Once upon a time, almost everyone wore business suits to job interviews and work. However, over the years, our society has become less conservative when it comes to dress codes. Certain industries still require conservative dress, but others have a more laid-back atmosphere. It’s no longer unusual to find some employees wearing shorts and T-shirts to work!
However, it’s important not to look too laid back. “What you wear might be more important than you think,” says Brenda Ferguson Hodges, a California-based image consultant and career coach. “Why? Whether you like it or not, your appearance is the first thing people notice about you—and first impressions are usually formed within the first 30 seconds.”
So how are you supposed to know what to wear? Read on for tips on how to dress in every career-related situation.
How to Dress For…
…a Job Interview
A scuffed shoe, a messy bag or a low-cut shirt can speak volumes. You need to wear your “power outfit.” Stick to business professional looks. Have a favorite skirt that always makes you feel great when you wear it? Why not pair that with a simple blouse and blazer?
“You can absolutely show your personal style, but remember, an interview isn’t a fashion show,” Ferguson Hodges says. “You want them to remember you because you were reliable, loyal, professional and hardworking—not because you had on a bedazzled blazer.”
- Jacket or blazer
- Pantsuit or dress pants
- Long pencil skirt
- Dress blouse
…the First Day of Your Internship
Nothing is worse than being the one person in the office who’s totally overdressed (or underdressed) for the environment, but you should always verge on the polished side for the first day. Traci LaBom-Norris, assistant director of counseling and career services at Northwestern State University, suggests dressing a step up from what the typical daily dress code is. “If you’re nervous about making the wrong move, just get the scoop ahead of time; ask your boss what the overall vibe is and what she wears to the office every day,” LaBom-Norris says.
- Simple blouse, colorful cardigan or blazer
- Simple dress
…a Business Dinner or Company Function
When you’re dressing for a work function or a business dinner, the culture of your office should prevail. If it’s a conservative environment, dress conservatively for events, too. “If the function is more casual, you should still dress professionally, wearing a business casual, crisp outfit. Crisp meaning no wrinkles, stains, lint, holes or snags,” LaBom-Norris says.
No matter how relaxed your office environment or the occasion (that means you, company picnic!), never wear anything provocative. A revealing outfit can prevent you from being taken seriously. “People don’t necessarily notice when you are put together, but they 100 percent notice when you aren’t,” LaBom-Norris says. “It’s worth it to take the extra step.”
Best Options for a Business Dinner:
- Trousers with a cute sweater
- A dress in a dark shade with a printed cardigan
- Appropriate (but comfortable!) shoes
Best Options for a Casual Company Function:
- A sundress
- Cute sandals or wedges
- Fitted Jeans
- A maxi skirt
…a Career Fair
Some collegiettes make the mistake of dressing for a career fair as they would on the job. In many cases, you can dress much more casually on the job than you should for a career fair. “Remember, you have to get the job before you can dress like someone who already has a job,” Ferguson Hodges says.
Most career fairs require business casual attire to enter. “Business casual means that you should appear professional and ‘pulled together’ yet somewhat relaxed,” she says.
- Nice slacks
- Knee-length skirt
- Simple, light-colored blouse
- Low heels
…an Informational Interview
An informational interview is a brief meeting with someone in a profession or an organization you want to explore. Note that it’s NOT an interview in which you seek a job—it’s for you to learn from the professional about his or her experience.
Informational interviews can be extremely valuable. According to Ferguson Hodges, when you meet in person to conduct a professional informational interview, present yourself in a way that puts your contact at ease. “This means dress appropriately,” she says. “If you are meeting at a coffee shop, you may dress casually in comparison to meeting in a corporate conference room.”
- Simple, solid-colored dress with a blazer
- Button-down shirt with a skirt
- Cute flats
What NOT to Wear: General Tips for Off-Limits Attire
No matter what the career situation is, be sure to avoid these items!
Perfume: Who knows if anyone in the office is allergic? You don’t want to be the person giving people hives.
Excessive and/or bulky jewelry: This includes anything that would make it look as if you might be heading out to party. Loading up on the bling and sparkles can be just a bit distracting. Contrary to what we’ve been taught in the fashion world (unless of course, you’re working in the fashion world), try not to stand out with your clothes. Let your performance at work do the talking.
Torn jeans or cut-off shorts: Definitely not the best choice —you want to look professional, not like you came from the beach!
Heels or rubber flip-flops: If you will be walking or standing up most of the day, flats or wedges are probably a better, more comfortable option than heels. If you must wear heels, bring flats to change into for your commute! Flip-flops are just too casual for a professional workspace.
Anything too revealing: This includes plunging necklines and too-short skirts. You never know what kind of task you might get assigned or who you’ll meet. Don’t wear anything you wouldn’t want to meet the president of the company in—you never know when she or he will get in the same elevator as you.
Sweatpants or leggings: Similar to rubber flip-flops, these are just too casual and sloppy.
Take these tips into consideration when you’re preparing for any special career occasion! Remember: no matter what you’re wearing, confidence and a warm smile outweigh any fancy suit or heels.