Dress for success – smarten up your appearance at work

The job market is competitive at the moment so looking the part has never been more important.

The job market is competitive at the moment – and whether you’re looking for work, vying for a promotion or simply trying to ensure that you hang on to the job you’ve got, looking the part has never been more important. It might be time to take a serious look at your working wardrobe.

Dress code

Many companies will have a written policy, but in some firms the dress code is more implicit. “Smart casual” is a much-misunderstood term; if in doubt, err towards the former and not the latter. Even if you’re not wearing a formal suit, stick with a tailored shirt or blouse rather than a T-shirt, and keep your overall ‘look’ neat and tidy.

Denim jeans may be acceptable in more relaxed offices, but not if they’re an ancient pair better saved for gardening. Observe what the people a rung above you on the corporate ladder are wearing, especially if they have to attend meetings with outsiders or other businesses. Would your outfit be up to scratch?

Smart buys

Building up a wardrobe which will cover all your professional eventualities need not cost you a fortune; look for versatile staple items which can be mixed and matched to form a number of different outfits and which won’t date too quickly. Think plain, in neutral colours, for some basics worth investing in: a good pair of fitted trousers or a well-cut skirt, simple dresses, a dark suit and a tailored jacket. These can then be paired with a variety of cheaper items such as shirts and tops – in different shades. Cardigans are back in for men as well as for women.

Accessorise and adapt

Accessories are key to your outfit and the initial impression that you make. The same clothes will look different with knee-high boots, high heels or ballet pumps, or for men, polished brogues instead of sneakers – but either option could work well, depending on the context. Plain, dark dresses or skirts can be matched with bright or patterned tights; adding different scarves, belts or other accessories can draw attention away from the fact that the clothes themselves may already have had an outing that week. And don’t forget your bag: a leather satchel, structured shoulder-bag or document case will be a better bet than scruffy holdall or tatty rucksack.

Whatever your budget, wherever you work, good grooming is essential even if you’re permanently in dress-down Friday garb, and especially if you have to meet clients.

If you’re clever with your purchases, putting together a new look and making that career move need not be expensive. One way to help you spread the cost could be by credit card, especially if you’ve got a card that offers a 0 per cent period on purchases or offers rewards as you spend. Check credit card interest rates and remember that if you don’t clear the balance outside the introductory period, you will be charged.

See also: How to make a good first impression

Alan Dobie

Alan Dobie

Alan was assistant editor at Vitesse Media Plc (previous owner of smallbusiness.co.uk) before moving on to a content producer role at Reed Business Information. He has over 17 years of experience in the...

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