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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 January 14, 2019

    The Key to Finding Job Satisfaction and Having a Successful Career

    The Key to Finding Job Satisfaction and Having a Successful Career

    Regardless of whether you hold an entry-level administration role or regularly travel to the ends of the Earth as a hot-shot senior executive, you can still find yourself harboring an emptiness… a feeling that something is missing. A popular assumption that experiencing job satisfaction and a successful career should be underpinned by a well-rounded suite of tangible benefits, no longer holds true for many of us.

    We’d never deny health care benefits, appropriate and fair remuneration, bonuses and travel perks in a job package. However, even if served to us on a silver platter, those features can only satiate us to a certain point.

    You might wonder what governs entrepreneurs and start-up business owners to quit their lucrative jobs, essentially look the gift horse in the mouth and kiss such benefits goodbye! There can be an irresistible pull to mastermind a business with products and/or services that serve the greater good of community wider than that constituting their daily existence.

    Even with research showing entrepreneurship to pose greater threats to their mental and physical health, this unique breed of individuals choose to go against the grain in chasing their dreams of being their own boss. Why? Why would anyone risk this type of career suicide?

    Whether you’re an employee, have recently taken the leap to being a business owner or been in business for a while, the commonality is a congenital condition we all share as human beings; to feel a sense of purpose, value and contribution to our community. Despite it being harder to find this for ourselves in today’s world, these approaches will help you achieve ultimate satisfaction through the twists, turns and joyrides that are essential features of shaping a successful career.

    1. Search for Opportunities That Feed Your Passion, Not Temporary Excitement

    Even though well-intended, the ‘feel good now’ compass that career coaches and consultants often recommend you use to create career satisfaction can actually do you more harm than good. Excitement is transient. It doesn’t last. Passion is the compass you need.

    Passion and excitement are two different things. The resounding career legacy that still draws you to turn up on the job regardless of the sunshine or storm that awaits you…that’s passion. It’s like a mental and/or emotional itch you can’t shrug off. Staying attuned to that calling will breed success for you sooner or later. Patience is key.

    You’re also likely to have more than one key passion. Beware of getting caught in the notion you have to find your one true purpose. In fact, run immediately from any coach who tells you there is only one. There isn’t.

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    Your passion is a journey that can take multiple forms so forget thinking there is the single dream job out there that will give you satisfaction in every way you can imagine. It simply doesn’t exist.

    Consider embracing different roles and projects to help you fuel your passion or fuel your pursuits in finding it. Job satisfaction and your career success will be all the more sweeter from a wider range of enriching experiences.

    2. Don’t Position Job and Career Satisfaction Assessments as Pivotal Guides to Your Success

    Despite their popular use for vocational guidance, assessment tools such as Gallup’s Clifton Strengths and the Myers Briggs Type Indicator have come under fire[1] as being limited to the amount of true value and direction they can offer partakers.[2] These and many other guidance assessment tools (e.g. VIA Character Strengths , DISC ) are self-report questionnaires that don’t have normative population data against which to compare your results.

    Simply remember these tools help you develop a stronger sense of what you identify as strengths and weaknesses within yourself, not in comparison with other people. They will still add insight around what sorts of career opportunities, tasks and projects are going to light your fire, what ones are going to extinguish it and what will prod and keep the coals steadily smoldering.

    3. Be Clear on Your Personal Values, Ethics and Principles and Choose Relationships That Support You Honoring Them

    Teamwork, collaboration, open communication and trust are commonplace for any flourishing work environment. However, whether or not your personal values can be honored in your work can make or break your job satisfaction.

    How committed do you want to be to an organization that expects an average of 10 unpaid overtime hours every week under the guise of ‘reasonable overtime’? Are you willing to accept their construing this expectation as ‘strong commitment’ at the expense of your partner and children waiting at home for you? What are your boundaries concerning when you clock on to their time and when you clock off to yours?

    Being very in tune with what your personal values, principles and ethics are will bid you well in the job satisfaction stakes. Spending time to reflect on experiences and working relationships you’ve had – the good, the bad and the ugly – will help you make well-informed searches and grounded decisions that will propel your career success.

    Finding and nurturing relationships with associates and colleagues who share similar values doesn’t just make your day-to-day pursuits more enjoyable. You become fortunate to work with like-minded people who will support, understand and appreciate you like a second family.

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    Being able to honor your personal values in your work means you will still be able to sleep at night when you have to tread where others fear to, and make extremely difficult decisions others would never ever dream of having to make as you forge success in your career.

    4. Be Clear on Your Own Definition of What Having a Successful Career Means for You

    It’s tempting to get caught up in the ideals and projections of success expressed by those we love, admire and respect. Underneath, we all want on some level to belong to a successful club of some sort.

    With research reporting how much money we feel we need to be truly happy,[3] many of us try to subscribe to the notion that having the car of our dreams or taking a European holiday annually will not bring us happiness. The truth, however, for many of us is these tangible rewards are congratulatory reminders of our persistent efforts to chase our career pursuits.

    If those are things you aspire to, don’t let anyone steal your desire and want to feel deserving of these things, that those are some parameters by which you define your career success.

    Despite consistently being the top revenue earner for two years running, you may not wish to become the sales manager. You may not wish to step out into running your own business even though you consistently excel as an employee, delighting clients and repeatedly receiving glowing testimonials.

    Your definition of career success might be enjoying the predictability of a regular workplace routine. You get to leave – without feeling guilty – at the same time each day, love the people you work with and get to spend a good, uninterrupted amount of work-stress free quality time with your family. That picture is also blissful job satisfaction and complete career success.

    5. Identify the Sorts of Challenges and Problems You Want to Learn to Overcome

    Standard advice you might receive from a career coach might be to look for opportunities where you get to capitalize on exercising your strengths and career-related activities you enjoy.

    However, to become a success at anything involves improvement. To excel at anything often involves stepping outside boundaries and comfort zones where others wouldn’t. This means dedicating focus and attention to things you’re not so good at and things you don’t like.

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    Here’s where working with a coach can be particularly helpful. Map out the experiences that were unsavory in your working history. Were there challenges you opted out of, projects you failed at or toxic relationships that blasted your sense of purpose and self-worth into oblivion? It’s within these experiences that you might just find the most valuable lessons and guiding lights for your trajectory to achieve greater job satisfaction.

    If your natural leadership style is to be a collaborator, finding opportunities that require you to apply a more dictatorial style might be needed. Discussing a secondment or short-term project where you get to develop and test your skills can be a step further in earning contention to lead a larger project down the track.

    With several of the company’s boldest personality types penciled to roll out the operation, you’ll not only develop skills that earn your right to throw your hat in the ring; those key players have an opportunity to see your competence. You can then work on building relationships with those stakeholders before you need to hit the ground running should you win the lead.

    Greater job satisfaction comes with planning and choosing the lessons and opportunities you want to learn, not desperately flailing, floundering and hoping for the best.

    6. Keep Reviewing Your Goal Posts and Be Amenable to Change

    The word ‘career’ is indicative of a longer-term pathway of change, growth and development. The journey is dynamic.

    You will accumulate new skills and let those you no longer need, become rusty. Your intrigue will be stimulated by new experiences, knowledge and people you meet. Your thinking will continue to expand, not shrink. As a result, your goalposts are likely to change.

    A major part of enjoying a successful career is not just setting goals effectively, but regularly reviewing and readjusting them where necessary. However, moving the posts or the target still needs to take place by applying the same processes by which you originally created them. The strength of your emotional connection to those revised goals needs to be the same, if not stronger.

    By asking yourself the following questions, you can assure your developmental and growth trajectory is still on course:

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    • Would working toward these goals still allow me to honor my personal values, principles and ethics at the same capacity if not greater?
    • Do the activities I need to undertake to meet these goals honor my highest priorities?
    • Does this feel right for me and those who are nearest and dearest to me?
    • Is this aligned with my passion?
    • Is chasing this goal a right step for me to take now or is this a detour or distraction which could delay my greater plan?

    Each of your career goals should have different review periods. Whatever you do, stick to the review schedule you set. It will not only keep you focused but help you see your progress (or lack thereof) and allow you to timely re-chart your course before you get too far down the track. You don’t want to waste time haphazardly heading in the wrong direction.

    7. Be Prepared to Let Go

    It can be unfathomable to us as to why others risk leaping into the unknown when everything truly appears fine and dandy in the career realm. The company provided stability, recognition, financial success, interesting projects and the promise of a promotion…what was wrong? Why now jump sideways to run a café or train in another field altogether?

    Nothing may have been wrong at all. It was all going right. It was just the end of a chapter. Perhaps the yearning for the next step is actually taking a different trajectory entirely. You may want to simply experience a different rhythm. Perhaps it’s time to pursue a different passion.

    If you have leaped from employee-land to freelancing or have made the reverse-jump (or you know someone who has), you will have quickly grown a different appreciation for pros and cons each work lifestyle brings. Working for yourself can bring the greater realization of your creativity, whether or not it can be monetized to earn you a living.

    When your customers are buying you or a product you designed and fashioned, there is a direct level of appreciation and gratitude that can elevate your confidence in the way you have never experienced as an employee, regardless of your rank.

    Similarly, there are times where we need to recognize our business ventures were adventures, not long-term life-changing empires. There are times we need to recognize that time is what provides the clearest limitation of how long we persist for in such pursuits.

    We have to recognize the absence of enough financial, mental, emotional and physical breadcrumbs that tells us we’re no longer meant to push in that direction. At least, not for the present time.

    The Bottom Line

    Above all, keep the momentum. As long as you remain committed to pursuing work opportunities that allow you to honor your highest priorities, the truth of who you are and what you stand for, achieving ultimate job satisfaction and a successful career will never be too far away.

    More Resources to Help Advance Your Career

    Featured photo credit: Csaba Balazs via unsplash.com

    Reference

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