Dress for success. This phrase first heard in the ’70s still holds true today. The general idea back then was – that how you dressed, and the visual image you presented, directly affected how you were perceived by your colleagues and clients. If you dressed like you already had your feet up on the desk in that corner office – even if the reality was that you spent your days in a cubicle – your style and attitude would fast-track you quicker than you could say “Brooks Brothers.”
Fast-forward to the late ’90s when “Casual Friday” was coined, and then badly misinterpreted. Dressy golf shirts fast became Hawaiian shirts, and no-press Dockers morphed into schleppy jeans.
Dressing for the office may have relaxed slightly over the last few decades, but it’s important to remember that the rules about what’s acceptable are not the same for every type of business. What works in an advertising agency or other creative environment isn’t appropriate in a corporate workplace. Not by a long shot. And even ad guys know when to suit-up, depending on the clients they are seeing and the nature of the meeting.
So where are we now when it comes to dressing for work?
Let’s start with the suit. A cheap suit is a cheap suit, and it will surely look that way without fail. This goes for both men and women. To make it clear, I’m not talking about the designer suit that you got for a steal on sale somewhere – I mean the suit where the low price truly reflects its poor quality. If you’ve never invested in a suit of exceptional quality, perhaps it’s time.
Get yourself to a reputable shop, and try one on. As a wardrobe stylist for two decades,
I assure you there isn’t a client I’ve dressed who doesn’t stand taller and look slimmer than when they’re wearing a great suit. And a well-cut suit hides a multitude of flaws.
Ladies, when buying a suit, don’t settle. You may have to try on many styles before you find “the one.” Unlike men’s clothing stores, there is rarely a tailor on hand to offer solutions and alteration options, so go with a fit that works. If a jacket has a matching pant and a skirt, buy both to stretch your wardrobe. Given that a suit is likely a pricey investment, choose navy, grey or black as first options, and chocolate and taupe as second choices. The latter two colours tend to come in and out of fashion, while the former are classics that you can wear year-round if you choose a suit in lightweight wool or blended with microfibre (which tends to be wrinkle- and fade-proof – definitely a plus).
Blouses and tops are where you can express some personality, add colour and hit the trends, but always be certain it’s office-appropriate. If you’re in doubt, then follow your instincts. Graphic prints do well in the workplace, and I always love a crisp white shirt, especially if it’s a no-iron one. Mark’s Work Wearhouse (believe it!) has a fabulous French-cuffed shirt that is so well priced you’ll want to buy an extra in shell pink.
Pumps and slingbacks are a given when it comes to dressing for the office, but who says that only heels look professional? I think a great looking modern loafer or driving moc can look sleek with pants, and simple ballet flats with a pencil skirt are very chic. Replace heel lifts regularly at the shoe repair store, as this is one of the first things to mess up an otherwise polished look.
Dress for success? I’d say it still makes sense.