- Sources of Inspiration
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This post is part of a series on dressing for new (or temporary) office jobs. See the whole series.
Almost every office has one.
No, not that slightly nosy coworker who somehow manages to know everything about everyone’s lives (those too, though). A dress code. Unfortunately, for a document that’s intended to provide clarity of expectations ahead of time, the average office dress code is riddled with unwritten (and often unspoken) rules and norms. So, how do you develop a strategy for navigating appropriate dress in these muddy waters? Here are a few questions to consider in assembling a “capsule wardrobe” of work essentials.
- Does your dress code define office dress as “business casual” or “professional attire” or ”business formal”? Obviously, you’ll have greater flexibility in a business casual environment.
- If the dress code says business casual, does it really mean it? For example, at many law firms, the dress code will say something along the lines of, “our office is business casual, but many attorneys prefer to wear formal business attire most days.” Pay attention to the norms that appear to apply to your peers, rather than the blanket guidelines for the office as a whole.
- Even if the dress code is business casual, will you be in situations that otherwise require more formal attire? Even in a business casual office, if you’re a lawyer, you have to go to court sometimes. Or if you’re a consultant, you have to meet with clients. Or [insert important outside-the-office obligation here]. How often do these kinds of settings come up? Do you usually know ahead of time, or will you need to keep an emergency suit stashed in your office?
- How does your office define formal business attire? In some offices, formal business attire would include a dress (usually with sleeves) on its own, without a jacket or other topper. If this is you, consider investing in a few (remixable) dresses that can be worn on their own. If formal business attire means you’re wearing a jacket but not necessarily a suit, consider what kinds of suit alternatives might be appropriate.
- If you’ll be working during the summer, does your office support the Right to Bare Arms? If it doesn’t, is it just a “no tanktops” rule, or are short sleeves also considered inappropriate? Are jackets and cardigans equally acceptable arm coverings?
- What are rules about footwear? Are peep-toes permissible? How high is too high? Are flats famed or frowned upon?
How you build your work wardrobe depends on these kinds of questions about how people really dress in your work environment. In an office that’s honest-to-goodness business casual, you might build your wardrobe around distinctive but remixable separates, but in an office that’s business formal (all or almost all of the time), you’ll want to focus more on a great suit (or two) and dresses. Next week, I’ll talk about some sample capsule wardrobes for each environment, as well as shopping strategies for entering a new work environment.
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