First off, let’s be clear – your work attire will speak volumes about your ability to do your job.
As a general rule, the more distracting a piece of clothing or jewellery is, the less appropriate it is for office wear.
“By looking neat and smart at work, what you are doing is showing respect for the people you’re working with,” says personal image consultant, Tessa Hood from changinggear.net. “If you’re not what it says on the tin, you’re immediately on the back foot,” she warns.
Hood has made a career out of whipping workers up into shape.
“For most people it’s just tiny adjustments that can make a difference to their overall image, such as clean shoes, quality accessories and, for men, having a clean collar and ensuring their jacket sleeves don’t hang over their knuckles,” she says. “It should end at the top of the thumb joint.”
And don’t get her started on ‘ankle swimmers’. “Men always get their trouser lengths wrong. They should sit on the shoe and have one fold.”
Ladies, keep the mascara and lip gloss on hand. Research has shown that girls who wear gentle make-up have a 20 per cent greater chance of clinching a job. But that’s not all it takes.
“Fit, fit fit is a mantra of mine when it comes to women’s clothing,” says Hood. “Don’t have anything too tight or too baggy. Ladders in tights and badly fitting clothes can completely spoil the way you look. And leave your wild fashion choices for the weekend.”
Naturally, the seasons will dictate your fashion choices. In spring and summer, you can pull off navy and white ensembles, which are strong statement colours, but still make you appear professional and friendly. And steer away from all over black – wear it all the time and you look too serious. Try a black pair of trousers or a pencil skirt and pair it with a bright, summery top. In winter, blacks and deep purples are suitable, as the mood in an office tends to be on the conservative side.
Men, when picking shirts and ties, refer to your boss as a guide. The classic white pinpoint Oxford and striped tie will never go out of style. But if your boss’s boss and the company director are wearing bold coloured shirts and stylised ties, then you are probably safe to indulge.
However, Hood warns that shorts, no matter how tailored and how on-trend they may be, are banned.
Nicole Beaven, 32, is a contract management accountant. With her jobs regularly changing, she has the ‘what to wear’ dilemma sussed out.
“Most companies have a dress code, so I make a point of asking my recruitment agency what it is,” she says.
“Usually, I wear nice trousers or a smart skirt and a top, or a dress, but I always suss out what everyone else is wearing when I go to the interview.” As for casual Fridays, never assume. “I always ask what the score is before turning up on Friday wearing jeans, otherwise don’t wear jeans at all until you are sure, or you just set yourself up for embarrassment.”
Still unsure? Ask your company’s HR department. If they don’t know, who will?