3 Tips for Knowing What to Wear in the Workplace

Whether you’re headed out the door for an interview, starting your first day of work or wanting to move up in your career, what you wear (and what you don’t) can be an important factor in success. Although the workplace has become more casual than it once was, it’s important to know the different cues in order to dress for success. Here are three tips to identify what to wear:

1. Look around you. What the majority of people are wearing around you is probably what is the unspoken norm of acceptable. I walked into my first interview for a job coming out of college, and it was obvious everyone there was dressed like they were going to an interview too. Suit. If you had a skirt on, put hose on, do not show your arms. It was obvious what was required, and I ended up shelling out almost all of my first paycheck on a new wardrobe of business attire. And sweating all summer long… But if I hadn’t worn this, I would not have been seen as acceptable in the environment I was working in and I would not have been respected as a new person coming in.

2. Simply Ask. If you are unsure of what the dress code is for an organization or what is most appropriate after looking at the people around you, simply ask. Many employers don’t have formal dress codes anymore (but they might- and you should read it if there is one), but there is usually an unspoken standard. Ask about what that is. I remember coming from previously mentioned corporate job, to accepting a position at a much smaller organization. I wasn’t sure what the protocol for dress was at this new place because I had seen people that worked there in a variety of attire. So I asked. The response I got was “just don’t wear anything you would wear to the river on the weekends,” which was code for, “Business casual is the norm, unless there is an important meeting or something going on.”

3. Think about where you want to be. This is the most important point to consider. Dress at a workplace is an unspoken pulse on company culture. Once you’ve identified what the dress is for an organization or a job within an organization, you need to consider whether or not that is a fit for you along with other organizational fit factors. This is also an important point to consider if you want to move up. A good piece of advice I think we have all probably heard is, “Dress for the position you want, not the position you have.”


Have you ever dressed inappropriately in the workplace and been “punished” for doing so?

Mary Ila Ward

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