"It would behoove you to purchase a nice blazer," the man said as we began another week at the office. "Ok not a problem," I replied and went on with my day. I was being corrected for having been underdressed at a recent event at church.
I was 22 and didn't know anything about anything.
The conversation still sits with me to this day. The man was right and I was wrong- I had misjudged the event and he knew that if I didn't get my act together, it might hold me back in my career.
Today, I make it a point to assess each event at work and try my best to "dress the part". Since I work at a school with a dresscode, my daily life also has a number of opportunities to help students do the same.
This post is probably not going to be helpful for my female readers but do not despair- if one of you would like to guest post on what to wear from the ladies perspective, feel free to email me via the Contact page.
I'll be speaking from the perspective of what I consider to be a conservative professional work environment. I know that some folks get to wear jeans every day to work and I try not to be jealous (although deep down I am).
1. Daily workplace dress: polished shoes, pressed slacks, a belt that matches the color of your shoes, a pressed shirt, conservative tie, and a blazer (depending on your work environment).
2. Casual professional: the same as #1 but without the tie and blazer. You might be able to sub a nice polo shirt for the dress shirt.
3. Giving a workshop presentation: go with #1 and for dramatics, lose the blazer mid-way through your presentation. If it's a more "hip" crowd and few people are dressed up, you might not need the tie at all. Here's what's very important in this context: find the color that makes you look gret. For me, that's black or royal blue (according to others who've told me as such).
4. Attending a professional conference: go with #1 but without the tie. Since you might be picking up reading materials, have the right kind of briefcase. In this context, I like a two shoulder backpack so my hands are free.
5. Cocktail hour: go with #1 and look super-sharp. Cocktail hours are full of people acting smarter than they really are. Unfortunately, you have to look uber-sharp as everyone is actually judging rather than listening. You can tell that I don't really like cocktail hours.
6. Professional development day: go with #1 unless you are told that it's casual professional which it often is. Ask in advance and then you might be able to lose the tie.
With all of this said, there's no substitute for asking around to see what others will be wearing. Had I done this, I might have avoided being called to the man's office years ago when I was underdressed.
Today's standards are changing. Stubble in men is very trendy as are skinny jeans. Wearing brown shoes with dark pants was, year's ago, unacceptable but today is very hip. The key is to know your environment. Context is king when it comes to what you wear. Oh and if you're famous, you can get away with wearing whatever you want. Unfair but true.
A note to older folks in the workplace- it's your duty to tell the younger folks what to wear. Be the "big brother" or "big sister" in this regard. I've found that most guys are not that aware of what looks good on them or what colors are best suited to make them look good. They probably will welcome your advice.