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Published on September 12, 2018

How to Dress for Success While You’re Working with a Tight Budget

How to Dress for Success While You’re Working with a Tight Budget

You really don’t need a credit card at Nordstrom or a personal tailor to have a good wardrobe for the office. The days of suit and tie for men and tailored dresses may still be the norm in the big corporate places, but not so much for the average company.

These days, business casual can and may be the norm, but one should always do their homework on what is expected of you in the workplace. While it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed, this can still put pressure on newer, younger employees who may just be starting out in their career.

What is a dress code, anyway? Simply put,[1]

“A dress code is a set of written and, more often, unwritten rules with regard to clothing. Clothing, like other aspects of human physical appearance, has a social significance, with different rules and expectations applying depending on circumstance and occasion.”

In this article, we will take a look at the business dress code expectations and how to dress for success.

Dress code expectations then and now

Since the 50’s, at-work wardrobes have followed the fashion of the decades, including expectations of men and women, given that most women stayed at home.

In the 50’s and 60’s, men wore three piece suits in blue, grey, or brown, and uniform ties. Women wore tailored dresses or skirts plus hats and gloves; although pants and pant suits became acceptable in the 60’s.

Corporate Class Inc. features a wonderful infographic on dress code expectations from the 50’s until today. And the requirements have become more casual and comfortable:[2]

    There can be a great deal of ambiguity, and the best way to get around this is to observe and ask questions.

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    Get expectations first

    When starting a new job, it’s not out of line to ask about dress code during your job interview. Pay close attention to what EVERYONE in the office is wearing. From the administrative staff to senior staff. When you meet your potential colleagues, you can ask what is worn on a typical day.

    On your first day of work, always wear a more formal ensemble until you get more comfortable with the environment. It’s better to overdress than under-dress. Workable shares these general expectations for how to dress for work before you know the specifics:[3]

    “All employees must be clean and well-groomed. Grooming styles dictated by religion and ethnicity aren’t restricted.

    All clothes must be work-appropriate. Clothes that are typical in workouts and outdoor activities aren’t allowed.

    All clothes must project professionalism. Clothes that are too revealing or inappropriate aren’t allowed.

    All clothes must be clean and in good shape. Discernible rips, tears or holes aren’t allowed.

    Employees must avoid clothes with stamps that are offensive or inappropriate.”

    What’s comfortable for you?

    Now that you have a sense of what’s expected in your place of business, think about the clothing that makes you feel the most comfortable?

    Ladies, do you really love dresses and skirts, or are pants and blouses your jam? Fellas, does the tie and slacks suit your taste, or are you hoping for a more business casual vibe at your office?

    You can build an ensemble wardrobe with just a handful of unique pieces that you can mix-and-match to create several outfits for the work week.

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    Companies like Lucy, Beta Brand, and Columbia are starting to produce clothing items that stretch like yoga pants, but still look professional enough to wear in the workplace.

    If the idea of dress pants or skirts with standard waist lines sounds constricting, you may be able to connect with some of these brands as part of your ensemble.

    Sadly, women have a great deal more leeway in the wardrobe arena than men do. Women can vacillate between skirts, dresses, and pants or pant suits, and no one really cares. Men can wear slacks or….slacks. Sometime jeans.

    And when it comes to shoes, ladies get away with a lot. Strappy sandals with open toes to feature our matching toe nail polish is considered acceptable; but men wearing sandals that show off their feet might be taboo where you are working. As stated above, always learn your dress code expectations before going out to create your ensemble wardrobe.

    Creating your ensemble wardrobe

    Now we can start planning for our shopping spree. A few tips to get started:

    • Do an inventory of your closet.
    • Set a budget.
    • Recruit a friend to help you shop.

    Checking in with your closet helps you see what you already have and what you’ll need.

    Generally speaking, save all your neutral colored items and then match them up in outfits. Try everything on. Make a list of what goes with what. And nail down accessories as well.

    Once you know what you have, make a list of what you think you need, and then set a budget.

    Do you know where you’ll be shopping based on your taste in clothing and comfortability? It’s better to buy one or two items that will last you a long time but may cost more (although, I am an Old Navy girl; I love shopping there because there are always samples of outfits online that you can peruse and choose according to your workplace expectations).

    Hopefully that friend you recruited gave you feedback when you did the closet inventory and is ready to help you do the shopping part. Are you ready to go?

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    Choose a store

    Select one store where you will purchase your new items. This not only saves you time, but you’ll be getting items that generally go together anyway. And if you are familiar with that store, then you know what cut and style fits you best and what may not flatter you well.

    Take some of your closet items with you to pair with potential new items. Although, be sure to tell the sales staff so they don’t think you are trying to steal anything.

    Choose classics and neutral colors

    As I shared before, neutral colors are a good bet because they are almost never out of style through the seasons and can pretty much go with anything. Personally, these are colors I tend to select when ensemble shopping:

    • Navy Blue (not royal blue, not periwinkle blue, not Dodger blue)
    • Black
    • Grey
    • Beige

    Why not white? Good question. White is difficult to keep clean and nice looking. If you want to buy something white, buy ONE simple short or long sleeved shirt or blouse in a classic style and fit. Button up, plain collar, no ruffles or embellishments.

    Peruse and select your fitting room items

    Start off looking at bottoms and jackets. Ladies, one stylish blazer is never a bad idea. For the men, having a decent sport coat that will go with anything can help a great deal; it can even make jeans respectable for the workplace.

    Don’t choose trendy styles if you can help it. Skinny is still pretty “in”, but it may not stay that way and may be unflattering for some of us.

    Try to find a plan front pant with a straight leg or a simple a-line skirt. Men can select flat front or pleated pants; I’m not a fan of cuffed ankles but some folks like that look.

    For tops, ladies should choose a button up blouse/shirt, a “dressy” t-shirt, a layering sweater, and a cardigan or light jacket. The guys should look for 2-3 long sleeve button up shirts (two solid and one pattern), one “dressy” t-shirt, and their blazer or sport coat.

    What’s a “dressy” t-shirt? Something in a nice crew neck or v-neck that is NOT a 100% cotton t-shirt you might wear to the gym. This t-shirt will be used for layering under shirts, sweater, and jackets or blazers.

    Try on everything. You never know what you might like even if it doesn’t look pretty or stylish on the hanger. After you try on everything individually, then start building your outfits.

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    Remember that you should have brought a couple items from home if you’re not starting from scratch, so include them in your outfit pairings. You have your shopping buddy with you, so take photos of all your different outfits so you can remember them all.

    Accessorize!

    Why did I tell you to stick with neutral colors? Because accessories are where you are going to add your pops of color, texture, and style.

    Every department store should have multiple sections where accessories can be found. We are talking about things like jewelry, scarves and wraps, handbags, shoes, and stockings for the ladies. Men should look for ties, socks, pocket squares, shoes, and possibly briefcases or tie clips.

    Again, this part of the shopping will probably be more fun for the ladies, but I have known my fair share of men who get a kick out of tie and shoe shopping.

    Here are just a few small tips on accessories:

    • Think quality rather than quantity. Better to have only two pairs of shoes that will last you all year than six pairs of cheap shoes you need to replace in a month.
    • Less is more. One simple red scarf can still give you four or five new looks on an outfit. You don’t need accessories in every color of the rainbow. The same can be said for jewelry. One “statement” necklace or cuff-links is plenty when you are getting started.
    • Match. That chartreuse tie might really look cool, but if it doesn’t match any of your other items, put it back for now. You can keep building on your wardrobe and maybe that tie will match something later. Or it will go out of style.

    Moving forward

    These suggestions should get any new professional well prepared for their next gig so you can dress for success!

    Continue to pay attention to what is being worn at your office. If you feel like you need to boost your wardrobe after a few months, then start creating a work-wardrobe budget from your paychecks. Set aside a small amount of money every check, and then go buy a new piece for your ensemble wardrobe every quarter.

    Regardless of your budget, you’ve got this. Keep it simple, and you’ll be as stylish as ever at the workplace.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Wikipedia: Dress Code
    [2] Corporate Class Inc.: Workplace Attire: A Timeline Through the Past 70 Years
    [3] Workable: Sample Business Dress Code Policy

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    Kris McPeak

    Educator, Author, Career Change and Work/Life Balance Guru

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    Last Updated on March 15, 2019

    How to Be a Leader Who Is Inspiring and Influential

    How to Be a Leader Who Is Inspiring and Influential

    When I began managing people 15 years ago, I thought having a fancy title was synonymous with influence. Over time, I learned that power is conferred based on likeability, authenticity, courage, relationships and consistent behavior. When leaders cultivate these attributes, they earn power, which really means influence.

    Understanding influence is essential to professional growth, and companies rise and fall based on the quality of their leadership.

    In this article, we will look into the essentials of effective leadership and how to be a leader who is inspiring and influential.

    What Makes a Leader Fail?

    A host of factors influence a leader’s ability to succeed. To the extent that leaders fail to outline a compelling vision and strategy, they risk losing the trust and confidence of their teams. Employees want to know where a company is going and the strategy for how they will get there. Having this information enables employees to feel safe, and it allows them to see mistakes as part of the learning journey versus as fatal occurrences.

    If employees and customers do not believe a company’s leadership is authentic and inspiring, they may disengage, or they may be less inclined to offer constructive criticism that can help a company innovate or help a leader improve.

    And it is not just the leadership at the top that matters. Middle managers play a distinct role in guiding teams. Depending on the company’s size, employees may have more access to mid-level managers than they do members of the C-suite, meaning their supervisors and managers have greater influence on the employee and the customer experience.

    What Is Effective Leadership?

    Effective leadership is inspiring, and it is influential. Cultivating inspiring and influential leaders requires building relationships across the company.

    Leaders must be connected to both the teams they lead as well as to their own colleagues and managers. This is key as titles do not make a person a leader, nor do they automatically confer influence. These are earned through trusting relationships. This explains why some leaders can get more out of their teams than others and why some leaders experience soaring profits and engagement while others sizzle out.

    Eric Garton said in an April 25, 2017, Harvard Business Review article:[1]

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    “… inspiring leaders are those who use their unique combination of strengths to motivate individuals and teams to take on bold missions – and hold them accountable for results. And they unlock higher performance through empowerment, not command and control.”

    How to Be an Inspiring and Influential Leader

    To be an inspiring and influential leader requires:

    1. Courage

    The late poet Maya Angelou once said,

    “Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.”

    Courage is required in the workplace when implementing new strategies, especially when they go against professional norms.

    For instance, I heard Lisa TerKeurst, bestselling author and founder of Proverbs 31 Ministries, explain her decision to move away from her company’s magazine. While the organization had long had a magazine, she saw a future where it didn’t exist.

    In order to make the switch, she risked angering her team members and customers. She took a chance, and what started out as a monthly newsletter, has grown into a multi-dimensional organization boasting half a million followers. Had Lisa not found the courage to change the direction of her organization, they undoubtedly would not have been able to experience such exponential growth.

    It also takes courage to give and receive feedback. When leaders see employees who are not living into the company’s mission or who are engaging in behavior that may undermine their long-term success, one must risk temporary angst and speak candidly with the colleague in question.

    Similarly, it takes courage to hear constructive criticism and try to change. In business, as in life, courage is necessary for being an inspiring and influential leader.

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    2. A Commitment to Face Your Internal Demons.

    If you feel great about yourself, enter a leadership position. You are likely to be triggered in ways you didn’t think possible. You are also likely to receive feedback that may leave you second-guessing yourself and your leadership skills.

    The truth about leading others is that you get to a point where you realize that it is difficult to take people to places where you yourself haven’t gone.

    To be an influential and inspiring leader, you have to face your own demons and vow to continually improve. Influential leaders take their personal evolution serious, and they invest in coaching, therapy and mindfulness to ensure that their personal struggles do not overshadow their professional development.

    3. A Willingness to Accept Feedback

    Inspiring and influential leaders are not afraid to accept feedback. In fact, they actively solicit it. They understand that everyone in their life has a lesson to teach them, and they are willing to accept it.

    Inspirational leaders understand that feedback is neither good nor bad but rather an offering that is critical to growth. Even when it hurts or is an affront to the ego, influential leaders understand that feedback is critical to their ability to lead.

    4. Likability

    Some people will argue that leaders need not worry about being liked but should instead focus on being respected. I disagree. Both are important.

    When team members like their boss and believe their boss likes them, they are more likely to go the extra mile to fulfill departmental or organizational goals. Likable leaders are moved to the front of the line when it comes to being influential.

    Relatedly, when colleagues feel management dislikes them, they experience internal stress and can spend unnecessary time focusing on the source of their manager’s discontent versus the work they have been hired to do.

    So, likability is important for both the leader and the people she leads.

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    5. Vulnerability

    Vulnerability is critical for being an inspiring leader. People want the truth. They admire leaders who can occasionally demonstrate vulnerability. It promotes deeper relationships and inspires trust.

    When leaders can showcase vulnerability appropriately, they destroy the illusion that one must be perfect to be a leader. They also demonstrate that vulnerability is not a dirty word; they too can be vulnerable and ask for a helping hand when necessary.

    6. Authenticity

    Authenticity is about living up to one’s stated values in public and behind closed doors.

    Influential leaders are authentic. They set to live out their values and use those values to guide their decisions. The interesting thing about leadership is that people are not looking for perfect leaders. They are, in part, looking for leaders who are authentic.

    7. A True Understanding of Inspiration

    Effective leaders are inspirational. They understand the power of words and deeds and use both strategically.

    Inspiring leaders appropriately use stories and narratives to enable the teams around them to see common situations in an entirely new light.

    Inspirational leaders also showcase grit and triumph while convincing the people around them that success and victory are attainable.

    Finally, inspiring leaders encourage the teams they lead to tap into their own genius. They convince others that genius is not reserved for a select few but that most people have it in them.

    As explained in the article True Leadership: What Separates a Leader from a Boss:

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    “A leader creates visions and motivates team members to work together towards the same goal.”

    8. An Ability to See the Humanity in Others

    Inspiring and influential leaders see the humanity in others. Rather than treating their teams as mere tools to accomplish organizational goals, they believe the people around them are unique beings with inherent value.

    This means knowing when to pause to address personal challenges and dispelling with the myth that the personal is separate from the professional.

    9. A Passion for Continual Learning

    Inspiring and influential leaders are committed to continual learning. They invest in their own development and take responsibility for their professional growth.

    These leaders understand that like a college campus, the workplace is a laboratory for learning. They believe that they can learn from multiple generations in the workplace as well as from people from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.

    Influential leaders proactively seek out opportunities for learning.

    The Bottom Line

    No one said leadership was easy, but it is also a joy. Influencing others to action and positively impacting the lives of others is a reward unto itself.

    Since leadership abounds, there is an abundance of resources to help you grow into the type of leader who inspires and influences others.

    More Resources About Effective Leadership

    Featured photo credit: Markus Spiske via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Harvard Business Review: How to Be an Inspiring Leader

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