How to Be the Best-Dressed Employee in Any Office Setting

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It’s an age-old question: Why can’t I wear my pajamas to work as long as I’m productive? The logic is tempting, yes, but that doesn’t mean your co-workers will appreciate your choice. We’ve all heard it’s important to dress the part for our jobs. But are we really doing it right?

Business wardrobe: Why does it matter?

It turns out that people really do judge a book by its cover. When people first see you, the first things they notice are your appearance– and it leaves an impression with them.

Social psychologists studying the impact of imagery have determined that 30 seconds is how long it takes for someone meeting you for the first time to form a whole laundry list of determinations about your character and abilities. If your clothing choices say you fit the part, you’ve already won half the battle.

“There was once a time when every professional, no matter his or her industry, put on a suit each morning,” Richard Feloni and Mike Nudelman from Business Insider explain, “But today, there are so many interpretations of formal and business casual that it can be easy to look sloppy or over-dressed if you’re not aware of the environment.”


Find your staple items

Those of you who are not super fashion-savvy: staple items are the basic accessories within your wardrobe that help to create a completed, polished look.

That being said, they play a pretty big role in completing your outfit. Here are the items that any man or woman should have in their wardrobe, regardless of his or her office style.

Ladies Gents:
● Trench coat ● Trench coat
● Fitted blazer ● Navy peacoat
● Ballet flats ● Chambray shirt
● Non-branded carryall tote ● White button-down shirt
● Classic sunglasses ● Stealthy briefcase


One size does not fit all: Navigating your workplace culture

Not every office is the same. Just as not every job is the same, offices are dependent on the type of work they encompass. When trying to dress to impress in your office, it’s important to know which office setting you fit into.

According to CNN, financial services is one industry that places the most emphasis on professional work attire. Fifty-five percent of workers in this sector say well-dressed employees are more likely to be promoted than others. An additional 51 percent of sales representatives say the same thing about the likelihood of promotions in their industry.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, only 33 percent of manufacturing employers and 37 percent of IT employers say that professional attire influences whether or not an employee gets promoted.

To help you decipher the world of work clothes, we broke office environments down to three different categories:



Dressed to the Nines: Business Formal

Business formal is dressing to impress on a daily basis. Your clothing should be a suit or its equivalent. You’re probably attending meetings with clients or corporate bigwigs weekly, if not daily. It’s important to look (and act) the part.

This type of style doesn’t have to be boring, but it should be the most structured.

Gentleman: a well tailored suit is your best choice. Key to a good suit: perfect fit. If the suit looks sloppy, you might as well wear a sack (actually, please don’t do that. Choose a suit that fits and flatters your body).

Ladies: Don’t like suits? Try mixing pieces of your favorite suit with other tops and bottoms in your wardrobe. Using part of your piece will help to give your outfit a more professional look without having to wear the same old suit over and over again.

With so many retailers catering to women in the corporate world, wearing a suit to the office is not your only option,” fashion blogger Olivia Trewatha from Corporate Catwalk says. “I wear a classic suit to the office once a month…at the most. My curves and my height do not compliment a suit or should I say a suit does not compliment my curves and height. However, I do mix and match pieces from my suit collection. For example, I love my suit jacket with a peplum top or pencil skirt with a belted sweater.”


Ladies Gents:
● Black heels ● Black oxfords
● Black tights ● Modest ties
● Knee-length skirt ● Dark suit
● Professional tops without a low neckline ● Crisp white dress shirt
● Elegant jewelry ● High-quality watch



The Middle Man: Business Casual

Business casual dress is a more relaxed style than business formal. It doesn’t require you to wear a suit to work everyday, however the clothing choices are still what most people would consider to be professional.

While you’ll have opportunities to dress to impress in this setting, you won’t always have to. Occasionally a suit and tie will be your outfit of choice, but you’ll be able to get away with a more business casual look on most days. According to Renee Sylvestre-Williams, a contributor for Forbes, Business Casual means “ ‘Not jeans, but not a suit’ to ‘Nice blouse, pants, light jewellery. No suits, no t-shirts, certainly no jeans – even black ones, no logo wear.’ Others said, ‘In my previous jobs, everything had to be tucked in, no athletic clothes. Oh and if a boss said ‘you look casual,’ that was a hint to not wear the clothes again.’ There seemed to be agreement on: ‘For men: trousers/khakis and a shirt with a collar. For women: trousers/knee-length skirt and a blouse or shirt with a collar. No jeans. No athletic wear.’”

Polos and button downs will make up a majority of men’s closets in this category. The best way to dress up or add some pep to these outfits is by accessorizing correctly. Wearing a sweater or a great watch might be the perfect touch.

For women, dress pants and blouses are always an option, but dresses are much more fun (despite what the childhood version of yourself thought about them). Not only are dresses comfortable, but they are one article of clothing that acts as a whole outfit. For some added flair accessorize with a statement necklace on a plainer dress, or some rocking earrings on an exciting, patterned dress.


Ladies Gents:
● Crewneck sweater ● Slacks
● Fitted blouse ● Corduroy pants
● Signature handbag ● V- neck sweater
● Nude pumps ● Knitted tie
● Professional dresses ● Colored dress shirt



Relaxed but Classy: Casual

Casual is essentially mixing and matching your nice articles of clothing with pieces that are more dressed down. This could mean that you’re wearing jeans with a nice blouse or dress shirt — or vice versa, a casual button down with nice slacks. The idea behind this style is to look professional, but also allow yourself some comfort and personality.

“Generally speaking, casual dress code can be symbolic of a company’s attitude toward its employees,” fashion icon Lauren Conrad explains. “In a way, it’s a sign of respect and trust. Apple, Google, and Nike all have very casual, laid back dress codes. Formal dress doesn’t always mean success. That is not to say dressing like a slob is sanctioned casual work attire. Professionalism is still paramount. Make sure your ensembles are appropriate, modest, and always clean and put together.”

In order to dress in a relaxed fashion and still look good, the key is to know how to mix casual pieces without looking like you just rolled out of bed. By arriving to work in casual clothes that are still neat, pressed, and appropriate for the type of work you do, you can make sure that a casual dress code isn’t holding you back. 

Don’t know where to find these fashion trends? Check out some of the most popular fashion magazines, like  Vogue, GQ, and Cosmopolitan. You may see some crazy things from the fashion world in there, but don’t be discouraged. Take the essence of the designs and styles, and try to mimic those in your outfit utilizing your staple pieces. You can also search out office fashion blogs, like the Corporate Catwalk, Effortless Gent, Memorandum and He Spoke Style.

Ladies Gents:
● Dark tailored jeans ● Dark jeans
● Tidy t-shirts ● Colored slacks
● Dressy sandals ● Nice t-shirt
● Colorful pumps ● Tasteful sneakers
● Stylish jackets ● Casual dress shirts




No matter which category your work environment falls into, make sure that your attire reflects your personality and your professionalism.

If your office has a dress code, you best adhere to it, or prepare to face the consequences. Don’t be afraid to (professionally) express yourself through your clothing and make a (work-appropriate) statement.  

What is your favorite business attire? Tweet us your thoughts @QuinlanCompany

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