Dressing Up

Dress up to look professional and competent

ET 31/5/2010

These days, many jobs do not require one to wear a uniform, thereby making the job of choosing clothing for work a very difficult one. Yes, there are industry standards and perceptions like pinstripes for bankers, etc., but by and large, the field is open to personal tastes and inspirations, particularly if you work in industries where there isn’t a typical style of dress. The field gets even muddier when you work for companies that allow a more casual attire. How do you keep from crossing over the line from casual to sloppy? How do you make sure that you look your professional best but also appear as if you fit in.

“Everyone says it’s unjust to judge a book by its cover, but often, we all do. Isn’t it human nature?” says Suzanne, a senior manager with a retail business in Mumbai. “Even if a person in jeans is as competent and intelligent as a person wearing a formal suit, we start with the assumption that the reverse is true. We often assess these attributes based on appearance.”

“The goal to getting dressed for work must be to project a professional, competent image, regardless of one’s employment level or career path,” adds Suzanne. “The styles, colours, lengths and fit of one’s fashion choices will speak volumes about one’s ability to do one’s job. If one is more concerned about one’s career, he or she will be more concerned with looking professional than looking cute or trendy.” “For men, the best thing that works in a formal office is dark trousers with light coloured shirts. Wear solids on work days.

Stripes are fine, as long as they are not heavy and loud. Reserve your dark shirts for Friday dressing. Avoid showing off your tattoos. They are a strict no-no. If you have one, wear clothing which hides it. On Fridays, you cannot go wrong with Chinos. The bottomline is, when in doubt about what is acceptable dressing, dress conservatively. You will never be faulted for dressing formally when it is not required, but you will invariably be castigated for under-dressing when you are required to be formal.

For women, it’s a lot more difficult. Colour plays a big part in what passes off as acceptable office wear. Traditional colours for women to wear include red, navy, grey and black. Most of these colours work well in pantsuits, skirts and shoes and mix well with softer feminine colours that are appropriate like ice blue, lilac, soft pink and ivory.

Avoid loud colours like hot pink and wild prints, as they are much riskier in office. However, I have seen some creative types who can pull them off. Jangling jewellery like chandelier earrings or stack of bangles are distracting. Replace them with bracelets and studs. Go for structured-looking handbags rather than slouchy ones.

And, one common message for men and women is to avoid heavily logoed clothing. Clothes and accessories free from “in your face” designer logos look far more professional.
Finally, Suzanne says, “Dress appropriately. It creates a positive aura around you. It is the first thing about you that impresses people. That’s not to say that you can forget about preparing for a presentation, put on a nice suit, and you’ll wow them. Knowledge, preparation, and appearance — are eventually necessary to make a good impression.” We couldn’t agree more with Suzanne.

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