Since the dawn of the high-tech revolution, business casual dress has become a common sight in corporate America. Bill Gates showed the world that billions of dollars could be made while wearing a polo shirt and khaki pants. But the dot-coms and computer giants that once dominated media attention are now sinking faster than the Titanic. As they slip away, will their “sloppy-chic” style also fade into the deep?
The economic downturn has produced a more competitive job market. Unleashed into the ranks of the unemployed are thousands of talented techies, workers notorious for their less-than-professional dress. Dressing well just may give you a real advantage over these job competitors.
Step 1: Corporate Culture Research
Research arms you with information about a company or corporation for which you’d like to work. If you’re already employed and feel stuck or out of step, research can come in handy here as well. Here are a few simple questions that can help you define your work style goals:
- What is the culture of the company you want to work for?
- How would you define the overall look and feel of the company?
- How do others with similar positions dress?
- Does the company have a dress policy?
If you’d wear it on the weekend or to a club on Saturday night, don’t wear it to the office.
Corporate Web sites may offer answers to the first three questions. For the answer to the fourth question, call the HR department and ask them to fax or e-mail you a copy of the dress policy. If you are able to visit the company, by all means, do so. It just makes sense to pay attention to these details.
Step 2: Five Easy Pieces
Men have fewer clothing options than women. Therefore, they also have less room for monumental mistakes. Let’s start with the basics:
- Sport coat
- White cotton shirt
- Polo-style shirt
- Dress pants, black
- Dress khakis, flat front (pleats are dated and unflattering)
To this mix, add two pairs of dressy casual shoes with a matching belt–one set black and the other brown. If you don’t already own a dress watch, buy one–wearing a stylish watch communicates that time is valuable to you.
Women have to be careful in their choices, too. They should start here:
- Simple classic black dress
- Skirt (not to exceed 2″ in length above/below the knee)
- White cotton blouse
- Sweater set
The summer months pose the greatest risk for office fashion mistakes. Avoid tank tops, halter-tops, sundresses, shorts, skorts (a skirt and shorts hybrid), and neon colors. With regard to shoes, avoid sandals, open-toed shoes, platforms, or heels that exceed two inches.
Jewelry poses another potential pitfall for women. When choosing accessories for work, remember that less is more. Earrings should consist of one small pair. Necklaces should be small and delicate in design. And, like men, you should send a nonverbal message that time is important by wearing a dress watch.
Step 3: Picture This
Now it’s time to start visually building your wardrobe. Visit a few Web sites that illustrate clear examples of business casual looks: BrooksBrothers.com, LandsEnd.com, and KennethCole.com are strong casual dress sites. Print out clothing examples from the sites that best fit your style (and reflect your company culture); bring them along on your shopping quest.
Step 4: The Shopping Adventure
Armed with your with photos and “five easy pieces” list, you’re ready to get out there and shop. Be true to the items on the list and you won’t be tempted to purchase things you don’t need. For variety, note one or two new stores that you’ve been interested in and add them to your shopping excursion. By breaking out of your usual shopping pattern and visiting a new store or boutique, your quest will feel new and more enjoyable.
But remember: If you’d wear it on the weekend or to a club on Saturday night, don’t wear it to the office. When shopping for work, always err on the conservative.
The Final Touch
Whether you’re job hunting, fishing for a promotion, or just want to protect your current job during the economic downturn, you should understand the importance of sending a clear visual message that you respect yourself, your job, and the company you work for.