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Toronto, Ontario - M5V 1R2
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Dress for Success: The Do’s and Don’ts of Mastering Your Work Look

Written by Marina Khonaisser

An important part of being a professional in the workforce is looking the part! According to a 2014 article, a staggering 65% of bosses will hire the better-dressed candidate over another with the same qualifications. Having expertise in your field is certainly more important than anything, but you can’t factor out your wardrobe just because you have top-tier skills. Whether it’s for an important interview or for everyday wear in the office, appearance matters. Nail your professional style and you’ll not only show off your marvelous fashion sense, but exude more confidence in the workplace.


Figure Out the Company’s Dress Code

It’s 2015—company dress codes are diversifying and becoming slightly more casual. Before going for an interview or for your first day at a new job, do a little research and figure out what the company dress code is.  Is it business casual or business formal? It’s usually better to appear more formal to impress potential employers, but some workplaces might be totally okay with casual wear.

Invest in the Basics

For girls, a basic black pencil skirt is an essential. It can be dressed up or down based on the work environment, and it’ll never go out of style. For guys and girls alike, having a pair of black slacks is doubly essential. Pair it up with a blouse, dress shirt, or button-up shirt to complete the professional look. Having these staples in your closet will make it easy to wear them differently according to the work environment.

Complete Outfits With a Jacket  

The number one thing any working girl should have in her closet is a fancy blazer. This piece almost instantly makes any outfit look more professional (particularly if it’s black). The blazer will play up your ensemble while making for a more complete look. If your outfit is composed of all black or black and white, a coloured blazer would do you well. For guys, a dark suit jacket is a great addition to a dress or cotton shirt.

Embrace Simplicity

Neutrals and solid colours are your friends. Most importantly, black is your friend. It’s classic, sleek, and goes with everything else in your wardrobe. Patterns are cool and you shouldn’t be afraid to embrace them in your work environment, but limit your outfit to just one print or pattern so you don’t look like a walking modern art exhibit. You don’t want to be pairing a polka dot shirt with a leopard print skirt if you’re interning at a law office. Or, um, ever.

Pay attention to Your Footwear

Simple black heels, flats, and dress shoes are pretty standard for most working environments. Your shoes will essentially tie your outfit together, so choose them wisely.

Style Your Hair

If your hair is messy, tangled, or greasy at unholy proportions, your immaculate ensemble won’t matter. For girls, simply curling or straightening your hair should make you look nicely put together. For guys, combing and styling with gel often does the trick.

Make a Statement

While blacks, greys, and whites are always great for the workplace, it’s never a bad idea to spice up your clothes with accent colours. Pairing a plain black dress with a chunky gold necklace or a neutral suit with a colourful bow or tie is not only fun, but appropriate for office wear.

Wear Clothes That Flatter Your Body Type

If there’s one thing I love, it’s baggy clothing. If you’re heading to class or just hanging around, there’s no shame in opting for loose-fitting clothes. But you’ll want to find clothing that fits you well for your job and makes you look great while doing it. You don’t have to be uncomfortable in your work attire, but you shouldn’t look like you just hopped out of bed, either.


Show Up in Uggs

Something a guest speaker once said in one of my classes really stuck with me. She worked on the marketing team for the Edmonton Oilers and she was explaining to us what she really looked for during job interviews. She launched into a story explaining how one girl showed up for her interview in Uggs and it instantly affected the way she perceived the candidate. You can imagine it wasn’t in a good way.

Assume you Should Dress Casually

Even if you’ve discovered that your company’s dress code is more lenient than others, resist showing up for the interview in a T-shirt and jeans. You still want to put on your best outfit to make a good impression, and then once you’re actually in the work environment, you can gradually transition into a more casual look.

Dress Like You’re Chilling With Friends

An important thing to understand is the difference between dressing to go out and dressing for a day at work. You might wear an old band T-shirt or a neon yellow strapless dress to the movies, but that probably wouldn’t fly at work.

Bare it All

Crop tops, jean shorts, low-cut shirts, and mini skirts are great for the summer, but not for work. Pay attention to your hemlines and how much skin you’re showing. A good rule of thumb that I’ve learned from different jobs is to place your arms flat against your sides and make sure that the bottoms you’re wearing are longer than where your fingertips reach.

Go for Regular Jeans

This is going to depend on where you’re working. Some workplaces may have a “casual Friday” thing going on, but don’t throw on your faded denims. A dark wash that’s a little bit more fitted than regular old jeans is great for the workplace!

I know it might seem weird to make a big deal out of office wear, but it does matter more than you think! Employers appreciate and respect somebody who puts in effort to look professional. And since your attire could make or break your interviewer’s perception of you, there’s no harm at all in dressing to impress.

*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.