May 21, 2018

9 Style Tips for Women in Business

The Dos and Don'ts of Dressing Like a Leader

Introduction

Happy Monday, ladies. Let’s kickstart the week with another installment of business advice. First, let’s make sure you’re all caught up on the other two recent business articles: (1) 6 Biggest Mistakes Women Make in Business, and (2) 7 Ways to Develop Confidence in Business.

Today, we are diving into an issue that is critical for women in business. The “what to wear to work” dilemma is one many of us business women face. How we handle this will impact how others view us.

As I mentioned here, one of the top five pieces of advice I give to young girls whom I mentor is this:

Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.

Let that sink in. You’ve heard the phrase “put your best foot forward”. Well, let’s talk about how we can put our best physical self forward in a business setting.

The onus is on us to present ourselves as professional, respectable, and powerful. Whether we like it or not, appearances do matter. They are the first impression people get of us, so let’s craft our appearance to give off the right impression.

Clearly, qualities like work ethic, competency, and professionalism matter immensely. But also people do, in fact, take cues about who we are and our aspirations in the work place from how we present ourselves. Think of how you dress as an aspect of personal branding.

Note that I come at this subject from the perspective of a very traditional corporate office environment. If you work in a more creative, artistic, or relaxed environment, you might have a bit more leeway with your work uniform. But some basic principles still apply.

So, let’s address how to dress for success…

9 Style Tips for Women in Business

1. Do be authentic to yourself.

I am not a believer that you must dress to conform in an office space. I am a believer that you should dress in a relatively modest, office-appropriate manner. But within those guidelines, you do you!

If you prefer color, then wear color. If you prefer heels, then wear heels. If you like to wear a bold lipstick, then just keep the rest of your makeup fairly natural. Just balance statement pieces with more conservative, neutral pieces. Everything in moderation.

As Polonius so famously declared, “This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

Being true to yourself is an admirable leadership quality. So practice it in all ways, including how you dress.

2. Do invest in quality, staple pieces.

As a business woman, you likely are smart with how you spend your money. There are certainly ways to penny pinch, but your business wardrobe is not one of them. Though the cost may seem like a lot up front, in reality you’ll get a lot of bang for your buck. If the item is high-quality, you’ll be able to wear it many times over many years, making the cost per wear low.

Think quality over quantity. When shopping, pay attention to the materials and craftsmanship of the garments you purchase. Then once you buy quality items, take proper care of them. Have them tailored, have them professionally cleaned regularly as needed, hang them on velvet hangers (just say no to wire hangers!), take your shoes to a cobbler when they need to be polished or resoled. Basic care will go a long way in extending the life of your clothes and shoes!

Action item: If you don’t already have a trusted tailor, find one! Fit is everything! You want your clothes to fit not too tight, not too loose, not too long, not too short, but just right. And a good tailor will help you achieve that.

3. Don’t wear open-toed shoes.

Speaking of shoes… I don’t know what it is, but something about open-toed shoes is very off-putting in the office place. Save that for the beach, for the weekend, for the night out, or really anywhere else but the office.

I’m less concerned with if you wear heels or flats, pointy-toe shoes or rounded-toe shoes, but I do think you should stick to closed-toe shoes.

Now, if you do insist on wearing open-toed shoes, make sure your feet are well-groomed.

4. Don’t show too much skin.

I suggest being cognizant of this in two particular ways.

(1) Pay attention to your skirt or dress length.

The right length is critical! Dresses and skirts should at least graze the top of your knee. Keep in mind that when you sit in a chair, your dress or skirt will automatically rise up some, making it seem shorter. Be aware of any slits your clothing might have as well. Never choose pieces with super high slits.

(2) Don’t show cleavage. It’s just not appropriate. Along those lines, make sure tops are not at all see-through. And make certain that undergarments are not visible.

Some might add a third rule about not showing too much skin, and that’s the arms. Some stringent office guidelines often prohibit sleeveless tops or require a sweater or jacket over such. I’m not as much a stickler on this one, but then again it’s often a practically good idea to wear a sweater or jacket, as offices tend to be cold.

Always be sure to consult your employee handbook for specific dress code rules for your office.

5. Don’t overdo your makeup.

Like most of these tips (and most things in life!), moderation is key. If you like a bold lip, feel free to go for it. But keep everything else very natural. Avoid overly dramatizing yourself with things like false eyelashes, smoky eyeshadow, or an abundance of bronzer. Use your makeup to enhance your natural look.

On the subject of make-up, always keep a mirror at your desk to double check yourself before you go into meetings. Make sure you don’t have lipstick on your teeth, any make-up smudges, or food in your teeth. Likewise, try to keep a toothbrush and toothpaste handy just in case.

6. Don’t over accessorize.

Less is more. And again, moderation is key. Accessories can make or break an outfit. They tend to be a focal point, so make it a good one. Choose a high quality handbag or briefcase. Instead of piling on the jewelry, choose something classic like a nice set of pearl earrings or a simple necklace.

When in doubt, follow the KISS principle –keep it simple, smarty!

7. Do think about color.

Certainly around here, we believe in the power of color, as you know! So, while we are all for wearing color in the office, consider the psychology of color when choosing what color to wear. For instance, red is a powerful color, but can also be seen as aggressive. So, consider what’s on your agenda as you dress for the day.

Again, always remember that your style is simply another way to convey your overall message at work. Be intentional with how and what you convey.

8. Don’t be too trendy.

Unless you work in fashion, the office place is likely not the place to experiment with the latest runway trends.

You want to exude an air of classiness, elegance, and power. If you are overly trendy, your look can steal the show. You want your appearance to amplify your message of professionalism, not drown it out.

There is nothing wrong with incorporating a trend in a small way. Just don’t let it steal your spotlight!

9. Do familiarize yourself with the environment.

Different offices demand different levels of attire. Does your office require full professional attire? Or is business casual appropriate?

Be cognizant of what your office environment permits. But I urge you to still dress at the top end of that range. For instance, your office may permit jeans on Friday. But should you wear jeans? Perhaps no. Watch the executives in your office. What do they do? Again, dress for the job you want, not the job you have.

Bottom line: Dress like you care! Your appearance is a reflection of your professionalism. So, let’s be intentional in the choices we make.

In Closing

Well, do you agree or disagree with me on this subject? I certainly have rather strong opinions on this, but it comes from years of seeing women unfortunately undermine themselves professionally by presenting themselves in a less than professional manner, stylishly speaking. So, as I mentioned, think of your outward aesthetic as an extension of your personal brand. Make the mark you want to leave when you come into contact with someone.

Do you have any other tips or guidelines to share? We’d love to hear. Until next time, have a colorful day!

More color, please!

Carrie

29 comments

  1. Sheri Hamilton says:

    Hi Carrie,
    This post really resonated with me as I’ve been in the corporate world for 20 years. I agree with everything you wrote.

    It would be great if you posted a few outfits of work wear.

    Sheri

    1. Hi Sheri – I’m so glad you liked it! Thanks so much for reading and chiming in.

      You bet. I am going to try to share more work appropriate outfits. You caught the one posted this week, right?

      Thanks again!

  2. Erin says:

    Agree 100%! Especially about open toed shoes and cleavage! Great article!

    1. Thanks for chiming in, Erin. Not sure quite how to say it, but seeing toes at the office is just way too informal – and kind of gross, to be honest.

  3. Yes, I caught your office look 🙂
    Totally agree about the toes in the office (although I have been guilty of this in the past) but I am trying very hard to not fall into that this summer.

  4. Lee says:

    Such great tips!
    Lee | LegalLee Blonde

    1. Thanks for saying that, Lee! We appreciate you stopping by.

  5. Marsha says:

    Thank you for this post!
    Help, I need a good cobbler in Houston. I’ve not been thrilled with the care to my heels from the HSH in Allen Center. Any recommendations?

    1. Hi Marsha – thank you for saying that! I appreciate you stopping by and reading.

      You know, I had the same experience with HSH in Allen Center when I worked downtown. I’ve had much better luck with the shoe hospital on Kirby.

      Hope that helps.

  6. I like how you said that business women should invest in quality, staple pieces for their outfits. I think that it’s so important, especially in the workplace, to make a good impression on your clients and your managers. My friend just started a business, and is trying to figure out in which types of outfits she ought to invest. I’ll have to recommend that she find a women’s clothing retailer in her area that can offer quality, staple pieces for her to look and feel confident in the workplace.

    1. Absolutely! That’s a great idea. Finding a good tailor is key too.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  7. Sarah says:

    I would really thank you for the tips you have shared across the fellow readers who love fashion I will surely share this with my friend’s people are nowadays so fashion conscious they really wanted to look different from others thanks for the informative article. Thank you so much for sharing. I Really like your fashion sense. Keep Updating and Keep Sharing.

  8. Kate says:

    Your article was very well written.Recently, I am going to the interview, but I don’t know what kind of suit I should wear.And I want to buy this one.Can you give me some advice?What should I wear with this?http://violet.ebcoo.net/product/business-women-pencil-pant-suits-2-piece-sets-black-solid-blazer-pencil-pant-office-lady-notched-jacket-female-outfit-zevrez/

    1. You bet! I’m happy to help. Send me an email — hello-at-carriecolbert.com — and I’ll send you some recommendations!

  9. joy butler says:

    I really like you said to dress for the job you want, not the job you have. I would love to get a promotion and I think that improving my appearance could help me set me apart. I will have to go buy some new blouses and bottoms to up my look. Thanks for the tip.

    1. Hi Joy! Best wishes on the promotion. Please let me know if I can help you in upping your wardrobe game. I’m happy to help!

  10. agnes says:

    This is helpful thank u.

  11. My sister was just promoted and she wants to wear nice clothes to work. It was suggested here that she should invest in quality, staple pieces and think of quality over quantity. Furthermore, it’s recommended to go to trusted women’s boutique for quality clothes.

  12. Sam Li says:

    I like your tip about balancing statement pieces when looking to create a professional outfit. I think that buying the right clothing is a great form of self-expression for both men and women. My wife wants to reinvent her wardrobe, so I’ll be sure to help her find a clothes store in our area that has a wide selection of items.

    1. That’s awesome, Sam! Let me know if I can help at all.

  13. Lisa Meyers says:

    Thank you for sharing such a good article about women and tips on women’s style in work clothes. Combining colors is important to know which one suits you better and you would know which color also to match perfectly.

    1. Yes indeed! Good point.

  14. Larry Weaver says:

    My wife just got a job in a high executive position, and she is currently looking for a new wardrobe for the occasion. Thanks for the mention that open-toed shoes can be a little off-putting. As my wife looks for new clothes, I will let her know about what types of shoes she should look into.

  15. Mark Murphy says:

    I really appreciate your tip to find a tailor since the fit is really important. My wife has been thinking of getting some new clothes since she has an important job interview coming up and she wants to make a good impression. I will be sure to tell my wife that we should find her a tailor first!

  16. I liked that you pointed out that you should try to think about color. Also, I liked what you said about color psychology. It does seem like the color of the clothing will affect how you look.

    1. Indeed it does! Thanks for commenting.

  17. easton says:

    I like the tip that you gave to choose high quality clothing when you go shopping. My wife and I have been talking about finding new clothes for our business trip that we might go on, and it would be important for us to know that we are making the right choice in clothing. If we choose to go on the trip, I will be sure to look for quality clothing.

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