How to dress for success at work

The question of what to wear to work is an old one, but one that has an answer that changes often.

Dressing for a networking event, an internship, an interview, or your job itself can be a source of anxiety. You want to make a fantastic first (and lasting) impression and you know that how you present yourself, inching the close you wear, go a long way toward that.

Each event and company are different, and may have a subtly different dress code. And then there’s the question of practicality and comfort.

Will you be standing or sitting most of the day? Do you walk to work – or walk around much at work? What’s the weather like now? What will it be like later in the day? Is your office temperature cold or warm? Is it okay to wear those Ponte pants for work or will you need a full on pant suit or dress for your meeting?

There’s so much to consider that it’s no wonder that this issue frustrates so many people.

So, to help you, let’s take a quick look at some of the basics. For example, there are three main categories of workwear for most people: professional, business casual and campus casual.

1) Professional workwear

If your dream job happens to be in a swanky office, you’ll need to embrace this type of clothing.

This is considered to be the most conservative of the three main workwear categories. (You might have heard of this type referred to as business formal). For women, this means a nice dress paired with a jacket, or a pants suit or business suit. For men, this refers to a pair of dress pants, a blazer, and a tie, or even a full-on suit.

Working in an industry that’s typically more conservative means that they tend to have rather strict standards for what is allowed as far as clothing goes, so it’s critical that you correctly follow protocol.

2) Business casual

This might be more of a relaxed version of the former category, but if you want to dress for success, it definitely doesn’t mean that you’ll be dressing overly casual.

Business casual is generally the office dress code for companies that are a bit conservative but not overly so. That said, some events and interviews can also be occasions to follow the business casual standards. 

Dressing in this style can include nice shoes, dress pants or khakis, and a sweater or a collared shirt for women. It might also include a knee-length (minimum) skirt or dress. For men, this can be a pair of dress shoes, dress pants or khakis, and a collared shirt, polo shirt, or sweater. Ties aren’t typically a requirement.

3) Campus casual

This is typically clothing that won’t be worn to the office. It might have been the kind of thing you wore in college and carried over to your everyday casual style.

This can include items like sandals, sneakers, T-shirts, and jeans. In the business world, you may have the opportunity to wear these clothing items to a casual networking event, or to some sort of informal career day or on-campus interviews. But you’ll probably need to avoid this when you’re in the office, and instead wear more conservative attire.

In some industries and companies, particular media and creative, it’s acceptable, if not expected, to wear this kind of relaxed, informal look to work. But if you’re attending a meeting with clients, you might be expected to wear something a little smarter.

Photo by Max Ilienerwise