A friend of mine recently started her career and asked me what to wear to work. She was an administrative assistant working in government. She was nervous about dressing too casual, dressing accidentally too sexy, feeling cold in the office, not having the right shoes and so much more. I remember sharing this same feeling when I started my job as an assistant. In fact, I’ve felt this way each time I’ve started a new job.
I have come up with a thorough response to her question that will surely help her and others like her.
The bottom line is understand your culture and your goals, and then try to maximize comfort and personality.
Understanding Dress Code Culture
- Casual – Many companies today are adopting a jean-friendly, sneaker savvy workplace culture. This is great for millennials and generation Z who are used to seeing this apparel in school, but adopting a casual style at work can be difficult for more mature generations who started their careers when the rules were different. This is why many people still opt to dress up in these environments, and that is totally OK.
- Professional – Slacks, blazers and dress shoes are the norm in this type of environment. If you’re an admin at a law firm or a finance company, odds are your culture calls for this type of uniform. Professional attire is extremely important to match. While you can pull off dressing up in a casual culture, dressing down in a professional environment is highly discouraged, especially if your goals include getting a promotion.
Casual and Professional are two ends of the spectrum. Most companies fall somewhere in the middle.
Second, understand your goals.
I’m sure you are familiar with the adage: dress for the job you want, not the job you have. Ask yourself then, is this my dream job or do I want to get a promotion? If you are an administrative assistant to a VP, but want to become an executive assistant for a C-Suite, you will need to start dressing up. If you want to be the executive one day, then you will definitely need to dress like you are meeting with clients all day long. Dressing more professional allows people to actually see you in these roles. However, if you are happy where you are and want to stay in the position for as long as you live, I’d say comfort takes more weight here.
Finally, define ‘comfort’
Now comes the fun. The office culture and your goals are the constraints, and comfort is the state to maximize. Luckily, there are many brands out there that push the envelope on what looks professional and sharp, but in reality is very comfortable. Here are a couple ideas of where to look:
For people dressing up
J McLaughlin dresses come in a stretchy, super comfortable fabric and travel amazingly well. Tip: Get them on sale!
For people dressing down
StichFix is a great place to start because they will send you personalized boxes of clothes that fit your body and budget.
Office Emergency Kit
For my friend and others who are also worried about the other uncertainties (or perhaps are not worried, but should be!), take refuge in this list of must-haves to bring to work and store in your office cabinet.
- A sweater for afternoons when the A/C is playing games
- One pair of comfortable flats for days when heels were a bad call
- A couple pieces of jewelry when you’ve dashed out the door without your staples
With this information, you should be set for first-day success. Of course, all offices are different. Hopefully you find one that fits your style.