What to Wear to Work

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Dressing for work is a dilemma for millions of working professionals each day. Most people open their closets, sigh, and say, “I have nothing to wear.” Continue reading and discover some pointers on what to wear to work.

There are so many nuances to managing one’s perception toward others, and the first component is the visual message that clothing sends. Clothes have a language, and it can leave a lasting impression. For 28 years, I’ve been a secret weapon for hundreds of executives, emerging leaders and professionals who need to instantly project a credible and trustworthy presence to influence business outcomes. These brilliant men and women are expected to keep things running at work, initiate change, lead others, negotiate mega-deals and penetrate global markets.

Dress “Business-Ready”: The Immeasurable Edge

Dressing “business-ready” means dressing each day to take advantage of unexpected opportunities. You want to be the person decision makers include in strategic meetings, sales calls, client lunches or networking events. Your consistent, polished presence will pay dividends in the long run — I know this is true from the years of transforming men and women into powerhouse leaders. Both private and corporate clients attribute the trajectory of their careers and incomes, in part, as a result of their transformations. There’s a new respect. A personal power.

Clothing: A Strategic Business Tool

A millennial coaching client told me he thought business clothing was overrated, but now refers to his multifunctional wardrobe as a strategic business tool. During interviews, he has received praise for his professional appearance that was consistent with the company’s brand. Throughout the interview process, they could picture him in the position, representing the company. He received immediate offers. During one interview, he was the only candidate out of four waiting in the lobby who was not wearing a black suit, white shirt and black tie. He had his own personal, professional and polished style that was comfortable and believable for his age, his personality and the position’s role.

Two other millennial clients had career-advancing outcomes as a result of moving to more polished wardrobes and away from the super-relaxed trendy styles they wore on weekends. Clothing trends don’t always flatter or benefit us in a business setting.

Match Your Wardrobe to Your Message for Maximum Impact

You will want to select wardrobe pieces that match the tone of the message you want to deliver. Whether presenting to the company’s Board or members of your team, your clothing choice can subliminally communicate authority, approachability or creativity. You want to match the “subliminal message” so there is visual and verbal congruency — not a disconnect — for your audience.

• Authority: when you need clout. Solid dark fabrics, flat finishes, worn with a high-contrast neutral shirt or blouse sets a serious or somber tone.

• Approachability: when you want consensus. Solid neutrals worn with solid-colored shirts and blouses set a fun and friendly mood.

• Creativity: when you want creative inspiration and lively interaction. Wearing pattern, color or texture gives the perception that you are creative, and encourages others to think creatively.

Business Dress Categories

All levels of business dress have a purpose in the workplace. Each communicates a certain level of influence, status, detail-mindedness, formality or lack thereof. Each style of attire sets the wearer up for a different level of authority and acceptance. All industries and professions have written dress guidelines for their specific business cultures. Yet, companies are often challenged by a range of clothing often worn by employees that is outside their guidelines. In today’s casual workplaces, what is worn in the office is often too casual for client-facing meetings, contract negotiations, business conferences and global assignments.

There is power in business clothing. Dressing “business-ready” pays dividends by positioning you for unexpected career opportunities. What you wear to work is a strategic business tool and should project your professionalism and authority every day.

The following descriptions of wardrobe pieces are current guidelines in an ever-changing corporate landscape


Men: Suits, dress shirts, ties, braces, tie shoes (leather soles), wool or cashmere topcoat, raincoat Women: Skirted suits, silk blouses, shells worn under jackets, dresses with sleeves or sheaths worn with jackets, high-quality pantsuits, pumps, wool dress coat, raincoat


Men: Blazers, dress shirts, tailored tropical wool trousers, ties, tie shoes or loafers, raincoat Women: Pantsuits, jackets, skirts, blouses, knit shells, tailored cotton shirts, fine-gauge sweaters, cardigans, mid-high heels, wedges, flats, raincoat


Men: Sport coat, solid or patterned shirts in fashion colors, sweaters, tailored dress trousers or high-quality blended-content trousers, Oxfords, loafers Women: Pants, jackets, skirts, colorful and patterned cotton blouses, knit shells, tops with three-quarter length sleeves, cardigans, sweaters, Oxfords, wedges, flats


Men: Cotton-blend khakis/chinos, jeans, short-sleeved shirts, collared golf shirts, fine quality T-shirts, Brogues, sports shoes Women: Khakis/chinos, jeans, knit tops with sleeves, shirts, sweaters, flats, sports shoes


These choices can be career derailers in corporate business environments. Men and Women: Destroyed or distressed garments, clothing with offensive slogans or graphics, sagging pants, shorts, stains, rips and snags, pet hair, flip-flops, worn and scuffed shoes Women: Leggings, athleisure wear, bralettes, mesh, netting, lace, camis, exposed skin, stilettos, slippers Certain industries (e.g., oil, gas, nuclear) have specialized attire categories to meet federal, state or local regulatory guidelines where special protective uniforms, textiles and footwear are required.

Ten Wardrobe Building Tips

• A jacket is a garment of authority and elevates a casual outfit instantly.

• More skin = Less credibility.

• Always keep a blazer/jacket, fresh shirt/blouse and a pair of business shoes at work for an unscheduled meeting with senior leaders.

• Try everything on in the store before purchasing items or as soon as online purchases are delivered to you.

• Sit, bend, reach and stretch in front of a mirror when trying on garments to see how you will function in them, and what others will see when you wear them.

• Divide the cost of an item by how often you will wear it to justify the purchase price.

• When you dress down, people talk down to you.

• Emerging leaders should dress like a leader.

• Develop and project a consistent professional presence early in your career.

• A polished presence increases your personal impact and professional influence on others.


About the author: Danielle Turcola has been turning leaders and emerging leaders into powerhouses for 28 years. She is president of the consulting firm Professionalism International Inc., and founder and CEO of What to Wear to Work Inc. As an expert in executive presence and influence, Turcola is a trusted advisor to corporations, executives and private clients who want to increase their professional influence. Her transformed clients command the room with a presence that is credible, memorable and influential. For global business interactions, she gives executives an immeasurable edge by introducing them to the cultural nuances of their international business partners. For more information about Turcola, call 216-926-3699 or visit www.askdanielle.com.




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