Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Workwear for young professionals

When I was fresh out of college, I got a job at a local high school. I was the youngest person on staff and desperate to project an air of maturity and wisdom in spite of being a mere four years older than some of my students. A while later, I was working for an organization where I would need to be prepared to meet elected officials and the press at a moment’s notice—I never knew who was walking in to my office next. I learned a lot in a short time about dressing in a mature, professional way.

For all the preparing for Real Life that high schools and colleges claim to do, most people don’t know how to dress once they head off to work. Why isn’t there a class called “What to wear when you're finally in the Real World”?
Here are few tips to help you out:

Dress conservatively. This doesn’t mean you need to check your personal style at the door, but leave the cleavage and upper thigh-baring outfits at home. Even if you do want to catch the eye of that sexy guy in marketing, save your push-up bras for after hours or the weekends. C'mon, if Sarah could keep her hands off Carl at work, you can to.

Invest in a few neutral suits, like these:

If you can find a “wardrober” you like (includes a matching pair of slacks, a skirt or shift, and a suit coat), you can mix and match till the cows come home. Simply change out the accessories and accent pieces in fun colors for a change.

Go dark. If you want to project maturity, wear darker colors (navy, black, grey and chocolate) and wear pinks, lilacs and baby blues in moderation. Make pastels accent colors—something to bring the color and attention to your face. Nothing says “I'm a noob” like pastels!


Don’t be a slave to the trends. Unless you work in an artistic workplace, prairie skirts, lingerie-inspired blouses, and cowboy boots are rarely going to be acceptable. If you are going to wear a trend to work, use it in an accessory.


...rather than going head to toe “FASHION VICTIM”.

Express yourself. Accessories are a great way to express your personal style. As long as your jewelry isn’t distracting (gigantic, clanking earrings; jingle bells), earrings, necklaces and bracelets are an fun way to say, “I may have to wear this suit, but I have my own sense of personal style and personality in all of this.”

It’s all in the details. Keep your hair trimmed and in an attractive style, mostly pulled away from your face. Make sure your nails and toenails are groomed. If you’re one of those unfortunate souls who is required to wear pantyhose to work, keep an extra pair or two (one in nude, one in black, perhaps?) in your desk drawer for those inevitable snags. Take five minutes at lunch time to brush your teeth and refresh your make-up if needed. A little attention to the small details go a long way in making you look professional.

You have now graduated from the How to Dress After College 101. Now go out there and make us proud!