White dress

Is what you wear to work really so important? I have always felt that what you wear (9 times out of 10) communicates who you are. It is like walking around with a billboard on you that says ‘Hey everyone, I am really fun and outgoing, you would have a great time on a night out with me!’ or ‘Stay back I bite.’

This is probably why, when choosing what to wear to work, a little more thought is often required. Or at least it was. With more and more people working in a flexible way, running their own businesses and having to change jobs – often from the super corporate to the less so – there seems to be a change in what was once the work wear ‘uniform’. For those, who work in the media or creative industries this has long been the case, but not so in more business / corporate roles – yet there appears to be a real shift in what is acceptable attire for doing business.

Case in point: On a recent meeting with a business advisor, I was surprised to be confronted with what I can only call ‘pub wear’ (a funky t-shirt and cardigan, jeans and soft shoes). Feeling free to express yourself is great, but for a first meeting? His excuse “Oh, I am a freelance consultant now. I can wear what I want.” Right then. Richard Branson should probably take some of the blame here too; I have watched many a TV doc showing him in various meetings wearing the most casual ensembles, chatting away as if his dishevelled hair had been professionally styled that way (hmmm…maybe it was). But not everyone can pull that look off.

That said, did my business advisor’s attire hamper our meeting? – absolutely not. In fact he seemed relaxed and approachable and not at all bothered when I spilled my coffee on him by accident. To be completely honest, once the surprise of having a meeting in a corporate environment with someone wearing a neon graffiti t-shirt wore off, I really enjoyed our meeting. So is work wear really as important as all that?

Andrea Paul is a former City of London Corporate Lawyer, she now designs dresses for professional women; she says that what you wear really does make a difference to your career: “As much as we would all like to think that the quality of our work is all that matters, the reality is that your workplace image also plays a critical role in your career. Organisations will always want to put their best foot forward, so if you and a colleague display the same level of skill, but you are better turned out, nine times out of ten, you will be brought to key meetings and assigned to high profile projects instead of your colleague. Moreover, unless you are part of a very small organisation, most people in your organisation will not work closely enough with you to truly understand your skill level. Therefore, they will form an opinion of you based almost entirely on what you look like when you walk down the hall. Since some of those people may be responsible for promoting you in the future, it is in your own best interest to pay attention to your workplace image and get it right.”

The truth is that what you wear can say a thousand words before you even open your mouth. So when you are representing a company, being dressed appropriately is actually part of your job. This is not to say that you should lose all of your personal style, however there are ways that you can have the best of both. Andrea says there are some key things that make up the perfect work dress. “…Although the perfect work dress can come in many different forms, there are some important characteristics of all “perfect” work dresses: high quality fabric, beautiful tailoring, interesting design and not too revealing…some commonalities among the women who are attracted to my dresses are that they love quality, they love to look feminine and they appreciate classic design vocabulary and interesting design details.”

If you don’t have the budget to build your work wardrobe from scratch, try adding small additions to what you already have. A dark coloured dress can be worn many different ways with a bit of innovative accessorising. If you are not sure about what is appropriate for your new job try some of our tips below:

Top tips:

Check out what your boss is wearing and incorporate some of that into your look – chances are she/he has got it right

Find someone in your team to confide in and ask them what they think of your work wear

Use dark block colour as your base with a knee length dress or suit and add flourishes of your own style rather than going head to toe ‘you’

If you think that your style is too dull, experiment with coloured accessories including shoes

Do some benchmarking – when going to external meetings, check out what they are wearing and choose from the best style ideas (you can even add it to your notetaking!)

Don’t be afraid to ask where someone bought something, some people think it is rude but I say it’s proactive!

For more information on Andrea Paul’s collection go to: www.andreapaul.com