Companies are increasingly embracing a “business casual” dress code, but what does that really mean? Whether you are a millennial, new to the workforce, or an experienced professional who has dressed in business attire for a lengthy career, this new direction is vague — and figuring out what to wear to work can be challenging.
What kinds of shirts and work pants are actually acceptable? If jeans are “allowed,” are they really allowed, or are dress pants still preferred? Where is the line between self-expression and work-appropriate? So many questions, so few answers.
There’s the saying, “dress for the job you want, not the one you have” — and as cheesy as it may sound, there’s some truth behind it. One’s choice of work clothing does make a statement and also a strong first impression.
The good news is that in today’s business casual world, dressing for the job you want doesn’t necessarily mean putting on a suit every morning. Here are five tips to dissect the meaning of business casual at your firm and dress with a promotion in mind while still maintaining your own style.
1. What are the company leaders wearing…and when?
Take a look at what the firm leaders are wearing and try to see if there is a pattern. Maybe they keep it on the formal side all week, usually wearing dress pants, but wear jeans and more casual clothes every Friday. Maybe you’ll notice that they are especially dressed up on Wednesdays because it is a popular day for meetings in the office. This will allow you to gauge when to step up your business attire and when to keep it casual.
2. What are your personal mentors wearing?
Here’s where dressing for the job you want comes to play. Focus on who you look up to at the firm — ideally two or three women — and be cognizant of their definition of workwear. After taking mental notes of how they approach business casual, you can even ask them what they consider when dressing for work.
3. What attire will best reflect your personality?
At this point, you’ve taken notes on the workwear of the women around you and it is time to make the style your own. Your work clothing still needs to represent your individuality! Incorporate your favorite colors, styles of shirts, and patterns — and accessorize!
4. Will the attire you are considering be comfortable?
This one is hugely important! If the clothes you are considering are not comfortable, it will be obvious and distracting for you and those around you. This could include the cut, size or style. With comfort comes confidence, so it is key to make sure your work clothes maintain a fit and design that makes you feel good.
5. Get feedback!
Still on the fence? That’s what loved ones are for! With FaceTime, Skype or the trusted mirror selfie, friends and family are great for bouncing around ideas for your work wardrobe. Because, after all, who is more brutally honest than a loved one?!
Caitlin Larwood Collins is a content and social media consultant and freelance writer based in Connecticut. After eight years of digital marketing experience at large corporations in Manhattan, she decided to found her own consulting business, CaLaCo, focused on helping niche brands use content to tell their story, expand reach and drive action.