as a second step; they can add sparkle to your overall look, but aren’t the foundation of your wardrobe
  • Co-ordinate your selections. We may hear people talk about “well-co-ordinated outfits,” but what does this really mean? It means that every time you add an item to your closet, think about how it ties in with your wardrobe as a whole, as well as an individual outfit. Buy things that go together so you can mix and match to create more outfits. That way you will avoid wasting money on items that you don’t end up wearing
  • Choose items that you enjoy wearing, that also fit in with the workplace. You need to feel comfortable in your clothing, and with your look.

Team CW

Sheila Dicks
Sheila Dicks is an image and wardrobe consultant. Her motto help people reach their full potential and perk up their self-confidence with improved dress sense. She lives in Nova Scotia, Canada.


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