When it comes to dressing for the workplace, most of us have heard the old adages ‘dress for the job you want, not the job you have’, ‘dress to impress’ and ‘dress for success’. But does what you wear in the workplace or to a job interview really make a difference? In a word – yes! First impressions are usually formed within the first few seconds of meeting someone. More than 50% of that first impression is based on clothing and grooming. Some of the factors that influence one’s first impression also include the following:

Is the outfit, inclusive of accessories and footwear, appropriate for the environment, circumstance and time of year?

Is the overall outfit coordinated? Are shoes and accessories – including handbags and briefcases – in sync with the overall look?

Is the outfit current and age appropriate?

Does the outfit fit properly? Even the most expensive suit will fail to make one look good if the sleeves, pant/skirt hemlines are too short or too long, or the fit is too loose or too tight. Alterations should certainly be done to improve fit.

Is the outfit, including footwear, clean and well-maintained? All articles of clothing, including coats, should be neatly pressed, and shoes should be polished with heels in good condition. If an item needs mending i.e. missing buttons, seams or hems coming apart, get them repaired before future office appearances. Items showing their age should be retired from your business rotation.

While such significance on clothing may appear superficial, what you wear is a visual representation of your personal brand and part of what you exude to your stakeholders.

This is especially important when preparing for a job interview. Recently, this writer required assistance on an important business transaction, bringing in three candidates to interview for the job. All three contenders had similar credentials. Two of the candidates attended the interview in fairly casual attire, while the third individual arrived impeccably groomed and dressed in a modern tailored suit, dress shirt and tie. His look and demeanor read professional and successful. Needless to say, the third candidate bagged the job.

To “dress for success” is to have a clear understanding of your employer’s, client’s or potential employer’s place in the business community. Do they have a formal corporate environment, or do they lean towards business casual? Alternatively, is the workplace more informal and casual? Always be respectful of the dress code that is in place. Additionally, do not become cavalier or complacent with your attire. Remember, even if you have not been formally counselled when a wardrobe choice is inappropriate or off the grid, be aware that those around you do pay attention. If you question the appropriateness of an outfit, trust your instincts and change. And when preparing for a job interview or a meeting with a new client, do the necessary research to learn what you can about the company’s corporate culture. Become acquainted with their dress code and expectations and dress accordingly. It will be noted and appreciated.

For formal corporate environments, a head to toe suit is your go-to wardrobe staple. For both men and women, suits in lighter to mid-weight wools or blends are a good choice. These fabrics have the ability to look seasonally appropriate year-round while being comfortable to wear. Keep styles simple and tailored (leave trends to off hours), but ensure the suit is up-to-date with respect to its overall shape, cut and detailing.

Perfectly Suited

Zip front jacket in pastel hues $225.00
Matching a-line pleated skirt $125.00
Lace detail top $75.00
Items available at Tristan stores,
www.tristanstyle.com

Suited for Business

Navy extra slim fit suit in 95% wool, 5% elastane $798.00
Modern fit dress shirt $198.00
100% silk tie $118.00

Light blue slim fit suit in 100%
virgin wool $798.00
Strellson Travel Collection slim fit, wrinkle free dress shirt $178.00
100% silk tie $118.00
100% calf leather belt $98.00
Items available at Strellson stores,
www.strellson.com

For women, suits may encompass a jacket with a pair of pants, a skirt or a dress. Skirts and dresses should be knee length, or one to two inches above or below the knee. Best colours for both women and men include black, navy, charcoal, taupe, browns and soft neutrals. Keep patterns subdued. Tonal pinstripes or smaller checks work well. For men, vests are an on-trend and up-market add-on. Complete your look with a dress shirt and coordinating tie for men, and a collared, scoop or V- neck blouse for women. As for jewellery, less is more. Pick one significant piece – whether a tasteful timepiece, or a lovely necklace and keep the rest of the pieces low key. Timeless pumps with refined heels for women and modern oxfords for men will amp up your look. Gentlemen, socks with dress shoes are an absolute must in corporate environments.

If the dress code at your workplace is business casual, appropriate options and level of formality will vary widely depending on the type of business. For businesses that are creative in nature, there is often greater latitude in what is acceptable. The advice to heed in a business casual workplace is to think business first and casual second. And while it may be tempting to go ultra-casual, always bear in mind that you are headed to a place of business, not your friend’s pad. Use the company dress code and the abovementioned guidelines when putting together an outfit.

High Impact Business Casual

Viscose blend 3/4 sleeve cardigan $59.95
Crêpe de chine off-the-shoulder blouse $49.95
Stretch viscose blend pencil skirt $69.95
Ankle strap sandal $79.95
Items available at LE CHÂTEAU stores,
www.lechateau.com

For that professional edge, always add the essential third element to your ensemble – a sports jacket, sweater or vest for men and a jacket, structured cardigan or vest for women. This third layer instantly solidifies an outfit, giving it a polished, unified look. If jeans are acceptable they should be impeccable and in a darker wash – which read dressier. Frayed and torn jeans are not acceptable in most business settings. Complete the outfit with complementary, quality accessories. Don’t underestimate the polish that a rich leather belt, a beautiful scarf or a fine leather bag will make on a relaxed look. And be mindful of your footwear. It has the ability to make or break a business casual outfit. If your office permits running shoes, opt for dressier versions that complement and enhance your outfit. Save gym shoes for working out and flip flops for the beach.

Smart Business Casual

Plaid 100% linen blazer $275.00
Shirt $89.00
Micro-pattern pant $95.00
Items available at Tristan stores,
www.tristanstyle.com

Finally, for those who work in completely casual work environments or from home, always invest time to look your best. It may feel strange to get into ‘office wear’ before heading into a home office, but studies show that people who look good, feel good. When you look the part, you do better at the task at hand!

For casual work places, tailored jeans or trousers with a crisp shirt, polo shirt or a sweater are suitable options for men. If your shirt is worn untucked, ensure the shirt tail is wrinkle free with a straight, smooth bottom edge. For women, looks can range from a simple dress, to jeans, pants or a skirt teamed with a top. Leggings worn with a longer length blouse, sweater or jacket are also top faves. Casual can be classy and professional.

 

Casual Workplace Chic

Fine merino wool crew neck pullover $85.00
Ryan-Fit floral sateen pants $124.00
Riley-Fit stretch shirt $85.00
Shoes $138.00
Items available at Banana Republic stores,
www.bananarepublic.ca

Polished laid-back style

Slim fit ICONS cotton polo $118.00
Extra slim fit sateen ICONS cotton pants $228.00
Items available at Strellson stores,
www.strellson.com

 

The ultimate tip – outfits should never appear haphazardly put together. Regardless of gender, always have a neutral coloured jacket or cardigan on hand. It will instantly ramp up your outfit in the event of an unexpected meeting or client visit and help keep you on the road to success.