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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 November 14, 2018

    Have You Fallen Into the ‘Busy’ Trap? Here’s Your Way Out

    Have You Fallen Into the ‘Busy’ Trap? Here’s Your Way Out

    Do you find yourself constantly feeling busy? Or, maybe you feel like you have too much on your plate? Perhaps you have a to-do list with no end in sight, or many responsibilities to juggle on a daily basis at work. When you get home, you have household responsibilities to take care of, too, and it just seems like you never have much time for a breather.

    Being busy is good, it’s better than not having anything to do and letting time slip away. But, what many people don’t realize is, being busy doesn’t always mean you’re being productive. The more time you take to complete something does not equal to more success. Many people end up falling into this trap as they pack their day with tasks and errands that may sometimes produce little outcome or output for the effort that they’ve put in.

    For example, let’s say that your washing machine at home broke down and you need to fix it. Instead of calling the handyman to come, your husband decides he’s going to fix the machine. He ends up spending half a day figuring out the machine, and does eventually fix it. He did however have to make a trip to the tool shop to buy some extra tools and parts for the machine. Now, if you had called the handy man, it would probably have taken the handyman much less time, and he would have all the necessary tools and parts already, because that is his job. So in this instance, was your husband’s time and effort worth it? Oh, and because he took half the day fixing the machine, you now had to take over his duties of dropping the kids off at soccer and swim practice.

    We Need Not Be That Busy

    I hope you would agree, that it would have been ideal to delegate this task to the handyman. That would have saved you time and effort, so that you and your husband could focus on doing other things that were more important to you, like being there for your kids or spending time with each other. This is just one example of how we often impose busyness on ourselves without us even realizing it.

    But, I’m going to show you just how you can gain quality time from external sources. Whatever big goals or ambitions that you may have, it’s normal for them to involve a lot more of your time than you first expect. I’m talking about things like starting a new business, changing careers, perhaps even moving to a new city. New challenges often involve things that are outside of our experience and expertise, so covering all the bases ourselves is sometimes not feasible as it takes too much time to learn and do everything.

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    You Are Just One Person

    At the end of the day, you are just one person, and you have a limited amount of time. So, you have to do things that are meaningful to you. While an overall goal may be meaningful, not all of the milestones needed to get there may be meaningful. Because we all have our strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, not every task will be enjoyable or all fun & games. Some simply require pure willpower and discipline to grind through. And that is where delegation comes in.

    What is Delegation?

    You may hear this term a lot in the business or corporate world; it’s an effective way for managers to distribute (or sometimes avoid!) work. But, that’s not what I’m referring to. Instead, delegation means leveraging time from an outside source to give you opportunities to increase your quality time. By outside source, we simply mean that it’s not your own time that you’re spending.

    What Should You Delegate?

    To delegate effectively, it has to be done with deliberate intention. So the aim of delegation is to create more quality time for yourself. There are 3 types of tasks that you should generally delegate, called the Delegation Triangle.

    The first are tasks you don’t enjoy doing. These are things that you know how to do, but don’t enjoy. Second, are tasks you shouldn’t do. These are things you know how to do and may even enjoy, but may not be the best use of your time. Third, are tasks you can’t do. These are things that need doing, but you don’t have the skills or expertise to follow through with them at this moment.

    Have a look through your daily tasks and responsibilities, and see if you can fit them under these 3 categories.

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    Pitfalls of Delegation

    Using the Delegation Triangle, you can decide which tasks are worth delegating. In theory, it might look easy to sort actions at first glance; but often, it’s actually harder than you think! 

    One such example, is diverting time on tasks you shouldn’t do. Let’s go back to the washing machine example. Your husband decides to fix it on his own instead of simply getting an expert to fix it. Why? Because it’s probably a challenge he enjoys, and it’s an accomplishment that would bring him satisfaction. However, if the value of the task is too low, you really ought to delegate it to others.

    Sometimes, when you have a larger goal in mind, you might have to sacrifice some actions in return for making progress. Always think about the bigger picture! One thing that can help you avoid this pitfall is to keep your deadlines in mind whenever you set milestones for a project or task.

    Deadlines are a commitment to yourself, and every bit of time is precious. So if an activity you’re focusing on is taking time away from progress towards your goal, it may be time to let go of it for now. You can always decide to pick it up again later.

    Then there’s the other extreme of delegation. And that’s when you start delegating everything you dislike doing to external sources.Sometimes it’s tempting to abuse delegation and get carried away outsourcing everything on your “don’t like doing” list.

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    Some people are too picky on what they’re going to do. But sometimes, if you don’t like doing so but you’re the only one who can do it, you still need to finish the job. At the end of the day, it does take your own hard work and effort to achieve the success you want.

    So if you find that you’re constantly running into this problem of over delegating, then it may be time to re-evaluate your motivation, or reason for doing whatever it is that you’re doing.

    Ask yourself, “Is this task contributing towards a meaningful objective that I want to achieve?” and “what kind of progress do I make each time I carry out the task myself?” If the task is both meaningful and creates progress, then the next step is to ask yourself questions that can help you create actions.

    What obstacles are causing you to avoid this task? Is it because of low confidence in your ability? Do you think someone else can do a better job? Is it your level of focus? Or is there an alternative action you can take that can produce the same results?

    Take Action Now

    Take a look at your current tasks or to-do’s that you have planned this week. Which tasks are possible candidates that fall under the Delegation Triangle? Are there any that fall under the pitfalls mentioned above? Which tasks can you immediately identify that should be delegated out right now?

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    I hope this exercise helps declutter your tasks and responsibilities a little and allows you to see how much more time you can be saving for more important things. But, this is not the end of delegation. After you’ve sorted out the tasks that can be delegated, the next step is to determine who it should be delegated to. Besides people like your co workers, or spouse/family members, did you know that there is a whole delegating industry out there?

    If you’re keen to learn more about this delegating industry, and find out how you can decide who’s the best fit to do your delegated tasks, subscribe to our newsletter today. We will help you discover many more skills that will boost your productivity by leaps and bounds!

    Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

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