Dressing Smart in a Conservative Office

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Although many companies have become more relaxed in their dress policy, there are still some companies that are more formal. What if you enjoy fashion and you want to show your personality?  This week’s proactive career tip addresses this question.  Here are some tips that will allow you to shine while still conforming to your company’s dress policy:

QUESTION:
I work in a very conservative office where all managers have to wear suits – men: jacket, shirt and tie, women: jacket, slacks, knee length Dress/skirt. etc. I feel like I’m in prison because everyone looks the same and although I like my job, I hate that I have to dress like this. What can I do? Tessa – TX

ANSWER:
Great question. The message behind conservative office dress is to ensure the attention is on the product or service and not distracted by dress. It is designed to provide a form of comfort to the prospective client.

Wearing specific types of clothing can have its challenges as you can look like everyone else and you may feel limited in what you can wear. Don’t let that stop you from showing your unique style. Here are some ideas on how to overcome the “uniformed” look:

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Be sure to refer to your company’s dress policy so you are clear on what you can wear.  

Accessorize

One of the easiest ways you can allow your personality to shine is in your accessories, such as jewelry, scarves, belts, shoes, hair accessories or handbag.  In a conservative office, jewelry and hair accessories should be understated, but should reflect your personality (no flashy, sequins, glittery, rhinestones items). Also don’t overdo your jewelry (no more than two – three pieces per outfit).

Use Color

You did not mention whether you wear a specific uniform. If not, you can change your look using color. Since it is a conservative office and although it may not be in the formal dress policy (there is also an unspoken dress policy), you may still want to consider wearing conservative colors, such as navy, but you can also wear tan, gray, black, brown, etc. Alternatively, you can put a twist by going a shade above or below the color. For example, instead of navy, wear indigo, azure, or cobalt.

Mix/Match Clothing Pieces

Instead of the white collar shirt, opt for another color (ie. salmon) or try another shade of white. You can also mix and match your items to create an entirely new look. Go for a different look by coordinating fabrics and colors. For instance, break out of the routine of wearing your white collar shirt with the black slacks by adding color (see illustration).  

Alternatives to Black Pants/White Blouse Combo

Alternatives to Black Pants/White Blouse Combo by phenomenalimage featuring a slim fit jacket

Shoes

In terms of shoes, again refer to your company’s dress policy. For a conservative office, closed toe shoes are usually the norm. You can add your personality through the heel of the shoe. For example, if closed toe shoes are required, you could opt for a sling back, ankle strap, chunky heel, platform or wedge among other styles. Be careful that you don’t wear heel that is too high in a conservative office. The standard is usually a 1 – 2 inch heel.

Doing some of these things can help you break from the prison of looking like everyone else. If you have a question about dress, leadership or career advancement, please contact me. We can feature your question in the next proactive career tip.

Enjoy the rest of your week!

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Nancy Kirk-Gettridge is founder of Phenomenal Image, an executive development firm focused on helping her clients gain confidence and take control of their careers. Confronting workplace challenges and her own limiting beliefs, Nancy is committed to helping her clients see themselves as qualified leaders and risk-takers. Nancy frequently writes about resolving gender bias in the workplace. Key topics include career management, leadership training/development, succession planning and overcoming workplace issues.
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