Though how you look isn’t the most important part of your job performance, first impressions can make a difference in interviews, client meetings, and other professional settings. But in an age where anything goes, it’s tough to understand what a business casual style means. And perhaps more importantly, what’s appropriate. Many executives want to rise within their industry and be known for the unique perspectives they bring to the table.
Here, expert tips for exploring your business casual style:
Vary your look by the situation
As you raise up the ranks, your day-to-day responsibilities vary. One day, you’re at a client meeting. The next, you’re brainstorming with corporate goals for the next quarter. Then, perhaps you’re doing an interview, or leading an offsite. Cherney says our business casual style should shift, depending on the situation. As she puts it, if you’re overdressed at a jobsite, it can be a barrier between you and your team you’re working with. Or, if you’re too relaxed, it can make others question if you take your role seriously. “In scenarios where you may need to adjust, accessories are the best way to be versatile: black pants and a fitted collared top can be dressed down with a cardigan and flats, then easily dressed up by switching to a blazer and pumps,” she recommends for women. “Likewise, bright, statement jewelry or scarves are the perfect way to show your more creative and bold side, when appropriate.”
Keep dress codes top of mind
When you’re applying for a new gig, take a second to glance around the office and see what everyone is wearing. Generally speaking, dress codes are looser in most companies, but some still impose restrictions. Before you decided to accept a job offer, it’s worth considering how comfortable you will be following the rules. Depending on what’s required of you, there are ways to get creative and also still walk the line, according to Layne Cross, a stylist for Stitch Fix. “If your office is more conservative, consider upgrading your look with a blazer as your go-to layering piece to add the extra polish your workplace requires. If your office is open to edgier, more trend-forward styles, swap the blazer for a moto jacket or duster cardigan,” she recommends.
Remember getting dressed is just part of it
You roll out of bed, pull out a look you know goes, and jet-set out the door. What did you miss? Nearly everything, according to Cherney, who says what we wear is a fraction of our overall appearance. Even if we are in a polished outfit, messy hair on our head or face, unbrushed teeth, and bloodshot eyes will speak louder. It’s important to develop personal hygiene habits in addition to your style, so you’re always putting the best face forward — literally.
You don’t have to sacrifice your personal style
You love your job, your team and your progress. You see a long future at your current employer, and mostly, you’re happy to head into the office every morning. But the business casual lay of the land makes it tough to still have a personal style. Or does it? Cross says dressing for the workplace doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice who you are, or your colors, patterns, and signatures. The trick is to infuse these touches in a subtle way — whether through a statement-making pair of earrings, a funny tie or a cool pair of kicks. “It helps ensure a look is office-appropriate while also adding a pop of personality to an otherwise neutral canvas,” she adds.
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