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Vogue & Style

Wearing the right outfit for the office in 2019

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Suit or shirt? Skirt or slacks? Tights or bare legs? Sandals or pumps? These are the questions you might find yourself asking each morning as you select work attire in 2019. And, depending on the dress code your company enforces, you could be spot on – or woefully off-base in your fashion choices.

According to a survey by Salary.com, only 55% of workplaces have a dress code. If your new employee orientation didn’t cover it, contact HR to ask about the official policy. Even if your orientation manual tells you to dress “business casual,” though, what exactly does that mean? What is acceptable – and what isn’t?

Official Dress Codes for 2019

There are typically four types of corporate dress codes: business formal, business professional, business casual, and casual. Here are some general tips for both men and women for each category. Stick close to the basics and ensure that you’re always dressed appropriately in this 2019.

BUSINESS FORMAL

If you work in a law firm, regularly meet with executives, or otherwise hold a high-level position, you might be asked to come dressed “business formal” or in “boardroom attire.” This is the highest level of professional dress.

For Men:

  • A tailored one-, two-, or three-button suit in a solid, neutral color like black, gray, or navy.
  • Ties and other accessories should be both modest in color and style – solid, brighter colors (a red tie, for example), or patterned muted neutrals (a navy plaid tie) – as well as high-end in quality. No novelty ties, such as sports team patterns.
  • White, collared button-up shirts.
  • Shoes should be closed-toe oxfords in brown or black, not loafers.
  • Hair should be well-groomed. In general, short hair is most acceptable.
  • Nails should be clipped short, clean, and buffed. Don’t be shy about getting regular professional manicures.

 

For Women:

  • A well-cut pantsuit or skirt suit in a conservative neutral color, such as black, navy, or brown.
  • White button-ups with a collar.
  • Closed-toe heels in a neutral color such as taupe, black, grey, or brown.
  • Tights, preferably in a dark color.
  • Conservative accessories – for instance, diamond studs rather than chandelier earrings.
  • Well-groomed hair worn in a conservative cut, such as a bob or soft layers.
  • Skirts never more than two finger-widths above the knees.
  • Well-groomed, neutral nails that are either clear coated, or painted with a beige-toned polish.

 

BUSINESS PROFESSIONAL

A step down from business formal, business professional clothing is still neat, conservative, and traditional, if a little more loose when it comes to color or pattern. Business professional is also sometimes called “traditional business.” Expect to present a professional appearance every day, injecting personality into your outfits with your accessories and color choices.

For Men:

  • A one- or two-button suit. Suit colors should still be conservative, but you have more leeway with pattern – a conservative stripe or check, for instance.
  • Pressed, lighter-colored dress pants worn with a sports jacket.
  • Conservative ties, but feel free to introduce colors and patterns. For example, you can feel free to wear a blue-striped, professional tie, but no novelty ties.
  • High-end accessories, such as watches (preferably silver, gold, or white gold) and cuff links, if necessary.
  • Shirts should be collared button-ups, but can be colored, as long as the color is fairly conservative. Blue, burgundy, or gray all work well.
  • Shoes should be conservatively colored oxfords or polished loafers in black or brown.
  • Hair and nails should be groomed, but check with HR on acceptable hairstyles.

 

For Women:

  • A suit or skirt, top, and jacket in a conservative neutral color, such as black, brown, or navy.
  • Collared button-up shirts that may be any solid color.
  • Dark or nude-colored hosiery.
  • Closed-toe pumps in a neutral color such as black or brown.
  • Larger, more noticeable jewelry – as long as it’s not distracting. Think along the lines of one statement necklace or a chunky watch. High quality is preferred.
  • Skirts never more than two finger-widths above the knees.
  • Well-groomed, neutral nails. May be clear coat or beige.
  • Hair should be neat and groomed, but check with HR on acceptable cuts and colors.

 

BUSINESS CASUAL

Business casual is one of the more common dress codes for a certain group, the media and advertising firms, allowing employees to add personality to their workwear without looking unprofessional. In a business casual setting, you can expect a lot more in the way of color and accessories.

Still, the term “business casual” can mean different things to different organizations, so it’s always best to check for guidelines with HR instead of making assumptions. Note that sometimes business casual can also be called “executive casual.”

For Men:

  • Can wear colored, collared button-ups in any color. Conservative patterns such as checks or stripes are acceptable too, worn with or without a tie.
  • Ties should still be conservative in pattern. Avoid novelty ties, and choose patterns like dots, stripes, or checks. Most colors are acceptable.
  • Pullovers and sweaters worn over collared shirt. Choose solid, striped, or another conservatively patterned sweater. Primary and jewel-toned colors are best.
  • Dressy slacks, such as black dress pants or pressed khakis in the summer, worn with or without a sports jacket.
  • More casual accessories, such as a leather-band watch.
  • Shoes can be oxfords, loafers, or another comfortable yet dressy choice, in brown or black. Avoid sneakers.
  • May offer more leeway for hairstyles, allowing for longer hair (check with HR).
  • Nails should be clean and short.

 

For Women:

  • Business separates, rather than a full suit – a skirt worn with a cardigan or jacket, for example.
  • Colored shirts and blouses, rather than mandatory collared button-downs. Choose solid colors, or muted patterns like stripes or checks, and avoid low-cut shirts or bright patterns.
  • Slacks and khakis.
  • Larger jewelry, such as a statement necklace or large cuff-style watch. Doesn’t necessarily need to be the highest quality – gemstones and other casual materials are fine. Scarves may also be appropriate.
  • Shoes may be comfortable flats and loafers, as well as pumps, but should remain closed-toe. Can be any color, although black, brown, red, navy, and gray are among the most appropriate.
  • Nails should be well-groomed, but there can be a few restrictions on colors.
  • Hair can be more casual, with less conservative colors and even more noticeable (chunky or high-contrast) highlights generally acceptable. It should still be neatly styled, such as blow-dried, or in a ponytail or bun.

 

CASUAL

If you’re fortunate enough to work in a casual office, the trick is to avoid getting too casual or creative with your dress. According to the survey by Salary.com, your coworkers make specific judgements regarding your capability based on your clothes, which may extend to employers as well. 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.

For Men:

  • Casual pants and slacks, but never jeans unless stipulated as acceptable by HR. If jeans are permitted, dark-wash, straight-cut only.
  • Collared polos or crew-neck sweaters and pullovers. The majority of colors and patterns are okay as long as they’re not a novelty pattern, such as a sports team logo.
  • Casual accessories, such as brightly colored watches.
  • Shoes that are clean. Sneakers are usually acceptable, as are loafers.
  • Hair and nails can be more casual. Nails should remain short and clean, and casual offices generally allow for longer hairstyles and ponytails.

 

For Women:

  • Nicely fitted tops and blouses, although shirts should never be tight or revealing.
  • Slacks or skirts in more casual fabrics, such as cotton. If denim is permitted, dark-wash only. Avoid overly casual denim cuts, like cutoffs or flare jeans.
  • Skirts should remain at knee-length.
  • Open-toed shoes are permitted. Avoid casual shoes such as sneakers or flip-flops.
  • Casual accessories, such as scarves. Larger rings, bracelets, earrings, and necklaces are fine, and may be of any quality.
  • More leeway with hair length, style, and color. More adventurous styles and colors are typically fine.
  • Nails can be painted in brighter colors, or with any type of pattern. Avoid novelty characters or designs, or limit “louder” designs to one nail only.

 

In office dress codes, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and dress a little more formally than necessary until you have a better grasp of what is and isn’t acceptable at work. If your business clothing mantra is “clean, tailored, and professional,” it’s pretty hard to go wrong, regardless of the environment in which you work.

What type of dress code does your office use?

 

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Vogue & Style

Attention to your fashion details

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If you’ve ever watched the rehearsal process of a play, then you know just how powerful clothes are. Even in the very early stages of a project, professional actors will come to practice in certain clothing pieces that make them feel more like their character. Perhaps, in an old pair of shoes, a long and heavy skirt, or a bandana that helps them get just the right swagger, grace, or edge.

A few weeks later, when they’re closer to opening, they’ll have an actual dress rehearsal with their real costumes. It’s pretty amazing to see how the right clothes bring the performances up to a whole new level and transform the actor into the character!

As business professionals, we can actually learn a lot from this.

Like it or not, your clothes and presentation communicate volumes about you as a person. The question is not whether you care about fashion, it’s more about what you’re communicating intentionally or unconsciously through your fashion choices. Just as the actor in the right costume moves and speaks differently, so does the everyday person.

Your clothes tell a story about you. If you want to show that your work is clean, sharp, and to the point, you need to dress in clean lines, sharp creases, and (yes) points on your shoes and tie. Even the way you wear your glasses speaks volumes about you and your work!

 

What Do the Details Show?

Research shows that you can tell a lot about someone’s personality, politics, status, age and income just from looking at a photo of their shoes.

Did you ever notice that when President Barack Obama addressed a crowd of working class Americans, he would speak with no jacket and his sleeves rolled up? That silently and instantly communicated to the audience that he too was a hard worker.

You might remember when a 44 page dress code published by Swiss bank UBS went viral. The obsessive stipulations detailed everything from the sensible (“If you wear a watch, it suggests reliability and that punctuality is of great concern to you”) to the downright invasive (employees were instructed on how to shower and apply lotion, how to wear their underwear, and told not to eat garlic during the week).

They may have been control freaks, but UBS got one thing right: every detail about your presentation communicates something.

When you’re dressing or grooming, consider what it says about you and whether it’s in line with the message you want to communicate. There’s no right or wrong. It’s all about context. A tie can make you look reliable and rooted in tradition. This might be important at an investment firm, where clients want to know that you’re serious about stewarding their capital. But it can also come off as stuffy and resistant to change, which may be inappropriate for a tech startup.

 

Your Clothing Impacts Your Thinking

Of course, dressing smart is also important for your confidence and sense of self-empowerment. But your style does more than just send messages, to your mind or to others. New research shows it actually impacts how you think. Professional dress, one study found, increases abstract thinking and gives people a broader perspective. So that tie might actually be switching on your creativity button.

“The formality of clothing might not only influence the way others perceive a person, and how people perceive themselves, but could influence decision making in important ways through its influence on processing style,” the study says.

Professional attire creates social distance. When we are more socially distant, we tend to think in more distant, abstract terms. In socially distant settings we address people by their title, for instance, rather than the more intimate first name.

“Even after controlling for socioeconomic status, students wearing more formal clothing showed stronger inclinations towards abstract processing.”

 

Thin-Slicing

Usually we process visual details instantaneously through a process called thin-slicing. That’s when the brain makes millisecond judgements based on new stimulus. It often happens without us even knowing. We might just get a feeling that we don’t trust someone, or that someone else is steady and reliable. We might not even know why.

That gut feeling, commonly called intuition or a first impression, is really part of the very fast-paced mental process of thin-slicing. It’s how we continually judge books by their covers, all day, every day.

So choose your personal presentation with care. Presentation includes not only your clothes, but your accessories, hairstyle, fragrance, posture, body language, tone of voice, and the level of energy with which you move and speak. Think of the person that you need to be in any particular situation. Then dress, groom, and accessorize in a way that helps you mentally step into that personality.

Are you marching in there to get things done? Put on something red, roll up your sleeves and speak in a commanding voice. Are you making social connections at a gala event? Go for suave, but not workplace formal. Dress to feel attractive. Speak in a smooth tone, and let one shoulder relax.

If you’re loafing around on a long weekend with half a box of pizza, you can probably get away with breaking out the frumpy comfortables.

Taking intentional command of how you dress and present is a good step in empowering yourself, accomplishing your goals, and living a more lucid life at the helm of your decisions. So pay attention! Remember, all the world’s a stage.

 

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