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As more and more offices relax or remove dress codes, there’s an even greater opportunity to showcase your personal style at work! While a little more freedom in dress at the office is a welcome change for many employees, that doesn’t necessarily mean that jeans every day are the best thing for professional development. We do ourselves and our career plans a favor when we still keep our office attire inside the boundaries of what’s appropriate for our respective workplace cultures.
Why Is This Important?
Getting your office wardrobe right might seem like one of the last things you want to focus on in a new job. However, for better or worse, it is a big part of the immediate impression you make on your colleagues and clients and it can either work for you or against you! While it can be tempting to want to showcase the entirety of your personal style at the office, your career and professional development is best served when you are thoughtful and restrained about how you incorporate it on a day to day basis. The best outcome is when your style and outfit play a supporting role to your amazing work, professionalism, ideas and effort!
First Thing First… What’s Your Personal Style?
Personal style can be looked at as the ideas, visuals, clothes, and aesthetics that appeal just to you. When it comes to fashion, we all have those outfits that we put on and think “Wow, if I didn’t have a job, I’d dress like this every day!” For some of us that can be a super casual look with jeans and a comfy tee. For others, that means some dose of outlandish fashion - my personal loves include puffy fur vests and lots of leather. (Neither of which, sadly, are office wear staples!)
Obviously, in either extreme, these looks don’t always translate well to professional attire but knowing how you like to dress off the clock helps give you a great sense of where to start thinking about translating that to work. For example, are you a gal who loves floaty maxi dresses and strappy leather sandals on the weekend? Then you probably have an underlying affection for a “bohemian” type aesthetic in your clothes. Same with our leather-loving gals. That usually means you like an edgier style and knowing that helps set us up for how to incorporate small doses of that into your work wear!
Once you’ve got a handle on how your personal style tends to trend (and truly, it can be an evolving combo of looks) then it’s much easier to think along that style’s “spectrum” of dressing possibilities for ways to bring it into the office. Bringing to mind our boho gal, the spectrum of her style has an extreme end, and a super conservative end! Picture on the extreme end things like lots of layered jewelry, maybe a cool head piece, long flowing dresses. On the other end of that spectrum is are small details like few tiny accessories, maybe a leather saddle bag, or a floral print blouse. The spirit of that style is there in the details, it just shows up in a different way! As you think about what would be appropriate for your own office, where would it fall on your personal style “spectrum”? Would your clothes speak before you do if you were too far to the extreme side? On the contrary, if you work in a very creative field, would it not reflect your professional creativity if you showed up in a conservative floral print blouse?
And guys you certainly aren’t left out of the fashion game! If you’re an outdoor lover whose weekend wear includes something like a sporty vest, there’s an office option for you. Consider adding in a cargo cut jacket in a dressier fabric like a wool or twill blend, or swapping in a three piece suit on days you need extra polish!
The perfect expression of personal style in the workplace is a unique formula of your own comfort and confidence paired with your office culture and professional goals. Here’s a few ways to get it right!
Know Your Office Culture: If knowing yourself is the first commandment of office personal style, knowing your workplace culture is a close second! Personal style at the office is ALL about context. You show your sophistication as an employee and a job candidate when you can demonstrate that you understand how to be a part of that culture and part of that shows up in your clothes. If you are dabbling in any traditionally conservative industries (law, banking, etc.) it’s always better to lean a little more buttoned up and classic with more tailored pieces that are more formal. In creative industries like PR, the arts, or fashion you have a little more flexibility in demonstrating your style, and in fact, the industries call for it! In either situation however, you stand out by adopting your industry’s base “uniform” then adding your own personal touches that balance a respect for the office culture while showcasing you!
Make Basics Your Own: We all know that once you start building a professional wardrobe investing basics is an important part of getting a put together look. Take it a step further though, and hold out for special pieces that truly reflect your personality and make you feel confident. For example, maybe you’ve got a hundred pins on your workwear pinterest board that tell you your work wardrobe needs to include a standard black blazer but you never feel inspired to actually make it your Monday morning pick. That’s ok! It just means your basic blazer isn’t the classic banker look. One great trick here is to just deviate “one degree” from the classic. That might mean that you still keep the blazer a classic black wool blend, but in a super unique shape. Or, alternatively keep the shape classic and do it in a punchy color.
Use Accessories Wisely: Accessories are game changers! You only need to catch a city commuter all decked out head to toe in a classic suit running to catch the bus in sneakers to know that they are the punctuation marks on all outfits! Be sure to put the same amount of effort into your accessories as you do your clothes to create a cohesive look. Also remember that “accessories” aren’t just shoes and handbags. Every little thing you bring with you to a meeting is an “accessory” that can tell a story about your professionalism and capability. For example, you can be perfectly decked out in a well-put together outfit but arriving at a meeting with a pen you snatched from the hotel room which doesn’t entirely say “put together!” Adding in quality office pieces is another opportunity to both showcase your personal style and convey that you are prepared and professional.
Think Outside Your Outfit: In addition to your work accessories, styling up your desk space or office is another way to professionally reflect your passions and personal interests. Are you someone who loves travel and cherishes their annual trips abroad? Try a cute map that lets you scratch off your bucket list travels on the wall of your cubicle. Not only it is a professional and completely appropriate reflection of your style, it can act as an awesome conversation starter with new colleagues! Photos of your loved ones, fun office supplies, or other details of your personal life can also be appropriate style expressions at the office, just keep a bit of restraint. As so many office spaces are increasingly becoming open areas, be sure that you’re not treating your desk like your living room! I’ve had colleagues bring in rugs, lamps, their coffee makers - yikes! Remember that it’s still a workplace that you have to share with others.
Remember Your Style Is Always on the Clock: Maybe you’ve settled into your new 9-5 and have navigated the office style expertly when team happy hour arrives. Drinks with your coworkers or dinner at the boss’s house are fair game for a little more personal style in your work wear, but remember that your look is always on the clock! You never know when you’re being evaluated for new opportunities or job prospects so when mingling with co-workers it’s always best to still put some professional polish on your looks!
With endless options for workwear inspiration and a little dress code flexibility, it’s easier than ever to find a way to bring your style to the office! Remembering that the goal of your workday look is to support your career ambitions will set you up for success on the job!
Elle Harikleia is an economist with over 15 years of international banking and financial experience. She side hustles as a lifestyle and career blogger, passionate about helping women find their way in our crazy working world. Elle is a neutrals-obsessed New Yorker and can usually be found eating her way through the big apple with her husband and frenchie.