By Rachel Zupek and Anthony Balderrama
Dressing for work can be a battle, but only if you don’t know what you’re doing. The way you look and dress in the office makes a statement about what people can expect from you and how you feel about yourself.
Here are five areas you should focus on when it comes to having great work style, from the viewpoints of both a man and woman. Remember, every company’s culture and dress code are different, so follow our advice as it applies to your workplace.
She says: Every woman knows that accessories define what look you’re going for, whether it’s elegant, trendy or casual. If you put 100 women in a room together wearing the same black dress, no two of them would look the same. Why? Because they would all accessorize differently. They’d have to — it’s how you set yourself apart from everyone else. This can be applied at work, too, especially if you work somewhere where everyone wears a different variation of the same outfit. As a general rule, limit yourself to 11 or fewer accessories, and always err on the side of caution and simplicity. If it’s excessively cute, big or loud — just say no.
He says: Men don’t usually wear as many fashion accessories as women, aside from a watch and perhaps a ring. Just remember to keep it simple. You should have more fingers without rings than with. And your watch should look professional, which means a leather band shouldn’t be cracked or its silver links shouldn’t be full of scratches. Pay just as much attention to your briefcase or laptop case. If your carrying case is leather, make sure it’s not cracked and falling apart. A cloth one shouldn’t be covered in dirt or political buttons.
2. Facial appearance
She says: What’s that they say? “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder?” While it’s true that beauty can’t be defined, it’s also true that looking ridiculous can — and that’s the last thing you want a client or colleague to think about you. When you’re choosing an outfit, you look for something that complements your features, right? The same goes for your makeup, only on a more subtle level. Don’t wear red lipstick and leave the rest of your face bare. Don’t highlight your baby blues with 100 coats of mascara. And please, please — leave the blue, turquoise, bright green (and all other jewel-tone) eye shadows for next Halloween.
He says: For guys, facial hair is the real conundrum. Showing up to work clean-shaven is always appropriate. A well-groomed beard can look just as professional, but you have to be meticulous about keeping it trimmed or you risk looking like your chin is growing a Brillo pad. The in-between stages and styles, such as 5 o’clock shadows or week-old scruff, are fine for some workplaces and forbidden in others. Remember that you’re a regular person going to work, not a rock star going onstage. They can get away with looking like unkempt college students. If you can’t find an explicit policy in the company handbook, take a cue from the other men in the office.
She says: I’m not sure that this one needs too much explanation, so we’ll keep it simple:
1. Please bathe, if not daily, at least every other day.
2. Please wash your face. Your makeup never looks as good after it’s been slept in and reapplied as when you do it fresh every day.
3. Please wash your hair, or at the very least, brush it.
4. While we’re washing things, give those clothes a good scrub, too.
5. Please brush your teeth, as no one wants to smell your morning-coffee/last-night’s-happy-hour breath.
The bottom line is that, when given a choice, colleagues and clients will be more apt to interact with people who look neat and smell great. The last thing you want is to have your pungent aroma be the topic of water-cooler conversation.
He says: Let’s assume you bathe and brush your teeth regularly — if not, we’ve got a whole separate set of issues. One important problem that continually plagues men is cologne: Go easy on it, please. I think everyone understands you’re trying to smell good, but don’t suffocate everyone with your fragrance, even if it is by a fancy designer. Many people are allergic to colognes, so skipping it altogether might not be a bad idea. If you do decide to dab a little on, keep it very light. Remember that just about everything is scented these days, so between your cologne, laundry detergent, fabric softener, hair product and deodorant, you’re a cornucopia of fragrance.
4. Overall outfit
She says: Women have several options when it comes to work attire and we should be grateful for that. What to wear to the office hinges on several things: your company culture and dress code, current trends, the climate and your personal style. What’s important is finding a style that works for you, your company and your budget. Whether it’s a pair of jeans with a white T-shirt, a blazer and a pair of pumps; or a pencil skirt with a button-front shirt and pantyhose, your outfit is a reflection of your personality, which in turn can reflect your work style. Whatever you do, make sure your outfit is in line with the company dress code and whatever is on the day’s agenda.
He says: Here’s a situation where men generally have fewer options than women. You can go dressy (a suit), business casual (pants or nice jeans and a button-up shirt) or very casual (plain jeans and a tee). Look at what others are wearing to see what you can and can’t get away with at the office. If individuality is appreciated, feel free to be a little more daring than you would be if you were a trial lawyer. Even in a reserved office, a colorful pocket square or a bright tie can stand out and give you a little personality. What matters most is that you always appear pulled together and professional. In a relaxed business setting, even a plain black tee and jeans can look professional as long as they’re not wrinkled, ripped or ill-fitting.
She says: Some might say that shoes are considered an accessory, but not this girl. If you ask me, your shoes make your outfit. The other day, for example, a woman in the elevator was wearing a short dress, fishnet-patterned pantyhose and a headband with a huge flower on the side. The kicker was her shoes: four-inch, patent-leather, peep-toe platforms that tied around her ankle with satin ribbon. With a few tweaks here and there, the outfit could have worked, but her shoes made her look like she belonged at a Halloween party or street corner instead of the office. Basic rule of thumb for shoes at work? Pick something practical over something cute, and be careful when it comes to flip-flops and sandals.
He says: Contrary to a woman’s ensemble, shoes rarely make a man’s outfit, but they can often break it. If you see a guy wearing a wrinkled suit and a tie with a big soup stain on it, you don’t remember what shoes he wore. But if you see a guy wearing an impeccably tailored Italian suit with dirty tennis shoes, you won’t be able to forget the footwear. When going for a conservative, professional appearance, stick with basic black or brown dress shoes that are free of scuffs or caked mud. If your attire is more casual, just make sure your shoes are appropriate for that outfit, which might include funky tennis shoes for an employee at a laid-back marketing firm. What matters is that the shoes match your overall image and that they look clean. Even the most relaxed boss doesn’t want your work shoes to look like they’ve run a marathon.