The following is a guest post, and a part of the Dress to Impress series on this site.
What does success look like?
With pop culture, high fashion, and the professional world all pushing different visions of what a successful woman looks like and how she dresses, how can we ensure that we are presenting ourselves as intelligent individuals who are worthy of competing in today’s workforce? Now let’s be honest with ourselves for a moment and acknowledge the fact that even in 2012 the workforce is male dominated by roughly 53%. At the risk of sounding too gynocentric, I’d like to note that women face enough hurdles without those surrounding our wardrobe.
Dressing for success sounds like an expensive task if you are on a budget. In many work settings today, dress is generally more formal than it would have been in the past. The numerous young startups popping up operate in a different company culture than, say, the Fortune 500 corporate offices would. The office that I work at is pretty laidback in terms of dress but this doesn’t stop me from throwing on a collared shirt and heels before coming in.
Real women have drive
“Your dresses should be tight enough to show you’re a woman and loose enough to show you’re a lady.” I believe Edith Head’s famous quote is a wonderful rule to live by, and probably most fitting for this article. Nothing says unprofessional like clothing that is distracting from what you might have to say. There is a very blurry line between what is viewed as something that a woman will be taken seriously in and where she feels attractive. As many women do, I take pride in how I present myself; however looking good is not the reason I go into work every morning – it is to work, further my career, help people in the world via my role in a company that I believe in.
Black will always be the “new black”
Black is the classic and streamline color of high fashion and professionals. Loud and bright colors or patterned clothing can distract from who you are and what you have to say. Women in the workplace want to be recognized for their accomplishments and ideas, and there are many colors, patterns and styles that can speak pretty loud.
I find buying black clothing and accessories to be the most cost effective practice when shopping for professional clothes. Since black matches with almost any other garment you may have in your wardrobe, it will be simple to pair black shoes, pants, purse or belt with any other color or print you wish to wear. Being able to match a simple black blazer with any outfit will be much easier than a patterned cardigan. With a few black stable items, you can create a large number of professional outfits just by mixing and matching with the cute items that you pick up as the trends flow in and out.
When it comes to pants, I swear by my black trouser pants and black “jeans.” When you walk into a store you can find a hundred different washes of denim, and many of them not cheap. I find that a pair of simple black pants jeans in whichever cut you may feel comfortable in are the perfect replacement for blue denim that portrays a range of formality depending on the wash.
The shoes make the outfit
Keeping in line with the objective of appearing dressed well without being overdressed, let’s talk about shoes. Take a lady in a dress and heels versus one in pants and flats; now immediately we perceive the first as dressed up and the later more casual. If we simply switch the shoes on the two women, they both appear well dressed without being over or underdressed (of course assuming that all above the ankle garments are not extremely casual). Professional shoes are those that do not inhibit you from doing your job well, ie. shuffling to and from your desk. I go by a rule of thumb to not wear tennis shoes or sandals, since they tend to dress down any well put together outfit. Oxfords, flats, boots, and tasteful heels/wedges are a safe way to lean when completing the young professional look you are going for.
Shoes can run pretty pricey, depending on where you shop, however I truly believe that well made and comfortable shoes that suit many occasions and outfits are a great investment to be made. Going back to my firm belief in the color black, if you are going to go for the plunge and spend a good amount of money on shoes, you will want to make sure that they are versatile enough to wear with many outfits.
I have a special place in my heart, and wallet, for quality thrift stores. Thrift stores have the most broad range of clothing depending and where you go. Those that buy trendy and quality clothing and sell them back as “vintage” can actually have some really great stuff. As far as keeping it professional, I would try to be selective on where the thrift stores that you visit are located. For example, at the local thrift store in the most wealthy part of town I found a lightly used Chanel blouse. My findings in a different part of town have greatly varied depending heavily on who are those making donations and selling back their clothes to the store.
It is easy to get carried away with buying into all of the new trends as they come along. I personally am all for good fashion and having a contemporary look. It is the money and the brands and where they intersect that is the most important point here. Try and go for the garments that you will get the most use out of because of their quality, and not who it is selling them. Professional clothes will not have large brand names printed on them regardless and your boss most likely will not be checking the inside tag on your jacket to make sure it is a designer brand.
Author Bio: Kira Thompson works in internet marketing and community outreach at Planwise. She also writes about being a young adult in San Francisco and the personal finance behind the lifestyle. You can find out more by reading: About – Kira Thompson.