Forgetting Your Audience
When it comes to dressing for work, there’s no such thing as one size fits all. Remember to dress for the company that is paying your salary, avoiding clothes that clash with your corporate culture.
Investment banks still require conservative suits, usually in neutral colors, while individuality and creative flair are expected in fields such as advertising or film. Be sure to pick up cues from your office culture.
Women should convey professionalism, advises Ida Liu, a director in the fashion retail group at Citibank’s private banking arm. “I want to be a trusted adviser to my clients. When they are looking at me I want them to see me as intelligent.”
Above all, remember that what flies in one office might not work so well in another. Don’t be afraid to modify your clothing to fit the culture. Susan Magrino, who runs a New York-based public relations firm, alters her clothes to make them work for the office. She recently purchased a Pucci sweater and added extra hooks to make it less revealing.
Wearing the Same Old Designers Again and Again and Again
When shopping for the office, most women head straight for the same designer or store. While it’s easy to stick with what has worked before, this is the quickest way to look dated. Instead, vary your designers and shop at different stores to create looks that are fresh.
Another great way to update your office look is to try more cutting-edge brands, such as 3.1 Phillip Lim or Rag & Bone. Buy a blazer from one of these labels and pair it with pants.
And of course, pattern tights, scarves and earrings can work in dozens of combinations to liven up a neutral suit.
Finally, don’t forget that a work wardrobe begins with great basics. Most crucial: one great suit and shirts in your most complimentary colors. Magrino says every woman should also own a jacket; gray flannel, brown and black pants; and brown and black boots and pumps.
Not Paying Attention to Fit
Everyone knows that you should avoid clothes that are too tight or too skimpy. If your clothing is overly revealing, you may have difficulty getting attention for your ideas.
But baggy clothing that’s two sizes too big can be just as detrimental. If your clothing is shapeless, you’ll end up looking sloppy.
When choosing work outfits, stick to items with a contemporary cut and avoid anything that is ill-fitting or too large. “Wearing something that fits you well will give you that extra boost of confidence,” says Liu.
In most cases, that means taking store-bought clothes to a tailor. “Even movie stars get their clothes tailored,” says stylist Phillip Bloch, who has worked with celebrities such as Salma Hayek and Halle Berry. “Very few people can just go into a store and throw something on and look good.”
Going Trendy Instead of Timeless
Unless you work in fashion, wearing the latest trends to work is a no-no, as wearing overly trendy clothing can overshadow your work accomplishments. “You don’t want to walk in [wearing] a purple fluorescent suit, even if it’s beautiful,” says Citibank’s Liu. Instead, “be a diva in the evenings.”
While it’s important to avoid looking too trendy, this shouldn’t translate into wearing dowdy clothes. Rory Tahari, vice chairman and creative director of the fashion brand Elie Tahari, says women tend not to give themselves the freedom to express their own personal style. Women shouldn’t be afraid to take a risk now and then with color, prints and fabrics, explains Tahari. “You are a woman, you don’t have to dress like a man.”
Bloch suggests adding pops of color like tangerine and yellow to update outfits for spring without overdoing it. “Hillary Clinton was a great example of this on the campaign trail. There she was in her black suit but she was always throwing a pop of color under it.”
Dressing for the Weekend During the Week
Dress codes have relaxed at many companies, and business casual is now the norm in many workplaces every day of the week. Problem is, many people have no idea what this means.
It all depends on the company. At Melaleuca, for example, employees are encouraged to don approved active wear whenever they want (the idea is to promote physical fitness and wellness). But that doesn’t mean Melaleuca.com employees working at the corporate office in Idaho Falls can wear sweats every day.
Don’t interpret business casual as dressing for a Saturday afternoon. Limit jeans to Fridays and make sure they’re neatly pressed. As for the rest of the week, if business casual means skipping the suit in favor of slacks and a blouse or sweater, just remember that you never know when a meeting with a client will spring up or when you’ll have to drop by an unscheduled evening event with colleagues.