2017 Update: We still stand by this advice on how to step up your working wardrobe (and links have been updated below!), but you may also want to check out our more recent discussion from our Next Step series on the different tiers of professional clothing brands.
How do you step up your working wardrobe when you want to be considered for a promotion or raise? Reader U wonders for her business casual office…
I work at a company where there are no strict guidelines to what we should wear. Most days, we are fine wearing casual to business casual. Even with my position as a forecasting specialist, i am not requested to wear something more formal. Jeans with a formal top or a dress are my go-to when we are requested to wear something more presentable. However, I am applying for a supervisory position and have start wearing more formal clothes, specially because I need to be at my best. What is the most appropriate clothing that I could look presentable enough but won’t look like I’m trying hard to impress people? Slacks don’t really fit me well – tiny gal with longer torso. Thanks!
We’ve talked about how to look professional in a laid-back office, how to transition your wardrobe from a very conservative workplace to a more casual office, as well as how to look professional without being overdressed, but we haven’t talked, directly, about how to step up your wardrobe when you want to be seen as more managerial. I’m particularly interested to hear what the readers say here. For my own $.02, this is how I would approach it:
– Buy a black or gray suit. Yep, I went there. I say this not because you need to wear a suit, but because the pieces that I’m going to recommend you start to add to your wardrobe are all pieces of a suit — nicer pencil skirts, nicer sheath dresses, nicer blazers — and your first few purchases may as well just be suiting separates that all match each other (particularly because it’s a waste of time to try to make a suit out of different fabrics). There are a number of inexpensive suiting options out there for women; in this case I would recommend buying matching suit separates such as a sheath dress, pencil skirt, and a matching blazer. Check out the EDV line at Macy’s — I’m a fan of the AK Anne Klein suiting separates, but there are also suiting separates from Calvin Klein and others. If you are really uncomfortable with the concept of a suit, let’s compromise and say you buy a ponte knit suit (like the one pictured in pink above). Now that you have a suit, you’re all ready for the interview you’ll be getting soon — but more importantly you have some building blocks to work with, like a blazer, a pencil skirt, and a sheath dress. Even wearing the pieces as separates will step up your game.
– Ditch the jeans. I like jeans as much as the next person, and maybe there are occasions where your jeans are the only appropriate thing to wear. But if you can’t wear a dress or skirt (or trousers) instead, at least wear your black or gray blazer with jeans. (Again, a ponte knit blazer or a sweater blazer is a great way to make a transition.)
– If you feel weird ditching jeans entirely, wear structured denim pieces instead. If you feel too “dressy” not wearing jeans, try adding a chambray or denim fitted top with trousers. Alternately, I’ve had fitted denim jackets that I’ve worn to death on top of sheath dresses, such as these budget blazers.
– Sleekify your look. That may sound odd, but I think overall, “sleek” is a good goal in a lot of places, such as shoes, hair, makeup, and accessories. Opt for the skinnier heels in your wardrobe, the simpler earrings, the controlled hairstyle. I’m not saying you have to wear 4.5″ Louboutin heels and get a weekly blowout, but I am saying that if you normally wear comfortable/frumpy/funky shoes and have slightly out-of-control hair, go for a skinny kitten heel or a sleek flat and try to pull your hair back into a neat ponytail, bun, or other easy office updo.
– Wear a watch. There are a million little things you can do to seem more professional, but I think adding a watch (even an inexpensive one) is a great outward way of showing you’re responsible. As a bonus, it avoids that awkward moment where you need to fumble in your purse for your cell phone if someone asks the time.
Readers, how do you step up your working wardrobe when you’re hoping for a promotion or raise — particularly in a business casual office?