Monday, May 14, 2007

First Job Fashion Woes

I received this e-mail from Jen last week:

Hi Meg!

My question for you is this: I'm graduating from college next week and starting a job as a reporter with a local newspaper. I love taking fashion risks but I'm afraid I'll be stuck in drab, conservative outfits because of the job. Is there a great way for a young working girl to express her fashion personality without being it being "too much"? Are trends better left for the weekends - or can they be taken to work too?

Thanks so much, I'll be looking forward to you answer :)


First, congratulations on graduation and your new job! I know how exciting and nerve-wracking it can be starting your first big job. You know you're the new kid, but you want to be treated as an equal, and gain the respect of your co-workers without sacrificing your personality. What you wear plays a huge role in this, as people will make judgments about you before they get to know who you are. In your situation, this is doubly important, as you're not only trying to impress your colleagues, but also the people you interview for articles. It can be scary trying to give the right impression to so many different people, but I definitely don't think you have to throw your fashion personality out the door to achieve this.

One of the biggest hurdles when you're young and starting a new job is being taken seriously. People will look at your age and inexperience and assume you don't know what you're doing (which you might not, but the whole point is getting people to believe that you do). If you're already young looking for your age, you're at another disadvantage.

To combat this, you're going to want to build your outfit around clothes that convey the image of a capable, professional adult. This includes staple pieces, like a basic pair of dress pants, a suit jacket and a modest knee length skirt, all in neutral colors. Since you'll be meeting and talking to all kinds of people, you'll want lots of pieces that you can dress up or down, depending on how formal a situation is. For your job, it's unlikely that they expect you to wear a suit to work on a regular basis, but you can mix and match these pieces with more fun items and still look professional. Invest in a suit that looks good and fits well (and get it with pants and a skirt, so you have more options) and you'll find that you can put it to use many different ways.

But the fact that you have a basic black pencil skirt doesn't mean you have to pair it with a white button down and boring black pumps. Because you're still in a creative profession, you do have a fair amount of leeway when it comes to dressing. Tops, shoes and accessories are the items to have fun with and explore trends (to a certain extent, I'll get to that in a minute). Don't be afraid to add color or prints to your outfit, like a bright blouse or sweater.

Because you're likely to be on a tight budget, you probably want to spend your money on a couple of bags and a few pairs of versatile shoes (at least one pair of flats and one pair of pumps) in black or brown that will go with anything. But if you have shoes in other colors, I think you can wear them as long as they're not too flashy (no leopard print, no hot pink patent leather, etc). Just be sure that you're not wearing 12 bright, competing colors at once.

As far as trends go, try to stick to trends with longer shelf lives. For instance, nautical styles are listed as trends, but they never really go out of style. But skinny pants and high-waisted pants both fell out of style within a few months. The fashion magazines are raving for sky-high platforms right now, but instead of a leather sandal with a 5" chunky wooden heel, you can scale it down with a 3 1/2 inch peep toe slingback wedge like this. Or if you love the 60's mod look, go for a cropped jacket instead of a Sedgwick-esque mini shift dress. And if you're dying for a bubble skirt, go with a fuller skirt, like this one. The key is taking a detail from a trend and applying it in small doses to a professional outfit.

There are a lot of ways you can incorporate your casual wardrobe into your professional one (especially when it comes to jewelry and accessories), but there are a number of things you must avoid. One of the best ways to lose the respect of your boss, co-workers and subjects is by dressing too provocatively (it'll also encourage office gossip, never a good thing). You want people to think of you as the whip-smart, hard working new kid, not the girl who's always showing her boobs in too-tight, low cut tops. If you're worried that that shirt might show a bit too much cleavage, throw a cami underneath. Before you leave the house, make sure that you can walk, sit and stretch comfortably without exposing a lot of skin. And finally, I think that tank tops are always inappropriate for a professional situation. You'll have to be the judge as to whether a sleeveless top is acceptable, but it's never a bad idea to bring along a cardigan, wrap or jacket just in case.

When it comes down to it, you want people to associate you with your skills and ability and not your clothes. Save the crazy trends, sexy outfits and wild accessories for nights and weekends. But don't feel compelled to totally stifle your fashion personality, just try to adapt it to the professional world. And good luck with your new job!

Have any other tips or suggestions for Jen? Leave them in the comments!


Amanda said...

You can always add stylish, fashion forward shoes to spice up a conservative suit. I always buy a great handbag in a "of the moment" style to avoid looking to conservative.

Anonymous said...

Err on the side of caution by overdressing for the first day or even the first week. When you're at work, look at what everybody else is wearing and adapt to whatever fits into that environment but still feels comfortable. When I started at my current job (in a software company), I overdressed for the first week because I didn't believe that the company actually had no dress code--until I saw one of the managers walking around in a flannel shirt and jeans with ripped knees.

Em said...

Dressing too plainly, and especially too formally, can be problematic as well--especially in journalism or education. It can seem like phony overcompensation. I'm all for Meg's suggestions of using bright tops under jackets and interesting accessories. To save money figure out your best neutral(s), and a few good accent colors that coordinate with that neutral (for me, the neutrals are brown and grey, the accent colors are purple, turquoise, green, and coral)--then build your wardrobe around those colors, so you don't need as many leather accessories (shoes, handbags, belts, briefcases) and so will be able to buy higher quality (which always makes you look better). Think about the image that you want to project, and then dress accordingly.