Professional Peak: How to Dress for the Position You Want

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professional-peak-how-to-dress-for-the-position-you-wantAn article by contributor Eileen O’Shanassy.

Visit any university campus and you’ll see scores of students dressed in “college couture” – wind shorts, t-shirts, hoodies, and sandals. While it might be socially acceptable on campus to slink to a lecture dressed like they rolled out of bed, college students are in for a rude awakening when they enter the workforce because, like it or not, what you wear is critical for the future of your career. Dressing for the part is important and can be a challenge if you don’t know how. Here are some ideas to help you prepare for better success in your office fashion and intern clothing.

Dress for Success

You’ve probably heard the old adage, “You only have one chance to make a first impression.” And it’s not a myth. Whether fair or not, people make snap judgments about you the first time they meet you, even before they know anything about you personally. You might feel that your higher-level education, experience, and career successes should speak for themselves, and you may very well be correct. But how you project yourself, including your choice of clothing, is a major factor in how you are perceived and may very well affect your career potential. At all stages of your career, it’s essential that you outfit yourself for the position you want and deserve. Knowing how to dress correctly for each position you hold, are applying for, or want to have, is the key in getting your appearance to work for you.

Fit Matters

We’ve probably all over-indulged at some point, and our waistline can give us away. Bottom line: Make sure your clothes fit. Gaping buttons, tops that rise over the dreaded “muffin top”, and trousers or skirts that show extreme undergarment lines aren’t just uncomfortable for the wearer, but also for those who are taking a meeting with them. Plus, it makes you look sloppy, and if your appearance is untidy, the perception may be that your work is, too. That’s not to say that your weight should make a difference in your career path; just that don’t kid yourself into thinking you can squeeze into something and go unnoticed. Be honest, and wear actual size of clothing instead of the size you want to be. If at all possible, get your professional clothing tailored to you specifically. This is a great way to get clothing that actually fits, and to present a great appearance at first glance. Not all department store sizes are equal, and having clothing made to your exact measurements is an investment in looking sharp.

Be Aware of the Company Culture

There’s a reason your Human Resources department has a dress code, and they expect it to be followed. In today’s more relaxed society, it’s still important that a business represent professionalism and confidence, and if its employees aren’t portraying the same image, it can result in client confusion and even a lack of customer loyalty.
A corporate environment probably lends itself to conservative suits and ties, even daily, for men. However, in some companies, a sports jackets and a button-up shirt without a tie is acceptable. In these more formal atmospheres, women should expect to also wear jackets or work-appropriate blouses, as well as skirts of an appropriate length or tailored slacks. But there are, of course, industries that call for more relaxed attire. You wouldn’t walk into a big box technology retailer, for example, and expect to see the manager in a suit and bow tie. You’re more likely to find him or her in more comfortable clothes, suitable for moving quickly around the store or searching the warehouse. Still, button-up shirts are usually fitting for both men and women in more casual working environments. Make sure you know the position and culture intimately, so when you appear as an applicant you don’t look out of place or too shocking to the establishment.

Your personal grooming is equally as important as what you wear. Be mindful of company policies as well as unspoken expectations. Does anyone else in your organization arrive at work with streaks of vibrant hues throughout their hair? Are long beards permissible? And, although they are becoming more socially acceptable, you may very well be expected to cover any tattoos, so think before you decide to ink. The same theory also applies to fragrances. Have you ever been in a conference room with someone who smells like they bathed in cologne? First off, some colleagues might be allergic and if you’re the cause of a sneezing fit or watery eyes, it will be well remembered. Keep fragrances to a minimum – and never, ever smoke before an important meeting or interview. Keep in mind nails and hands as well. No one wants to shake a hand of scaly skin or look at nails that haven’t been groomed in weeks. Be careful about the parts of yourself that will be on display at all times.

Undergarments Are Important

Let’s get personal. What isn’t supposed to be seen can be as important as what is immediately visible. Women, people can tell when you’re wearing a thong, particularly in tighter slacks. Unless you’d rather the client remember your panties over the killer presentation you researched for hours and presented flawlessly, leave the thongs for occasions other than work. Likewise, an ill-fitting bra can be a major distraction. It might be second nature for you to reach in your shirt and tug at an annoying, loose bra strap, but it’s off-putting for others, so make certain your bra fits like it should, and your straps don’t play peek-a-boo.

Appropriate undergarments also apply to men. Excess body hair can be obvious through a dress shirt, and, let’s face it: Men perspire under pressure. Although you certainly want to appear cool, calm and collected in a high-stakes meeting, underarm sweat stains will give you away. Under shirts help, but also can appear baggy under clothing and add the appearance of extra pounds. A brand like Underfit has t-shirts and undershirts that hug the body and its odor-resistant fabric will help your deodorant work overtime. Check out other reviews on Trustpilot to see what people are saying are good brands to go by for your first interview.

Be Yourself … Mostly

Both men and women feel better about themselves when they are comfortable with their attire. Let’s face it: You know when you look your best. If you wear clothing to work, unless it’s a company-mandated uniform, that you would never consider even looking at on a rack, you may not be able to do your best work.

It’s okay to show some individualism at work, to a degree. Women who are accustomed to wearing ultra-trendy skinny jeans, sky-high heels, and sexy tops on the weekends may not feel as secure in a tailored jacket and knee-length pencil skirt at the office. Try adding pops of color or a statement necklace under an unbuttoned jacket or cardigan. The same principle applies to men. Buy dress shirts and ties in flattering colors. You can bring a little life into your work wardrobe by adding subtle pieces that reflect your personality. Giving yourself some room to breathe and be yourself is important in presenting the real you. Use these tips to give off the best appearance you can.

Fashion trends are constantly changing, and you don’t want to appear old-fashioned or out of date. Clients like to know that the people with whom they do business are up-to-date on what’s happening around them. Be mindful of what’s changing, and ditch clothing items that are woefully out of date. Ladies, printed tights are over, as are men’s square-toed dress shoes, and they aren’t coming back anytime soon. Toss them, or risk losing like you’re stuck in the past.

Observe Upper Management

If you’ve got your eye on a new position and you have the credentials to land it, study what others who have been successful in similar roles wear on a day-to-day basis and emulate it. If you’re after that plum position, first, you must look the part. Make sure you know how to present yourself in that position with your own personality as well. You don’t want to be a copy-cat exactly.

Finding a balance between fun, professional, and your own styles can be a challenge in any workplace. Luckily, if you know the culture and the fits that look good on you, dressing the part won’t feel like dressing up.

Eileen O’Shanassy is a freelance writer and blogger based out of Flagstaff, AZ. She writes on a variety of topics and loves to research and write. She enjoys baking, biking, and kayaking. Check out her Twitter @eileenoshanassy


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