As Summer is coming, questions about the dress code are coming up with increased frequency. The question what to wear for work is an ongoing one on all internet sites these days. Some people think dressing formally for work is a great idea, while others go as far as suggesting wearing the same clothes for a whole week. Here is an attempted reply. No matter, whether you wear a suit and tie, a dress or a lady’s suit, or jeans and sneakers, there are a few guiding priniciples to follow.
In general, wherever you work, it is important to wear good quality and change your clothes, belts and shoes daily to give them a rest and avoid using them too much too fast. Sitting occupations tend to be not so good for your clothes, so either wash them gently or air them and give them a rest before you wear them again. There is nothing like a freshly pressed shirt or blouse worn on a freshly showered body. Belt, handbag, shoes, jewelry and accessories are signs of power and enhance your style. Your style, along with your communication and your work is essential for your branding and reflects the culture and style of your company. The older and more senior you are, the bigger your jewelry can be. Remember: Less is more.
The question what to wear for work is an ongoing one on all internet sites these days. Some people think dressing formally for work is a great idea, while others go as far as suggesting wearing the same clothes for a whole week.
The answer is really very easy: If you work in a job wearing a uniform, like nurses, doctors, construction workers, firemen, police, paramedics, you can wear your personal clothes to and from work, and you can wear whatever you like.
If you work in a formal context like finance, law, government, political coaching, insurance, import-export, real estate, the church, then you should wear formal business attire and change your clothes and shoes every day. Some people even change their sleepwear every night, because it is so nice to slip into a fresh pajama after your evening shower.
If you are new in the business, have a look at your banking district or working environment around lunchtime, when all the bankers and business people go for lunch. You will see a lot of men in dark suits, pale or white shirts, ties and pocket squares, polished dark shoes and matching belts.
Women will wear dark suits either with matching trousers, with a matching skirt or dress, dark shoes at different heel heights, with color-coordinated stockings, matching belt and matching handbags. No matter what fashion says about too much matchy-matchy, this is their office uniform, for everyone from the most junior to the most senior member of staff and management. You need to develop a feeling for the style of your company. Some banks and insurances are very upscale, while others tend do cultivate a more relaxed style.
What sounds boring to begin with in fact leaves you plenty of room for creativity. Dark can mean anything solid from dark navy, dark browns, grey, charcoal, olive, even a very dark burgundy or a very dark purple are possible. You can experiment with stripes and other not bold patterns. You can team your suit with any coordinated shirt in white or pale pastels, tie and pocket square color, matching dark socks and tie, shoes, belt and business laptop bag.
Women have much wider possibilities because they can play with cut, make and texture of fabric. Shirts and tops can have bold cuts, if not showing too much flesh. Just look at all the LBDs available, pale or dark stockings either sheer or solid, different heel heights. In the banking district of Zurich I once spotted a young lady wearing the cutest (and expensive!) LBD made of a triple layer of silk chiffon over solid black stockings and patent leather black high heels, very little make-up, red lipstick, long hair up. If you know how to sew or have a mother or auntie who can sew, she can make you several copies of the same make in different fabrics. Watch the length of your skirt or dress. If it is too short, sitting and bending may not feel and look comfortable.
In general stick to good quality fabrics, pure wool, pure silk, pure cotton or mixes thereof. Avoid synthetics like nylon and polyester like the plague, as they do not adapt to the temperatures and don’t look good once washed.
For cold weather you will need a good raincoat or Mackintosh, a winter coat and cashmere or silk scarf, gloves, matching the rest of your wardrobe, possibly a hat to protect your head and ears from the cold.
In winter and in rainy weather you will travel in winter or rain boots, keeping some elegant shoes at the office. Invest in good leather shoes, clean and groom them regularly. A good solid leather handbag or business bag of good quality completes the picture. Avoid baggy shapes which tend to lose their shape and look not put together. If you have to bring your gym gear, find a nice bag. There are very nice nylon bags in different sizes and colors which look good enough to carry sports gear or other things too big for your handbag.
While summers can be daunting in the city with high temperatures, men can find shoes made from woven leather strips which look formal and are very comfortable. If you wear pure cotton or silk socks, your feet will stay cool.
Women will wear stockings throughout summer, which is no problem since most banks have airconditioned offices. If your legs get very warm and tend to swell, there are eonderful cooling gels and sprays available which can be applied directly over your stockings and give you a wonderful toned and cool feeling.
Only wear real jewelry and a good watch, not more than five pieces including your watch: Watch, earrings, one or two rings or one bracelet, one collier. Unless you wear a dress, a belt is a must. If you have no jewelry, start building up a small but good collection.
Belt, handbag, shoes, jewelry and accessories are the symbols of power and enhance your style. Your style, along with your communication and your work is essential for your branding and reflects the culture and style of your company or organization.The older and more senior you are, the bigger your jewelry can be. But always remember: Less is more.
If you are a trainee or apprentice with not much money to spend on your wardrobe, start with a few skirts or trousers and nice white shirts or blouses, dark shoes, a small leather handbag or business bag which is less expensive than the big ones. As soon as you get your first salary, start saving for investment pieces like more good shoes, a coat, handbag, suits, nice jackets. Good shoes last much longer than cheap ones and can be resoled and repaired. Change your shoes every day and they will last much longer. Buy two pairs of new shoes each season, then you will have a comfortable collection. You can find very nice shoes and clothes in the sales or even in the top range of H&M. You could learn how to sew and borrow someone’s sewing machine. Sewing can save you a fortune. If you stick to simple patterns (vogue patterns are excellent) with straight lines, like skirts or trousers, even beginners can achieve very nice results expanding their wardrobe regularly with self-sewn pieces. Open shoes are not admitted in a formal environment. Sandals and flipflops are reserved for the beach or the garden.
If you work in an academic or more generally speaking in an educative environment, your attire can be slightly more relaxed. Your suits can be unstructured, in a wider range of colors, men typically wear tweed jackets with solid colored trousers, even jeans or chinos. Women can wear any kind of jacket coordinated with trousers, a skirt or a dress. You can wear a wider range of colors and bolder color combinations playing with contrast of color and texture, like a tweed jacket with a silk blouse in contrasting colors. If you and your boss host an important visitor from government or academia, a tie, maybe with a pocket square, for men is expected.
Working in a creative environment like graphic designer, public relations, advertising, IT, or social professions, you have a much wider freedom as far as dress is concerned. Whatever expresses your creativity and enhances your personality is possible, interesting cuts, bold colors, you name it! Your clothes should only be comfortable and sensible enough to see you through your working day. A complicated cut which has to be rearranged all the time can distract from your work.
In some places nice jeans, t-shirts and sneakers are accepted while in other creative environments smart casual is expected: nice jacket, open shirt, no tie, jeans or chinos for men, jacket, blouse or nice t-shirt, jeans, chinos or a skirt or a dress for women. For meetings with a customer, you should nevertheless dress carefully, even if you wear smart casual.
In general, you should be aware of the different positions and not dress better or more expensively than your senior colleagues or bosses. See what others wear and adapt. Wherever you work, it is important to wear good quality and change your clothes, belts and shoes daily to give them a rest and avoid using them too much too fast. Sitting occupations tend to be not so good for your clothes, so either wash them gently or air them and give them a rest before you wear them again. There is nothing like a clean, freshly pressed shirt or blouse worn on a freshly showered body. Never press a wool, silk or cotton suit, dress or jacket again after you wore it, because ironing will press any dirt and sweat into the fibres which will ruin them. If creases do not remove themselves once the clothing is hung over night either outside or in your bathroom (where you can steam it with the hot water from your shower), then either wash it or get it dry-cleaned and pressed. Depending on the fabric, you can find suits which can be tossed into the washing machine and washed at a gentle cycle at low temperatures and can be ironed yourself.
Keep your wardrobe and shoes in pristine condition. Buy some new pieces if necessary. A new pair of shoes, a new handbag and some new shirts can greatly update your look and boost your confidence. Regularly go to the hairdresser, get a fresh haircut and color, a professional manicure, men want to go to a good barbershop to avoid cutting and showing up with a bloodstained shirt to an important meeting. Unless you work in a creative field, avoid anything flashy, loud, remove piercings, cover tatoos, use professional, undramatic makeup, keep fingernails well-groomed and at a reasonable length, hair cut or long hair up, skirts just above the knee, reasonable high-heels, no stilettos, no flipflops, no shorts, no T-shirts. In a very conservative setting avoid bare arms and legs and open shoes/strappy sandals, wear court shoes, men watch your socks and shoes! Men’s socks should be knee-length to avoid showing unattractive bare legs.
Cosmetics: you need good grooming habits, find out which shower gels or soaps you like, try a light, fresh or flowery scent, maybe the eau instead of the perfume, to keep it light and elegant. Women wear light make-up which can be touched up easily at lunch: No war painting! If you like a bold lipstick, keep the rest of your make-up light, if you like heavy eye make-up, wear a light lipstick.
Fingernails, toe nails: short, clean, nail varnish must be in perfect condition or removed as soon as the first chip starts showing. (Keep some nail varnish removing pads and a file in your desk drawer).
Hair: Well cut and freshly washed, if long wear it up.
Famous last words: Forget about sandals, flipflops, shorts, swimming trunks, bikini tops and bathing suits unless you work for Baywatch!
Susanne H. Keller is a systemic coach who helps executives fulfill their potential, manage change, develop their personalities and their companies, discover new perspectives, and reach their goals.
Susanne has been a coach since 2012, specializing in systemic coaching, change management and organizational development. She has more than three decades experience in executive management, project management and managing science and technology.
one-to-one coaching, team coaching, career coaching, change management, organizational development