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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 May 20, 2019

    How to Prevent Inaction from Leading to Regret

    How to Prevent Inaction from Leading to Regret

    Time.

    When you think of this construct, where do you see your time being spent?

    As William Shakespeare famously wrote “I wasted time, and now doth time waste me…”

    Have you used your time wisely? Are you where you want to be?

    Or do you have unfinished goals to attain… places you want to be, things you still need to do?

    The hard truth is, that time once passed cannot be replaced–which is why it is common to hear people say that one should not squander time doing nothing, or delay certain decisions for later. More often than not, the biggest blocker from reaching our goals is often inaction – which is essentially doing nothing, rather than doing something. 

    There are many reasons why we may not do something. Most often it boils down to adequate time. We may feel we don’t have enough time, or that it’s never quite the right time to pursue our goals.

    Maybe next month, or maybe next year…

    And, before you know it, the time has passed and you’re still no where near achieving those goals you dream about. This inaction often leads to strong regret once we look at the situation through hindsight. So, take some time now to reflect on any goal(s) you may have in mind, or hidden at the back of your mind; and, think about how you can truly start working on them now, and not later.

    So, how do you start?

    Figure Out Your Purpose (Your Main Goal)


    The first important step is to figure out your purpose, or your main goal.

    What is it that you’re after in life? And, are there any barriers preventing you from reaching your goal? These are good questions to ask when it comes to figuring out how (and for what purpose) you are spending your time.

    Your purpose will guide you, and it will ensure your time spent is within the bounds of what you actually want to accomplish.

    A good amount of research has been done on how we as humans develop and embrace long-term and highly meaningful goals in our lives. So much so, that having a purpose has connections to reduced stroke, and heart attack. It turns out, our desire to accomplish goals actually has an evolutionary connection–especially goals with a greater purpose to them. This is because a greater purpose often helps both the individual, and our species as a whole, survive.

    Knowing why it is you’re doing something is important; and, when you do, it will be easier to budget your time and effort into pursuing after those milestones or tasks that will lead to the accomplishment of your main goal.

    Assess Your Current Time Spent

    Next comes the actual time usage. Once you know what your main goal is, you’ll want to make the most of the time you have now. It’s good to know how you’re currently spending your time, so that you can start making improvements and easily assess what can stay and what can go in your day to day routine.

    For just one day, ideally on a day when you’d like to be more productive, I encourage you to record a time journal, down to the quarter hour if you can manage. You may be quite surprised at how little things—such as checking social media, answering emails that could wait, or idling at the water cooler or office pantry —can add up to a lot of wasted time.

    To get you started, I recommend you check out this quick self assessment to assess your current productivity: Want To Know How Much You’re Getting Done In A Day?

    Tricks to Tackle Distractions

    Once you’ve assessed how you’re currently spending your time, I hope you won’t be in for too big of a shock when you see just how big of an impact distractions and time wasters are in your life.

    Every time your mind wanders from your work, it takes an average of 25 minutes and 26 seconds to get into focus again. That’s almost half an hour of precious time every time you entertain a distraction!

    Which is why it’s important to learn how to focus, and tackle distractions effectively. Here’s how to do it:

    1. Set Time Aside for Focusing

    One way to stay focused is to set focused sessions for yourself. During a focused session, you should let people know that you won’t be responding unless it’s a real emergency.

    Set your messaging apps and shared calendars as “busy” to reduce interruptions. Think of these sessions as one on one time with yourself so that you can truly focus on what’s important, without external distractions coming your way.

    2. Beware of Emails

    Emails may sound harmless, but they can come into our inbox continuously throughout the day, and it’s tempting to respond to them as we receive them. Especially if you’re one to check your notifications frequently.

    Instead of checking them every time a new notification sounds, set a specific time to deal with your emails at one go. This will no doubt increase your productivity as you’re dealing with emails one after the other, rather than interrupting your focus on another project each time an email comes in.

    Besides switching off your email notifications so as not to get distracted, you could also install a Chrome extension called Block Site that helps to stop Gmail notifications coming through at specific times, making it easier for you to manage these subtle daily distractions.

    3. Let Technology Help

    As much as we are getting increasingly distracted because of technology, we can’t deny it’s many advantages. So instead of feeling controlled by technology, why not make use of disabling options that the devices offer?

    Turn off email alerts, app notifications, or set your phone to go straight to voicemail and even create auto-responses to incoming text messages. There are also apps like Forrest that help to increase your productivity by rewarding you each time you focus well, which encourages you to ignore your phone.

    4. Schedule Time to Get Distracted

    Just as important as scheduling focus time, is scheduling break times. Balance is always key, so when you start scheduling focused sessions, you should also intentionally pen down some break time slots for your mind to relax.

    This is because the brain isn’t created to sustain long periods of focus and concentration. The average attention span for an adult is between 15 and 40 minutes. After this time, your likelihood of distractions get stronger and you’ll become less motivated.

    So while taking a mental break might seem unproductive, in the long run it makes your brain work more efficiently, and you’ll end up getting more work done overall.

    Time is in Your Hands

    At the end of the day, we all have a certain amount of time to go all out to pursue our heart’s desires. Whatever your goals are, the time you have now, is in your hands to make them come true.

    You simply need to start somewhere, instead of allowing inaction waste your time away, leaving you with regret later on. With a main goal or purpose in mind, you can be on the right track to attaining your desired outcomes.

    Being aware of how you spend your time and learning how to tackle common distractions can help boost you forward in completing what’s necessary to reach your most desired goals.

    So what are you waiting for? 

    Featured photo credit: Aron Visuals via unsplash.com

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