This is the season for fashion advisors to start telling you what new and expensive clothes you need to buy to make your Signature Wardrobe Office Work Outfit work for the next five minutes (before the next lot of essentials come out). I’ve already talked a little about appropriateness and critiqued Glamour magazine’s 2015 essentials, and now it seems like a good time to show you how to do it for yourself.
This post assumes that you work in an office, and have some discretion when it comes to getting dressed, i.e. you don’t have a compulsory uniform.
- You probably work in air-conditioning. Even if your office is not as cold as arctic conditions (or warmed to tropical), you will face an extreme climate change shock when you enter and exit the building.
- While you may not be aware of it, depending on your access to sunlight, your office may change temperature during the day. And if it doesn’t, you may face differences in illumination as blinds get raised or lowered.
- Assuming you have an average sort of office job, you will have some sitting and standing, reaching and bending, lifting and carrying. You might also trot up and down stairs, push carts or trolleys, and do a bit of walking.
- And you face the possibility of tripping over things, dropping things, exposure to chemicals like toners, cleaning fluids, and the annual carpet spray as well as the deadly peril of death by 1,000 paper cuts.
- You will probably be working in very close proximity to other people, so you need a little consideration for how what you wear will impact on them, for example, quiet jewellery and light fragrances.
It’s well established that people sum you up within the first few seconds of seeing you, so you also need to think about how you want people to understand you and your capabilities in the workplace. I talked a little about this in dressing as if you know what you are doing, but you need to think about how this applies to yourself and how you see your career developing.
In general, your work clothes need to be quite formal; high necklines, low heels and if you are wearing a skirt, a knee-length hem is usually expected. They should give you enough freedom of movement for the activities you undertake, not be too loose or too tight; just skimming your body is usually best.
Depending on where you see yourself in the next few years, this will be different. For example, if you are content to do your work and go home, and are not looking for promotions or new opportunities, then neat, clean and tidy are probably sufficient. You could buy a basic suit in a neutral colour with a few plain cotton business shirts, and you should fade nicely into the background.
But if you do want promotions and opportunities you need to dress a little more distinctively, and more like people on the rung above you in the hierarchy. In general, this would still be the suit and business shirt, but upgrading from polyester to a more expensive, higher quality wool blend and either a thicker patterned cotton or silk shirt.
While I suggest building your outfit for work on a suit, depending on your workplace, you could also wear a suit-like outfit which would consist of a complementary skirt (or pants or dress) with a jacket, cardigan or sweater.
For summer, focus on light, breathable natural fibres like cotton and linen, and if you choose to go sleeveless, in more conservative workplaces cover your armpits with a light jacket for meetings and so on. For winter, wear more wool and silk for insulation.
If you are looking for a one night stand or a “bad girl” reputation, wear very short skirts, very high heels, and very low-cut or see-through shirts. A cloying fragrance that takes people by the throat would be a good touch, as would big jangly jewellery. Perhaps some gum to chew.
And if you like to exercise at lunchtime, make sure you shower and change back into your work clothes before coming back to your desk. There are some parts of you that only your nearest and dearest need to see and smell (possibly not even them).
Plain and practical will probably be more comfortable than fancy. Make the time for a bra fitting to ensure you are wearing the correct size and your girls are comfortable, secure, and don’t bounce excessively.
A lot of people like elastic support garments such as Spanx for a smooth shape, but you must ensure these are the correct size for your current body (not the size you wish you were) as you will be wearing them for eight to twelve hours and they will restrict your blood flow. You must also make sure that you wear them for the least possible time because they are the modern incarnation of the whalebone corset, and they will smush up your organs and reshape your body.
Low heeled shoes that are comfortable for prolonged walking and standing are best. They should also offer a modicum of protection for those moments where you drop lever arch files or a box of copy paper. Not to mention the odd staple that gets caught in the carpet, whatever caused the unpleasant stain behind your chair, and perhaps vermin.
Some people like to keep their work shoes at work and wear a walking shoe while commuting. This is fine, as long as you can control the aroma, and don’t leave more than two pairs in the office.
A plain but elegant watch is useful in long meetings when looking at your phone can imply you aren’t paying attention. If your office is in the arctic spectrum, you could add an elegant scarf; something silk-like rather than chunky wool. Your earrings should be quiet and discreet.
A key expectation for women in most workplaces is make-up. It implies a level of self-care that will translate to your work. And the same goes for styled hair, discreet fragrances, and neat and clean fingernails.
I know a lot of people might feel that they should be able to wear the same clothes wherever they want, who don’t see a problem with wearing flip-flops, shorts or tank tops to work. And that if they don’t want to wear make-up, they shouldn’t have to. And that’s fine; we’re all different people. If you want to wear those clothes all the time, then all you need to do is find a workplace where this outfit is appropriate. A shop perhaps, or a gym.