Dressing the Part: The Art of Professional Dress


When you’re thinking of skills for a job, you may think of anything from leadership abilities to expertise in a particular subject to writing a good cover letter. However, an often overlooked and equally important job skill is the ability to execute professional dress. While, businesses are becoming increasingly lax on their dress codes it is imperative that you take pride in your appearance and dress for the job you want not the job you have. Don’t let this stress you out, you don’t have to be the most fashion forward in the office to appear confident and well kempt.

When picking out a work wardrobe keep in mind that how you present yourself in the workplace says a lot about you to your superiors and fellow coworkers. Even as a freelance writer, I never show up to any meeting, conference, or event appearing underdressed. Not looking the part signals a level of unprofessionalism and disrespect that is easy to avoid with proper professional dress. While it may seem unfair, your outward appearance is often the main tool those around you use to reach conclusions about who you are. So dress accordingly!

On my fashion blog I’ve been asked many times for tips on how to dress professionally. Personally, my style is on the dressier side (I hadn’t even owned a pair of casual sneakers until a year ago!) so looking polished and professional comes naturally to me. But no matter your style, dressing in a stylish and work-appropriate manner is a feat we can all accomplish. You could have all the skills for a job and meet every requirement, do not allow your outfit to be the one thing counting against you. You can never be overdressed – even Oscar Wilde agrees!

“You can never be overdressed or overeducated.”
— Oscar Wilde


When In Doubt, Be Conservative

When starting a new job it is a good idea to dress conservatively for at least the first week or so until you can properly gauge what kind of dress is acceptable. This means not wearing open toed shoes, sleeveless or low cut tops and depending on the profession and strictness of the office it may even be a good idea to wear panty hose under skirts until you’ve determined it’s ok to do otherwise. This does not mean you have to dress like a nun. There are plenty of modest, funky, fun work clothes available at department and chain stores alike. The same rule goes for job interviews.  When you dress for success you position yourself ahead of the pack. A good rule of thumb for determining proper professional dress is if you’re unsure whether something would be acceptable don’t risk it. Is the fashion statement really worth your professional reputation?


Invest in Classic Staple Pieces

When it comes to professional dress items that you know you will wear often, invest in quality over quantity. For example a structured little black dress like this sleeveless one, this conservative one, or this simple sheath one, will last a lifetime. A well-tailored suit like this classic black one, this great check plaid one, or this fun pink one, should not be undervalued (you can also wear the pants and blazer separately and get even more use out of each). Buy one really nice staple professional dress item that you’ll wear for years rather than several trendy items that will fall apart or be out of style next month.

skills for a job


Wear Comfortable Shoes

One of the biggest mistakes I ever made was wearing a brand new pair of patent leather heels on my first day as a PR intern at Ferragamo. Anyone who has ever tried to break in a pair of patent leather heels knows how painful it is to wear them much less be on your feet all day. On my first day I must have walked all of midtown, running errand after errand with barely a moment to sit down. By the end of the day the edges of those shiny new heels were covered in blood, my feet were aching and covered in blisters.

The moral? Even if you sit at a desk all day, you should be able to comfortably walk when needed. A go-to pair of simple stilettos, like these, these, or these, or a more trusty pair of flats like these, these, or these, are purchases you’ll be thankful you made.


Don’t Overdo Your Makeup

Keeping your office beauty routine simple is a safe strategy for maintaining a professional look. You may have totally mastered the perfect smokey eye and own every shade of the Kylie lip kit but unless you work at a beauty brand or as a makeup artist, leave it all at home. Your skills for a job generally don’t include looking like a Kardashian. Opt instead for subtle hues like a light pink lip gloss and soft brown eyeshadow. You want to look presentable, not like you’re heading to the club.

This goes for your hair as well. A sleek ponytail or a spritz of dry shampoo is better than a bed head.


Fake It Until You Make It

“Fake it until you make it.” A cliché but also a very valuable piece of advice. To reiterate dress for the job you want not for the job you have. Looking the part is an important skill for any job, so get comfortable with the professional side of your sartorial self and get ready for that promotion!