My friend Carol just went back to work after 10 years of running her own company from the comfort of her sofa, in her yoga clothes.
Although her new firm takes a casual approach to attire, with nary a power suit to be seen, my friend immediately went out and bought a whole new work wardrobe. Smart, fitted blazers. Well-tailored slacks. Beautiful blouses. And classic, comfortable yet stylish shoes and boots.
Why did Carol go to all that expense if she could have just gone to work in jeans? Five important reasons:
- Her work clothes from before she owned her own firm were old and outdated.
- Her new job pays in the six figures, and she wanted to look the part.
- She wants to be considered for a promotion to a job with much higher responsibility.
- She has a great deal of client contact.
- Carol is in her 50s. She wants to appear polished, age-appropriate and sophisticated.
In other words, Carol wants her wardrobe to reflect who she is and how she feels about this huge opportunity and role. She understands that her appearance is as much a part of her professional reputation as the way she does her work. She wants her appearance to say, “I’m a professional. I’m worth every penny of what you pay me … and then some.”
And, she does not want to get up in the morning and fumble around in a closet that’s filled with clothes, but find nothing appropriate, stylish, or confidence-enhancing to wear.
If you want to play the part, it’s important to look the part.
It’s important to note that my friend did not go out and blow her budget on designer duds. She shopped sales and went to outlets. She patronized mid-priced department stores.
You don’t need to spend a fortune to put together a workplace wardrobe that works for you.
Here’s what you do need:
- Buy the basics first. Every professional should have a well-cut, perfectly fitting pair of black pants. You should also have one perfectly fitting black blazer, a good leather belt, a classic trench-coat, a white shirt or blouse, and the best quality shoes you can afford. With these basics in your closet, you can always put together a polished and professional outfit.
- Use accessories. For men, this could be colorful ties or varying your shirts and blazers. For women, use scarves, belts, and jewelry — but save those giant chandelier earrings for date night.
- Never compromise on fit. No matter how expensive your clothes are, if they don't fit correctly, you will not achieve a polished look. If you gain or lose weight, you will need your clothes altered or replaced. Nothing says sloppy louder than ill-fitting clothes. If you're hard to fit, don’t get frustrated when you shop. Find clothes that are “almost” perfect and a good tailor can take them the rest of the way.
- Dress for your age and body type. We all love trends, but many of them are inappropriate for work, for our age, or for our figures. Use your discretion. Never buy something that doesn't look good on you because it's the latest trend, or because it's a fantastic sale.
- Stick with flattering colors. Have you ever noticed how some colors make you look like you’ve just gotten back from vacation, while others make you look like you’re in dire need of one? Hold up garments near your face, with good, natural lighting. Do the colors make you look refreshed and alive, or sallow and tired? Once you find the colors that work, stick with them. Men, this goes for you, too!
If you’re a woman who is looking for more detailed help putting together a wardrobe that is both work appropriate — and reflects who you are — I’d like to recommend a new book called Look Good Now and Always: A Do-It-Yourself Style Makeover for Busy Women, by image consultant Marian Rothschild. It has a terrific chapter on learning how to choose the most flattering colors for you, as well as many great tips for putting together an easy, polished look.
So, if you’re done holiday shopping for others, maybe it’s time to buy some presents for yourself that increase your business wardrobe?