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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 April 8, 2020

    Top 10 Management Skills Any Strong Leader Should Master

    Top 10 Management Skills Any Strong Leader Should Master

    The newspaper headlines, blogs, social media, TV programs are talking about leaders, leadership qualities and people who occupy high positions in government, enterprises and multinational corporations more and more every day.

    We understand that all these high positions are not the main things we should talk about. Leadership is not about the profession, place of a particular person in the hierarchy of the company or government body. It doesn’t make anyone a strong leader.

    Being a strong leader means acquiring management skills which allow you to lead people, to get them to the new achievements and high results. That’s the ticket. It doesn’t matter you are a small company manager or an industry leader the next list of TOP-10 management skills will boost your effectiveness, will make you a strong leader.

    1. Always Inspire the Team

    Remember that your job is not just about hitting goals, enhancing sales or raising profits. We both realize the importance of these indicators for stakeholders and investors.

    Now let’s focus on leading your team. Be rooted in reality and always strive to give your empathy, perspective to all circumstances and situations you encounter.

    Roll up your sleeves and inspire:

    • Be visible among your staff to become their inspiration. There is no chance to be a good leader hiding in your office on a top floor;
    • Join your team to complete ad-hoc projects. Believe us, your participation and contribution is always inspiring;
    • Focus on each person’s strengths, stay enthusiastic with his/her contribution;
    • Be closer to your team;
    • Find the right words. It may be the biggest challenge of the day, the right words in a difficult situation can show that you are a really good leader.

    Need more inspirations? This article can help: The Simplest Ways To Inspire People And Change Their Life

    2. Make a Wise Delegation Your Number One Priority

    It is obvious that you can’t do everything by yourself. Moreover, you shouldn’t do that.

    Your ability to delegate responsibilities shows that you trust your staff, you are sure in their competitiveness.

    It is the best thing that you can do within a team environment. You’re able to kill two birds with one stone: you can reduce your own stress level and make the workplace more friendly showing confidence in workers’ abilities.

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    How to delegate to the right person?

    When you’re thinking about the person who will take some responsibilities consider three factors:

    • The relevance between the skills, experience of the person and the delegated tasks;
    • Working style (is he or she is a team player or independent performer; does he has goals which correspond with the responsibilities which you want to delegate?);
    • The workload of the person (does he/she has time to take new responsibilities or this delegation requires some reshuffling of responsibilities).

    Check out Lifehack’s CEO advice on how to delegate: How to Delegate Work (the Definitive Guide for Successful Leaders)

    3. Stay Responsible and Don’t Blame

    Failures always happen. You need to accept this fact and learn how to overcome them. Your job is not to find who is wrong but to take responsibility together with your staff.

    Make your subordinates understand that all of them are accountable for the decisions they make. Remember that you are their leader, you should take a part of the responsibility for their actions.

    Always give them a pat on the back if you see their good results but don’t blame in case of failure. Make an atmosphere in which everyone feels your support and willingness to realize mistakes together and work on their improvement hand by hand.

    Taking personal responsibility for your company and everything that happens in it including failures will motivate your employees to follow you.

    Don’t make excuses, better do this:

    • Take your personal responsibility for the failure;
    • Try to work on the problem to fix it;
    • Think about what you should have done before to prevent this mistake and what to improve in the future.

    4. Encourage Creative Thinking and Innovations

    What is the difference between the follower and the leader? The leader always looks ahead, he is not afraid of innovations, creative approaches to management and business processes.

    Innovative and creative thinking are qualities which make you stand out from the crowd and enable your team to get 200%, not 100% of the result.

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    Don’t forget to encourage your staff because the majority of people perceive innovations painfully and adopt new rules with reluctance. It is all about phycology, a good leader should take it into account.

    Encourage creativity in your team:

    • Become a model for your staff, show your dedication to innovations;
    • Create a supportive atmosphere for creativity in a workplace;
    • Launch events and processes to find and capture creative ideas;
    • Reward fresh ideas, innovations, celebrate success with your team.

    In short, ensure psychological safety in your team, this will encourage more innovative ideas. Learn more about psychological safety here: If You Want an Invincible Team, Make Them Feel Safe

    5. Stay Positive in Any Circumstances

    If you want to be a great leader, you should understand that you need to be positive and motivated despite any circumstances.

    Even in the hardest situation, you should be an example to follow for your staff because you will be who leads the way, so stand firm and show a positive attitude.

    Always keep the lights:

    • Create constantly friendly, open atmosphere in your workplace;
    • Remain positive when things go wrong;
    • Find the ways to keep your team motivated when the situation goes in a bad way.

    Here’re more tips to help you stay positive: 11 Tips for Maintaining Your Positive Attitude

    6. Develop Your Employees

    Along with developing yourself don’t forget that without people around you and their skills the success may be not so bright.

    Thanks to the staff development, not only employees will get new skills which they can use when they write resumes, your team can make tasks easier; besides, it will foster morale.

    Use these tips to develop your staff:

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    • Turn your staff meetings into an instrument of learning;
    • Launch annual education/ training for employees with coaches, experts;
    • Encourage their willingness to develop their skills;
    • Share your own knowledge with your team

    7. Remember Your past Experience When Making a Decision

    Futuristic vision is good. But you can’t go far in business without your experience. You should make all management decisions taking into account not only your skills, statistics, ideas of key stakeholders or innovative approaches.

    You should also consider your past lessons. The right decision made at the right time has a great impact on the masses.

    Look ahead, think hard before making a decision. But after you make it, be firm and stand by it.

    Improve your decision making:

    • Trust your management vision, intuition;
    • Try to connect your present-day challenge with the lessons which you learned in your career before;
    • Better to take notes when you make important decisions, write down the results both positive and negative so that you could get back to them in the future.

    You can also take a look at this guide for making better decisions: Decision Making 101: How To Be a Successful Decision-Maker

    8. Show Your Charisma and Confidence

    As for charisma, everything is simple like wiping the window in the rain. People normally are more likely to follow the person who they like.

    Let’s remember the best leaders. All of them are friendly, close to people, well-spoken, showing care and empathy.

    If you behave in that way, your employees feel that it is not hard to reach you, they will show a willingness to follow you.

    Make confidence your strength.

    Believe in your success and your company’s prosperity, show it everywhere.

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    A great leader exhibits confidence to everyone in any situation. (Take a look at the 5 Key Traits of a Charismatic Leadership.) This will inspire your employees and give them the feeling of confidence in the future, that’s exactly what you need for enhancing their achievements.

    9. Sense of Humor Is Vital to Success

    As a leader, you need to have a sense of humor. Show it when something goes wrong and you need to encourage, relax your employees.

    The ability to laugh things off can make morale up which is so important for staff productivity in difficult situations.

    How the sense of humor can save you in some situations:

    • Humor is able to humanize you. It makes your employees feel that you are all in the same boat, boost camaraderie;
    • It is a key component of a set of empathetic leadership.
    • Humor promotes a sense of shared culture, unity in a workplace.

    10. Consider Failures as Challenges Not as Unrecoverable Mistakes

    Even if you try the hardest in the world failures will happen. Your job is to cope with them and do it with honor.

    If something goes wrong, realize that it has already happened and try to find the best solution.

    How to manage failures:

    • Remain calm, think logically;
    • Don’t stay apart from your team because it may cause the negative morale;
    • Encourage discussion, communication within the team to find the root of the problem, design the best solution.

    The Bottom Line

    It is not easy to become a strong leader, you must have a lot of qualities and experiences. You should look ahead and go beyond the frames in your everyday tasks and responsibilities.

    Moreover, you should be an example of intelligence, wisdom, honesty, commitment and dedication. And that’s why these 10 management skills are so important to master if you want to become a great leader.

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    Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

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