When people think of a professional woman, they often think of a stern looking woman in a business suit with her hair pulled back in a bun, but that’s not the way professional women have to look. There are some rules you should keep in mind when planning out your professional work wardrobe but remember, everything depends on the kind of environment you’ll be working in. Before becoming a freelance writer (a job which basically allows me to work in my pajamas all the time), I worked in a music store and a more professional environment where business attire was required on a daily basis. It was kind of culture shock to me. The music store was the epitome of a casual work environment. I wore jeans to work every day paired with t-shirts and sneakers. Switching to business attire was difficult but I managed. Here are some rules for dressing professionally I picked up along the way. I hope they help anyone out there struggling to find their footing.
10: Don’t reveal too much.
No one is saying you have to go to work in a potato sack, but if you work in a semi-professional or professional environment, you want to dress in a semi-professional or professional way. This means avoiding the following:
- Mini skirts or micro-mini skirts
- Short dresses
- Tank tops
- Tube tops
- Sheer clothing (pantyhose excluded, obviously)
- Anything that could be referred to as ‘skin tight’
- Any shirts or tops that show your belly button
Now, I mentioned this in the intro, but I want to restate it here as I know there are a lot of people who skipped right over the intro and got into the body of the article. These rules apply to semi-professional or professional places of employment only. Some of the above mentioned clothing types may be fine for more casual workplaces. Follow this simple rule of thumb: if you would be shocked that one of your co-workers showed up to work wearing a particular article or type of clothing, you probably shouldn’t wear that same article or type of clothing yourself.
09: Make sure your clothes fit properly.
As we talked about in number ten, choosing short tops that show off your belly button is a bad idea in a professional work environment but it’s also important to make sure you’re not showing off more than you intend to by choosing clothing that doesn’t fit the way it should. This doesn’t just apply to the belly button either. You also want to make sure you’re not showing off your brand new thong when you’re sitting at your desk or the tattoo on your lower back you got when such things were all the rage. Well fitted clothes are a great way to make sure you look polished and professional.
08: Wear the right shoes!
Thanks to my decision to start wearing heels when I was fifteen, I am now unable to wear flat shoes without paying for my fashion choice with days of discomfort. If you are the opposite and aren’t comfortable in heels, don’t wear them. There is no rule that says you must wear heels with business attire. You do, however, have to be careful about what kind of flats (or heels) you choose to wear. Avoid anything that looks too casual. Some examples include:
- Flip flips
- Rubber boots
- Military style boots
- Platform shoes
- Bold printed shoes
- Ballerina flats
There are more I could’ve listed but I think I got my point across. If you would wear it to the beach, it’s off limits at the office, and that includes footwear. Choose basic, classic colors. Avoid anything you might imagine a stripper wearing on stage (yes, this means Lucite heels are off limits, but that may just be a good rule in general). There is some debate about open toed shoes. The dress code at my former place of employment strictly forbids open toed shoes. This one will differ from place to place. If you want to wear open toed shoes, give the dress code a quick once over or bring back up shoes in case they’re not allowed.
07: Pay attention to hair and makeup.
Some women would argue with me in a big way on this one but I have two rules about hair and makeup in a professional environment. Those rules are:
- You don’t need makeup to look like a professional.
- Wearing your hair down is not off limits in a professional setting.
If you don’t feel comfortable wearing makeup, don’t wear makeup. It really is that simple. If you do decide to wear makeup, keep it simple. You’re not going on a date. You’re not hitting the runway for a fashion show. You’re going to work to do your job. The same rules apply for hair. You don’t need to have your hair in a bun to look professional but you don’t need anything elaborate either.
06: Colors aren’t off limits if you wear them wisely.
As I’ve mentioned in a few other articles, my favorite color combination is black and hot pink. This is a color combination I often wore when I worked in a professional setting. I’d wear a black dress pants or a black shirt, a matching black blazer and a hot pink fitted t-shirt underneath the blazer. It was comfortable, stylish and allowed me to express a little bit of my unique personal style. If hot pink isn’t your thing, add a t-shirt in a color you like. You could also choose to wear your suit jacket over a bold colored dress like the one in the photo above. The key is to wear the bright color as the accent and not the main color. Black really does go with everything but you don’t have to stick to black. Just make sure the accent color you choose compliments the main color of the outfit or you’ll stand out for all the wrong reasons.
When I wore business attire, I was more comfortable in black or grey main colors, but there are lots of different colors you can choose from. Some excellent options include:
- Deep reds or burgundy
- Dark browns
- Dark Greens
Not all of these colors are easy to accessorize but try out different combinations. Soft, feminine colors often look beautiful under darker, bolder colors but what actually matches will depend on the shade of the main color you’ve chosen. Some great accent color choices include:
- Light blue
- Light pink
- Soft lavender
Go thought your wardrobe (including shirts on the no-no list from number ten) and look for anything in these colors. Try them on under your blazer and see what you think. If it feels good to you, go with it. If the shirt you have in your closet still reveals too much skin with a blazer on over it, head to a thrift store or department store and look for a cheap shirt or two in the same (or similar) shade.
05: Get rid of the metal.
Body jewelry – nose rings, eyebrow rings, lip rings etc – doesn’t really go hand in hand with a professional work environment. You don’t have to get rid of it entirely though. There are neat little devices out there you can use to keep the hole open that are virtually invisible, allowing you take the jewelry out for work and pop it back in when you get home. I’m not discriminating against those with body jewelry though. I think the same rule applies for distracting jewelry of any sort including fashion or costume jewelry. I adore jewelry and wear it every day – unless I have to be somewhere that requires a more professional look. With jewelry you want to avoid anything clunky, dangly or jingly.
04: Hide your ink.
Here’s the deal. I am far from anti-tattoo. I have thirteen of my own and plan to get more one day. When I worked in a music store, I’d occasionally wear a short sleeved t-shirt that showed off those tattoos and that was fine. It was the right kind of environment. When I started working in a more professional environment, I had to cover up those tattoos. It wasn’t hard for me. If you have a tattoo on your hand, on your neck or on your face, it’s not going to be possible to cover that up, but one has to assume you got hired with the tattoo visible so it probably wasn’t a big deal. Another basic rule of thumb to follow: if you’re working in a professional environment and your tattoo wasn’t clearly visible when you were hired, it shouldn’t be visible while you’re working.
03: Keep it clean.
Messy hair, dirty nails, sloppy makeup and sloppy clothes are not a good fit for a professional work environment. As I type this, I’m wearing a worn out Twilight t-shirt that is at least three sizes too big for me and looks more like a night dress than a t-shirt, bright orange running shorts and have my hair thrown up in a hair claw. I probably wouldn’t leave my house like this, let alone go to work in a professional environment. There is a time and a place for everything. Sloppiness looks, well, sloppy at work and, fair or not, your co-workers’ perception of you will be colored by that. Sienna Miller looks fabulous as always in the photo above but not exactly ready for a day at the office.
02: Watch those little details.
Looking professional is all about looking polished and confident. The little details in your wardrobe choices can really make all the difference. Check your shoes for scuffs, Make sure your pantyhose are run free if you choose to wear them. Make sure your nail polish is neat and isn’t chipped if you choose to wear nail polish. If not, make sure your nails are clear and neatly shaped. Check your suit jacket for loose threads or buttons. Even though you don’t have to wear your hair up, you at least need to make sure you hair is neat. Check yourself over in the mirror before you leave. Look for panty lines or awkward bunching in your suit. It’s not just about looking polished. Making sure the little details are taken care of helps you feel more confident.
01: Be comfortable!
This one is more important than anything else on this list, I promise you. You absolutely have to be comfortable in what you’re wearing. I am not the business attire type but I chose clothing that suited me and that I felt comfortable in. You absolutely have to do the same. If you feel uncomfortable, you’re going to look uncomfortable. It really is as simple as that.