The Five Wardrobe Rules for Workplace Success, Part I

The Five Wardrobe Rules for Workplace Success, Part I

Spring is a time when warmer weather makes us want to pull out our fun summer clothing. Whether we’re meeting a new client, making a presentation, or job interviewing, wardrobe is a major aspect of our mission to make a stellar impression.

Clothing selection is a prime example of indirect communication, as fashion can make or break a first impression. When deciding what to wear, remember to research organizational culture, and match the formality and style of those with whom you are meeting. If you’re uncertain, it’s better to dress more formally than less. Based on a 2015 study  titled The Cognitive Consequences of Formal Clothing,  researchers found that those who dress formally are more likely to be seen as intelligent, feel more powerful, create better relationships within the workplace, and make better decisions. For job seekers and summer shoppers, here are five tips to guide your workplace wardrobe purchases in Part I:

  1. Analyze the Industry & organization: In the last decade, U.S. office wardrobe has become far more relaxed and casual in certain professions, including creative, design, tech, fashion. Industries including finance, banking, law, and professional consulting remain more conservative.  If in the fashion and design industry, wear current, yet appropriate fashion. Before splurging on a new wardrobe, carefully read the organization’s dress code policy.
  2. Ask an Insider: Ask a trusted inside coach or seasoned team lead about the unwritten rules — it is business casual, conservative, stylish, trendy, or young and fresh? An experienced, well-respected colleague will be able to give you insight into the wardrobe do’s and don’ts of your new workplace. Also take note of the silhouettes, colors, and brands that other employees wear, and consider following suit when updating your closet.
  3. Adapt to Your Audience: If you’re meeting with a new client and aren’t sure how to dress, do some prior research before making a wardrobe call. Be observant of a client’s clothing choice, and dress one step above to reaffirm your competency and their decision to hire you. Check the client’s online presence including annual reports, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to determine their company culture, dress code, and designated days such as “Casual Fridays.” If there’s a team member who has experience working with this particular client or company, ask for their advice and dress accordingly.
  4. Strategic Shopper: Quality shows, especially in shoes, bags, and belts. Invest in a few quality pieces by strategically shopping. Research until you find a brand that reflects your personal style, life choices, and makes you happy. Invest in one or two pair of quality, leather, closed-toe shoes. Both men and women want to invest in a few key pieces of professional, (navy, grey, black, or neutral) clothing.
  5. Clothing Care: Maintain quality items well by following care labels, and keep clothing tailored, repaired, and hemmed. Regularly check and inspect all clothing, especially investment pieces for missing buttons, gaps, wear, tear (torn pockets), tatters, and stains. All shoes may be taken to the shoe hospital or cobbler for repair, polishing, and maintained in great shape, scuff-free.

While you don’t have to perspire in a pantsuit, maintaining a clean, polished office aesthetic is crucial during spring and summer. As the temperatures rise and our winter gear is retired to storage, remember to maintain a professional and stylish appearance to give the right impression to colleagues and clients.


Sharon Schweitzer and Amanda Alden co-wrote this post. Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural trainer, modern manners expert, and the founder of Access to Culture. In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management from the HOFSTEDE centre, she serves as a Chinese Ceremonial Dining Etiquette Specialist in the documentary seriesConfucius was a Foodie, on Nat Geo People. She is the resident etiquette expert on two popular lifestyle shows: ABC Tampa Bay’s Morning Blend and CBS Austin’s We Are Austin. She is regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, Fortune, and the National Business Journals. Her Amazon #1 Best Selling book in International Business,  Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, now in its third printing, was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2015. She’s a winner of the British Airways International Trade Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards 

Amanda Alden is an intercultural research assistant with Access to Culture. She graduated with honors from St. Edward’s University with a major in Global Studies and a minor in French, and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Intercultural Mediations at l’Université de Lille III. Feel free to connect with Amanda at on LinkedIn.

Photo: Rubbermaid Products

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