I am going to talk about what we wear at work and is it important? But before I begin, I just wanted to let you know that I have absolutely zero qualifications in this kind of stuff. I am not in the fashion industry and I have no credentials whatsoever in the ‘style’ department. So, for those of you who love shopping and just naturally look great, this is not for you!
I thought I’d share some on the things I have experienced and conclusions I have come to given that I’ve worked in a corporate environment for about 20 years. I do think the trend in formal workwear is relaxing a bit, but there is still a whole range of do’s and don’ts that whether we like it or not we are judged upon them. I can’t tell you how many times I have wished to be a man and have a simple shirt-and-trousers approach to work, with the biggest decision being if it is ‘blue shirt Monday or pink’.
So here are my tips:
1. It does matter what you wear
I hate to say it, but yes it does matter what you wear. It always has, and it always will. This is why the fashion industry is still going strong and we don’t all wear that same things all the time. What we wear says something about ourselves and people take something from that first impression. The way I have managed this through my career is to really make the first impression the one that makes the most difference. I definitely put more effort into what I am going to wear when I am meeting someone for the first time. It could be an interview or meeting some new colleagues or giving a presentation. I want them to know that I mean business, that I am confident and in control, that I know what I am doing. This does not mean I go boring, there is lots of room in this for showing your personality and your brand, but I do have a quick think about what kind of person they might be expecting/wanting and tailor what I wear to suit. I also know when I can ease off on the effort, and this is because I basically find ‘dressing up’ a chore. When people know me a little better, they know what I can do and they know how I work, then I do tend to relax my clothing a bit. After all that first impression has been made. It’s powerful stuff, that first impression takes a lot of un-doing! So make it count by getting it right.
2. Buy no clothes that need dry cleaning
Just to put it out there, I hate shopping. I’m rubbish at it. My version of buying clothes is going into a shop and picking up literally the first 10 things I see that are vaguely in my size and trying them on. If any of them look ok, it is basically by chance. I can’t be bothered with shoes, handbags etc. I just don’t really care about it. I have no natural style. Don’t get me wrong, I want to look ok (note: I didn’t say ‘good’, that seems like a goal I couldn’t possibly maintain!), but the effort to get there seems disproportionate. This is also the reason why I only have 3 bra’s, about 10 years old, that don’t really fit me properly. Bra shopping being the worst of all shopping experiences.
So, at work I went through a whole range of approaches. I started being super corporate. I must fit in! I need people to know I mean business, I’ll wear a suit! So, wearing a suit basically means going to the dry-cleaners. No! I am not doing that… no no no! Hell on earth. So, my second rule is buy no clothes that need dry cleaning. There are lots of clothes out there that don’t need dry cleaning and just think you’ll be benefiting the environment and your pocket too because dry cleaning is basically awful for our planet and costs a fair whack.
3. Wear shoes with heels that you can bear
Then there are shoes, I do think shoes are a problem. I do admire women who can totter about on the high heels without looking like they need stabilisers or without a crippling look of pain on their faces (They say, ‘oh yes, I can’t wear flats now, I have to wear heels’. Grrr). I look like I am going to fall off them at any moment. I can’t do it. I also know they were invented by men who prefer the look of lady’s legs in them (note: I looked this up. It is basically not true, high heels were originally worn by men of high status in the 17th Century, it then morphed from this to a women-mostly thing in the 1800 and 1900’s, and now my comment above still stands). So erm, yes, I’ve got a problem with that too. I am also NOT going to be one of those ladies that wears flat shoes to work, then puts the heels on when they get there. Again, see above, I can’t be bothered. So my advice is to wear shoes with heels that you can bear. You’ll see me in a small heel or flat shoes.
4. Let’s be accepting of the colour that we are
My nemesis is tights. I am pale. I mean really pale. If I’m honest it’s not really white either, more a pale kind of blue. I don’t tan and in the theme that you are recognising, I think fake tanning is effort that I do not have (I have 2 kids and a job). So, I wear tights with dresses and skirts etc. I once went to work without tights. It was a hot day, and I was wearing a skirt and I thought ‘sod it, this is the colour that I am, I am going to go to work with my white legs out’. My very first encounter of the day was with our HR Director (who should have known better really), who said, ‘Jesus Angie, how white are your legs?!!’ Loud enough for the whole office to hear. Yeah, and I’m there thinking ‘a) yes, they are ashamedly white and b) but this is the colour that I am!’. I don’t really know what my advice is here, I’d love for us ladies to be ok with the colour that we are, whatever the colour, and to be able to show our skin without fear that it is the wrong shade. I appreciate in our multicultural world that my experiences are nothing in comparison to many. I heard just recently about the issues of matching tights to skin colours of darker skinned ladies and the fact that we can’t buy anything other than a ‘pale pink’ plaster if we have cut ourselves. Let’s help wherever we can, make colour a non-issue, especially when it comes to work wear.
5. Smart-casual is your friend
So how relaxed can we really be at work? We are constantly told that we should ‘wear what makes us feel comfortable’, and I do agree with that to a point. I feel most comfortable in jeans and a t-shirt and some trainers, but I just can’t do that where I work. If I go casual to work I get ‘got day off today Angie?’ Or if I go in formal I get ‘got a job interview?’ And it’s odd, because there is a relaxing of the formal corporate dress code in general, but I find this even more difficult because if it’s not formal corporate wear and it’s not jeans and a t-shirt, then it has to be somewhere in the middle and that somewhere takes effort. Here be dragons! The worst dress code for me is this ‘business-casual’, I mean really, it makes me go into hot-sweats thinking about it. So, how do I deal with this? Well, I have honed my wardrobe such that I have a range of tops, skirts, trousers and dresses that are in the middle. They can be dressed up or down without too much effort. They are neither formal nor casual. Which means really, I don’t have work wear, I just have my clothes, which I can wear for work. They are mostly colourful too.
6. Feel good about yourself
Am sure, more stylish people, will be able to add lots more hints and tips, which will be way more useful for you, but here is my small contribution. I think it is important that whatever you wear, you represent yourself, you stand out for the right reasons and you feel good about yourself.
If you have any of your own tips to contribute, then please do share, obviously if they come with a funny story, the more the better.
So, if you see me at one of the next WUN events and I’m looking ok, you’ll know it is basically by accident.