the New Graduate's Guide to Dressing Professionally

The transition from being a full-time student to being a full-time employee can be difficult. Even as a full-time student, you have downtime -- your weekends are always free, you have only 3-4 classes a day, and otherwise, your time is your own. There are no bills dogging you down and you know when December rolls around, you'll have a break. And then Summer comes along, and that's an even better break. But once you're working full-time, there are no extended breaks and sometimes, not even your weekends are free. 

A huge part of that difficult transition is learning to dress professionally. In college, it's easy to think you have a professional wardrobe, especially if you have a collection of dresses. But out in the "real world," some things just might not fly. I've put together a handy-dandy guide with examples culled from my outfit photos to show you what works, and what might not. 

One of the hardest things for me was adjusting the length of my dresses and skirts. Suddenly, my micro-mini dresses and bodycon skirts were not appropriate. My typical rule is if it's more than 2 inches above my knees, I should probably only wear it with tights. Of course, some work places might be a little more strict than mine on lengths, so watch what your female coworkers wear and react accordingly. My look on the left is a little risky -- but the floral dress, either with or without tights, is perfect. 

Lace dresses. I think every fashion-loving college girl owns a lace dress (or two). They're cute on their own, but they toe the line between too-casual (or night wear!) and daywear. My look on the left I would never wear to work -- mainly because my pink lace dress is too short for work, where I need to be able to bend over and generally move around a lot. My purple lace dress is actually shorter, but I almost always wear it with tights and boots or flats. Adding a cardigan on top, or even a tailored jacket, mellows it even further, turning a fancy dress into an office-appropriate piece. 

As you guys know, for several months, I was obsessed with bodycon skirts. They were, legitimately, all I wore. However, once I got an office job, my bodycon addiction had to stop. I wear them occasionally -- usually my two black skirts over black tights -- but otherwise, my bodycon collection waits for weekends. Instead, I invested in a black pencil skirt -- which is basically a longer bodycon skirt! It's a good way to continue working a style I love without risking offending anyone with a scandalous length. I wear my black pencil skirt in the exact same ways I would wear a bodycon skirt. 

The secret to my office wardrobe is, really, the midi skirt. I own four midi skirts and they are in constant rotation in my wardrobe. I rarely go a few days without wearing one of them! They won't ever be too short and they are perfect for dressing up or dressing down. So versatile and so trendy. I pair mine with a variety of tops, scarves, sweaters, cardigans, jackets, and shoe styles to create a ton of looks. They're so easy to wear too and incredibly comfortable -- no worries about flashing anyone! (Just make sure to invest in a good slip to prevent clinging!) 

Denim. Is it office appropriate? It can be and let me tell you why. The secret is to use denim pieces in a way that elevates them from being just denim. For example, the look on the left is one of my absolute favorites: my polka dot midi paired on top of a yellow shirt dress, with brown boots, topped with a tailed denim jacket. Since I work in a more casual environment, the denim jacket works -- but it won't work with every office. For a more strict office, the look on the right also still works -- a chambray skirt paired with a pencil skirt, black heels, and a cute cardigan is both casual and professional, while still cute and young. 

Pattern mixing and adventurous color palettes - they can work in an office setting. Both of these looks are office appropriate. The look on the left utilizes a midi skirt and then a more playfully patterned shirt. For a more conservative office, you could always add a jacket or cardigan on top to tone down the prints, but otherwise, it's playful and young without being over-the-top. The look on the right uses a playfully patterned tank top and a patriotic color palette. With red-white-and-blue, it's too easy to look like a big American flag - the secret is to pick pieces carefully when you're playing with color. For this look, I chose one of my favorite midi skirts, a playful top, and then brought it together with a very structured jacket and nude heels. 

Casual Fridays. The trickiest days! We have casual Fridays where I work, typically because we have barbecues every Friday. All the female employees can wear jeans (I know). I still try to look professional when I choose to wear jeans though, because I still interact with customers. In colder weather, I'd wear something like the above outfit -- my dark jeans (tucked into boots), a cozy sweater, topped with a scarf. In the summer, I would wear my pink jeans, a sheer top with a tank top underneath, and a blazer. The secret to casual fridays is not to treat them like a weekend -- you still want to look good, even if you're dressed up more than your coworkers. (Your boss will probably appreciate that you take looking professional seriously!) 

Dressing professionally is a hard lesson and it's often dependent entirely on the entire office environment. But picking a few basic pieces -- a midi skirt or two, a pencil skirt, a good pair of slacks, and a variety of tops -- can help you transition your wardrobe from college fun to fabulous employee. 

Do you have any tips for dressing professionally? 

1 comment:

  1. This is an awesome post Michelle! I'm an in-house graphic designer working in a sales office and I try to conform to the smart sales dress but with little touches in my nail polish, shoes and jewellery to make it look more creative. Lots of nice ideas here! X


Thank you for reading my blog! :]
xo Michelle

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