The New Rules of Office Dress Codes

The New Rules of Office Dressing

We've all heard the old adage, "dress for the job you want," but how do we do that in 2010s? Striking a balance between looking good and feeling good while remaining professional and fashionable is not easy.

"Getting dressed for work is tricky," says Levo CEO Caroline Ghosn to Glamour Magazine. "Because of diminishing boundaries and an individuality-embracing culture taking over, the idea of what success looks like is becoming less clear-cut."

Why is it that no one ever talks about how hard it is to dress for work? asks Career Contessa:
Every office has its own rules—or, worse, some private code that no one actually talks about but somehow seems to exist. We toss buzzwords like "business casual" and "start-up vibes" around without a second thought, then find ourselves wondering how that woman on the third floor gets away with sandals.

So whether your first day is tomorrow, you've got a new promotion, or you're showing up for the 1,272nd day, here are some of our go-to tips to help you when it comes to dressing for work.

5 New Dress Code "Rules"

New Dress Code Rules

1. Think About Company Culture

Company culture is key when it comes to what to wear. Dressing now includes creating and cultivating your personal brand, but "don't be duped by the Instagram-approved message of 'doing you' 24/7," says Glamour Magazine, especially if "you" is a mesh crop top wearing gothic.

According to the last report by the National Women’s Business Council, The Wall Street Journal says women launch over 1,100 new businesses in the U.S. every day and generate over $1.4 trillion in revenue annually. "As entrepreneurs, they are redefining the whole raison d’être of getting dressed for work. It’s less about playing by the rules and more about promoting your unique brand," they say.

A great general rule? Anything requiring special undergarments is a no-no at the office. A good tip Glamour offers is to take a look at the company culture and imagine how a character in a movie would dress. (Anne Hathaway in Devil Wears Prada, anyone?) "Finding a blend between your identity and that cultural image is the sweet spot," says Ghosn.

2. Nail the Interview Attire

Getting the dress code right at the interview is key. Toni Thompson of Conde Nast cites a study saying people make judgments of you within 14 seconds of meeting you. Your look shows how prepared and confident you are. "People who take the time to pull themselves together from head to toe do better on the job," she says.

Don't forget to do your homework. Ask your Recruiter for advice on the company dress code and atmosphere, and check out sites like Glassdoor and Instagram for photos of current employees to get an idea of the company culture.

Karen.pngExecutive Account Manager Karen Smith likes to quote Tom Ford: "Dressing well is a form of good manners." Make sure you make the right first impression by dressing well, especially for interviews.

That means if you're heading to a corporate environment, blue or black suits are a sure bet. Headed to a more casual office space? Sweaters and slacks work well in a more relaxed environment.

Regardless of your profession or the dress code, don't be too casual...even after you've landed the job. Even on dress down days, don't forget you're in a professional enviorment. Don't make casual Friday the downfall of the dress code.

Here are some things you should steer clear of:

  • Cutoffs
  • Flip-flops
  • Hats
  • Sneakers
  • Fishnets
  • Cleavage
  • Ripped jeans
  • Offensive T-shirts

This goes triple for interviews! Keep that hoodie at home.

3. Never Dress like a "Freelancer"

How often you're in the office is another key point to consider. If you work offsite or rarely sit in meetings and one pops up, step it up a notch.

Being an off-site employee can be scary for some, especially atnew kirsten traditional companies, says freelancer Kirsten Agnello-Dean"As a freelancer, you're an anomaly, so put higher-ups at ease by dressing a bit more traditionally or formally than the rest of the office usually does." It will make you appear capable, stable, and professional.

How do you do this? If office employees usually wear jeans and sweaters, pop on a pair of slacks and heels to exude confidence. For men, add a sport jacket to the usual dress shirt and slacks. Stay within the dress code, of course, but don't be afraid to up the level of professionalism on your in-office visits.

It's also important (freelancer or not) to protect your personal brand with the way you dress. You visually represent your business. What you wear says as much about you as your LinkedIn profile, if not more. “What you have on is your business card,” Houston-based LaQuishe Wright, Managing Partner of Q Social Media Ltd., told The Wall Street Journal:

"I understand how to get across [the promotional work] I do in what I wear," said Ms. Wright, who dresses in minimalist dresses and separates with signature jewelry, a look that’s adequately businesslike but emphatically personal too. Sending that message is integral to networking and growing her business, she said.

4. Do Dress like the Boss

The easiest way to dress for success? See what your boss is wearing and then make it work for you. There's a concept in cognitive behavioral therapy called "Act As If." Basically, it means act as if you are what you want to become, says Jennifer Baumgartner, Psy.D. and author of You Are What You Wear. "If you want a promotion, dress as if you already have it," she says.

How to Dress For Work

But don't worry if you're not a fan of the three-button look. The suit is no longer a catch-all, The Wall Street Journal reassures. Ask yourself what you are trying to say in life, business, and fashion, suggests filmmaker Rebekah Paltrow Neumann, WeWork’s Founding Partner/Chief Brand Officer.

Just as with a company brand, you want your message to be consistent; otherwise, it’s very hard for people to latch onto it. "Your shirt or shoe is an opportunity to say as much about your company as your prospectus," Paltrow Neumann says.

Speaking of, don't forget to...

5. Accessorize Correctly

Especially if you're headed to an interview, carefully consider your whole look. Does your bag match your coat? Will your bracelets get caught up in your mouse? Details like a sharp resume case or iPad cover count too. Handbags are another way to prove you've got it together, says Saks Fifth Avenue Fashion Director Roopal Patel. What style bag you carry says a lot about you. 

Don't forget to layer up as well! It's good practice to always have a jacket with you. You never know who you might end up meeting. If the CEO of your company comes to lunch unexpectedly, you'll want a nice blazer to throw on. Don't forget about fluctuating office temperatures too — stash a warmer jacket or cardigan in your office just in case.

Need More Tips?

Check out Business Insider's visual guide to dressing for work here. Don't forget to ask Recruiters, Hiring Managers, or co-workers if you're not sure what to wear. The key is finding a fit between fashionable and functional, personal and professional.

Have you found some great interview outfits or go-to-work wear? Share them with us on Pinterest!

Looking for a New Dress Code?

Need a New Job?

We can help with that too! Take a peek at our open jobs or submit your resume to a Recruiter today, and get started on finding a company culture that fits your needs.

  Apply For Work

Other Posts You Might Like