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How To Dress For the Career You Want

how to dress for the career you want

by katelyn gray

You probably have heard the clichéd saying, “dress for success.” Although it may seem catchy and trivial—its message proves important. An effective strategy for getting the job you want is successfully presenting yourself in the workplace. As a young person or college student, you may feel intimidated by the daunting task of finding professional attire. Or maybe you haven’t thought much about how showing up in style can help boost your résumé. Either way, it’s important to note that the way you dress can really have a say in your success. 

So what are some of the keys to successfully arriving in the right apparel on your first day in the workforce? Showcasing your personality through your outfits and accessories is a great first step. Nina Garcia writes in her book, Nina Garcia’s Look Book: What To Wear For Every Occasion,

“Your wardrobe should complement your skill set, never detract – or distract – from your asset. The smallest detail can set you apart from your competition. It’s essential that you appear professional, capable and confident without going overboard.”

As Garcia notes, it is important to straddle the line between personality and professionalism. So although it is important to feel like yourself, make sure you leave the sequins at home. She even goes on to suggest that wearing a “chic, modern take on the classic suit” during an initial job interview is the best way to make a first impression. 

It’s also smart to look towards people in the industry who have studied and mastered the art of fashion. Madeleine Beckman—an author, journalist, poet and professor falls under this category and has been working successfully in the industry for years. She has contributed to The New Yorker, Glamour, The Village Voice and teaches a course on Fashion Journalism. One interesting piece of advice she gives to her fashion students is,

“Observe how others dress. Who do you admire? Develop a sense of how you want to present yourself, and what you're conveying about yourself through your fashion choices.”

Beckman’s advice can be implemented at anytime. Whether you are on the subway or in class, look around to see what clothes you identify with on other people. After taking stock of your observations, you can start to choose outfits that speak to who you are as a person. Maybe you would rather spice up the traditional black and white attire for work by selecting bold jewelry, socks, and ties. Or maybe you would prefer to keep it simple and classy. Beckman sums up with the same advice as Garcia, “You can be creative and professional in your fashion choices and style [but] work is not school or a bar or club.” One must dress for every occasion appropriately.

Another fashion protégé, Alyssa Amato, creator of ‘Fashion Sensored’ is a fashion blogger with internship experience at Harper’s Bazaar. As a recent college grad, Amato is able to provide fashion advice from the perspective of a young professional. For her, one item is key, “I think the universal staple item for the general work place is a blazer. But not just any blazer—a fitted one. When you wear a tailored blazer in the workplace you automatically look sophisticated and professional. Another appropriate staple piece is ankle cropped trouser pants.” This simple and specific advice can do wonders for your first work experience. Investing in a nice, well-fitted, blazer can make your professional life easier—and both blazer and cropped trousers can also be worn in a more casual manner on the weekends. Lastly, Amato knows the ins and outs of appropriate attire versus inappropriate attire in the workplace. She warns, “What is never appropriate for the workplace is anything that you would feel uncomfortable wearing in front of the CEO of the company.”


Another way to dress for success is to add accessories into your day-to-day attire. Accessories are useful because they can add flair to your professional look while still showcasing your personality. Clean and sophisticated jewelry— in particular silver, gold or rose gold can do wonders to an outfit. Another idea for women is to wear lipstick. “A red lip goes a long way and will transform your outfit.” Rocking your new blazer, simple jewelry and red lip can instantly make you stand out in the office. Don’t forget the list of accessories doesn’t stop there. Maybe a scarf or bowtie is more of your style. Either way, try to experiment and always end up with the items you feel most comfortable in and excited about.

Music industry veteran Sarah Cerrone works at Cumulus Media in the promotions department as a team leader, board operator and production assistant. She offers more wisdom on the line between casual and formal. She explains, “If you dress in jeans and a tee for an interview, don’t expect a call back for that job.” It’s important to find the balance between casual and professional in the workplace. Different industries require different dress codes. In a corporate setting, one is typically required to follow a black and white dress code. Cerrone explained, “For me, I’m used to the world of unloading and loading equipment into cars so I’m used to having to dress a bit more casual. However, I make sure to keep it neat and nice.” She laughed, “After all, sweating wouldn’t look very cute in a dress.” Cerrone raises a good point—it is important to make sure that your outfits are suitable for the actual work you will be completing.

The fashion rule of thumb for young adults and college interns entering the work place is to first find your style, then from there dress it up so it can be work wear acceptable. The whole point is to stay true to the essence of who you are. When you do, you automatically come off confident because you feel comfortable in what you're wearing.

After hearing all the great advice these fashion alums have on style in the workplace, it’s worth it to note that the platform of fashion blogging is growing and expanding rapidly. So, perhaps, the last piece of advice is to search online for a blogger that can be your own virtual, personal stylist. Amato explained, “I feel fashion bloggers carry a large influence because it's people sharing tips with other people. It's different than a business sharing style tips to consumers. With bloggers there's a personal touch that people prefer over a company giving fashion advice.”

Ultimately confidence is the most important part of style. Businesses want to hire those who elude confidence and are comfortable in what they wear. Don’t worry if it takes time to find your style. Take your the time, do the research, and test out outfits and accessories. In the end, nothing will beat the feeling of walking into that building on your first day on the job—feeling and looking your absolute best. 

Do you have more tips/tricks/stories to share? Tweet me at @xoxokatiegray and while you’re there, check out @cencom and more opportunities on their Facebook page.