How to dress in the workplace – back to the basics

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Following on from our recent article about Fashion in the Workplace – I thought I’d share a few pointers on the general basics of how to dress in the workplace. Boundaries are blurring, and as attitudes and fashions change, it’s becoming increasingly tricky knowing what is an appropriate way to dress and mastering the all important workwear wardrobe.

So here’s a reminder, courtesy of . It’s mostly commonsense, but a great reference guide to refresh ourselves, especially if we’re returning to work after a break, or it’s a first job!

Basics of how to dress in the workplace
I think we can all agree, the way you look plays a role in your success in the modern workplace.

“The problem with appearance is that it translates to performance,” says Nicole Williams, a career expert at LinkedIn. “Even if your boss doesn’t think that they’re thinking any less of you, they will subconsciously think it. “When you don’t fit in, you’re not as accepted and welcomed.”

And at some point, this could hurt your chances of getting a promotion. In today’s workplace, where casual wear is becoming increasingly popular, it can be tricky to understand the rules of appearance.

We talked to career and etiquette experts to get a better idea, here are 20 basic rules every professional should follow:


  1. Understand what’s appropriate in your industry
    “Everyone draws their lines differently,” says etiquette coach Barbara Pachter. “For example, you may be able to wear shorts, but not cut-offs. If your company has a dress code, follow it.”
  1. Make sure your clothes fit
    It may sound obvious, but many get it wrong. “If your clothes are too big or too small, they are not going to look good. Ensuring a proper fit applies to everything you are wearing,” says Pachter. “One interviewer said he was distracted by a man’s short tie.”
  1. Wear glasses that fit
    Make sure your glasses fit properly and aren’t sliding down your nose. You don’t want to be playing with them all the time, says Pachter. “This becomes distracting.”
  1. Dry your hair
    Never leave your house with wet hair, warns Williams. It makes you look like you don’t have your life together, which translates to not having your career together.
  1. Pay attention to your bag
    You don’t want your personal things jutting out of your purse or briefcase. Keep your bag clean on the inside, especially if it doesn’t have a zipper, which allows others to catch a glimpse inside from time to time. Williams also advises professionals not to wear knapsacks because it looks “too collegiate”.
  1. Don’t wear strong perfume or cologne
    “Anything that anyone else can smell is not good,” says Williams. To get an idea of whether someone can smell you or not, ask someone you trust.
  1. Wear well-kept, polished shoes
    “One recruiter told me the first thing he notices about a candidate is his or her shoes,” says Pachter. “Make sure your shoes are polished and in good condition.”
  1. Pay attention to your watch
    “When I ask the participants in my etiquette classes to name the one accessory that they notice most on both men and women, the watch is the most common answer,” Pachter says.
  1. Wear rich colours to portray authority
    “Pay attention to your colour choices,” Pachter says. “Darker colours usually convey a stronger impression than lighter ones.” If you’re giving a presentation, make sure the colour you’re wearing doesn’t blend in with the background behind you.
  2. Avoid neon colours and overly flashy clothes
    “Both men and women have to be cautious with bright colours,” Patcher says. Clothes that are too flashy can be distracting and the visual equivalent of shouting.


Don’t be too sexy
Not only is wearing inappropriate clothing distracting, it can also give off an inaccurate impression. Avoid too-short hemlines, too-tall heels, plunging necklines, and exposed under garments. “A lot of women are oversexualized in the office,” says Williams. “You can wear a V-neck shirt, but make sure you keep your legs covered. People end up discrediting themselves by looking too provocative.” Pachter agrees: “What do you want to be remembered for? What you wore or what you said?”

Wearing nude pantyhose is hip
Ever since Kate Middleton started wearing pantyhose in public, it quickly became stylish again. “It gives you a more finished look,” Pachter says.

Get regular pedicures
Williams tells us one of her biggest pet peeves is when women wear open-toed shoes without getting pedicures. “If you’re going to show your toes, make sure your toes are well-groomed,” she says.

  1. Don’t over-accessorise
    Accessories are meant to complement your outfit, not overpower it. “I once met a woman who had a ring on every finger,” Pachter says. “You couldn’t look at anything else.”
  1. Your jewellery shouldn’t make noise
    It’s really distracting when someone’s dangly bangles make noises when they move their arms, says Williams.


Avoid ankle socks with slacks
When you cross your legs and the pants slightly lift up, no skin should be showing, says Pachter. Your socks need to be an appropriate length.

Facial hair shouldn’t overwhelm your face – this could be controversial
No matter how much you want to grow a full, bushy beard, it just might not work for you. Think about it like a haircut — not every cut is going to look good on every person, says Adam P. Causgrove, CEO of The American Moustache Institute. How do you know what style will look good on you? Determine what kind of face shape and features you have. Then find others with similar features who are already sporting moustaches and beards, and experiment with their cut and style.

  1. Grow facial hair on a weekend or vacation
    You want to look like you’ve grown hair on purpose instead of just being lazy and not shaving, says Causgrove. Williams advises using a weekend or vacation time to grow beards out, because “spotty beards make men look like 18-year-olds.”
  1. Trim your beard
    Facial hair needs to be kept trim and tidy to maintain a professional look. Causgrove advises doing some research on the proper device. Electric razors can be good for short, trimmed beards, and scissors are better for moustaches, he says.
  1. A goatee is rarely a good idea
    Any hair that’s under your lower lip that isn’t a beard is not a good idea, says Pachter. “Do you want to be the only person [with it]? It may work for you, it may work against you, but you need to make that decision for yourself,” she warns.

This article is courtesy of:

Images courtesy of:  thecaptainsbeard and


Related ‘Careers advice’ articles from Dovetail:
Fashion in the workplace
Find your dream job and keep it
Employees changing job to get a pay rise
5 reasons taking a holiday is good for your career


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