Style basics still apply in dress down office age

 

Dress down Fridays and e-business casual work wear may be all the rage, but it still pays to check out the company dress code and, if in doubt, dress up

When leading accountancy firm Arthur Andersen greeted the 21st Century with the introduction of a more informal dress code, it created a new dilemma for staff preparing for work in the morning. Will corporate life be one long ‘dress down Friday’ from now on, or does the suit and tie still have its place?

Even in the age of Silicon Valley casual chic it is still vital to dress to impress. Power, hierarchical and economic status are all communicated by the way we dress.

Today’s work wear must balance function and flair. No matter how laid-back the office, it is still a good idea for people who want to get on to keep their work clothes neat, clean and fashionable. That also means no dirty finger nails, crumpled clothes and definitely no scuffed shoes and hey, why not have a haircut?

Check out the cut of the suits

So how do you get it right? The most important thing is to research the company that is interviewing you and find out their dress requirements. Enquire about the company’s dress code. Maybe stand outside the firm’s offices or car park and see what people are wearing. Study what kind of environment you are going into and make sure you fit in.

New technology companies such as eBay, Amazon and AOL project a different image to those on Wall Street. Fashion, advertising and the media tend to be casual, while law and accountancy lean toward conformity.

Dressing for success in the office:

  • Research the company’s corporate culture: is it formal or casual?
  • Plan your work wardrobe – add items over time
  • Make sure your wardrobe is ‘ready to go’ – that call could come sooner than you think
  • Make sure you are clean, well-groomed and tidy
  • Do not leave everything until the last minute
  • When in doubt: dress up

Fashion commentators claim broad chalk stripe can shout arrogance, while a too-sleek Armani number can stereotype its wearer as a smoothie. If in doubt stick to a dark suit, white shirt, conservative tie, dark shoes and socks. Take note – Seattle cybergeek chic only usually works when you are worth a couple of billion dollars.

Confused? So was Time Warner chief executive Gerald Levin when he shook hands with AOL counterpart Steve Case over the biggest merger of all time in January 2000. Levin abandoned his corporate uniform in favor of an open-necked shirt, only to find the normally casual Case – a big Hawaiian shirt fan – had gone the other way and donned the regulation boardroom suit and tie. The moral of the story: when in doubt dress up.

Co-ordinating your casual work wardrobe

So what to do? According to IBM, more than 70% of American companies allow staff to wear some kind of casual wear at least once a week. But the trouble with casual clothes is that there are no boundaries to indicate what is and is not appropriate. One person might understand casual to mean combat trousers and a sports jacket. Another might think it means a woolly jumper and jeans.

If in doubt think co-ordination. Men might opt for dark trousers, white button down shirt and single-breasted blazer. Avoid wearing loud, flashy clothes and too many patterns.

Make sure clothes fit well and are clean, neat and well pressed. And if you choose to wear casual shoes make sure they are in tip top condition. Avoid wearing neck chains or earrings.

Beige is the new black for dress down days

Women should dress for their position and still look professional – even on dress down days – though it is a good idea to lighten up and swap black and navy for softer neutral colors like camel and beige.

Accessories should be kept to a minimum: ‘less is more’ should be the maxim. Nor should they veer too wildly in their look, wearing a business suit one day and a caftan the next. They should also avoid wearing skirts that are too short, too much make-up and jewelry, and see-through blouses.

Shopping for office style success

All this is going to cost money. So it is important to plan what you need to make sure of having the right career wardrobe without breaking the bank.

Employees should select carefully and co-ordinate a few basic garments. They should become wise shoppers and to learn how to judge the quality of the clothes they buy. For instance, coats, suits and shoes that are worn often should be of the best quality you can afford, whereas you can afford to cut corners when buying a fleeting fashion accessory.

Women should choose plain colors that can be mixed and matched with plain or multi-colored accessories. Wearing a jacket to work lends authority, as does carrying a fine leather handbag, not forgetting those finishing touches like a smart belt or a discreet pair of earrings. When buying a suit, stick to a plain color or small prints. Avoid bows and big collars.

Men should look for outfits that can pass muster in as many different situations and seasons as possible. Jackets and blazers can be worn with more garments if they are a plain color or have a subdued pattern.

Shirts should be white or light. Medium width ties are considered classic and can be worn with current fashions. Belts should be made of good-quality leather and in a dark color.

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Business, HR, office