What does it mean to dress professionally, especially since the rise of remote and hybrid work? We suggest the following when trying to translate such terms as “business attire” and "business casual.”
Consider the type of event
For job fairs, networking receptions, and interviews, there is often an expectation of “business attire.” While historically this has meant suit jackets, collared shirts, and dark, solid colors, many of these norms are evolving. Some are worth keeping, such as avoiding strong scents (you don’t want your interviewer to have an allergy attack!)
Consider the industry
Some industries require a uniform for reasons of safety, recognizability, and more. If you are considering a field where you have little experience, it’s okay to ask. Many companies have a dress code they can share, or you can ask during an informational interview.
Consider your comfort level
What outfits make you feel most like yourself and most able to perform your work? What shoes don’t have you screaming in pain before the end of the work day? Finding a balance between formality and comfort is important.
Consider your budget
No need to panic if your wallet doesn't match your wardrobe plans! It's okay to start slowly, building pieces that make you feel confident and like yourself. There's a reason capsule wardrobes are popular: having limited options/color choices can allow you to focus on what's most important – what you're doing!
Consider your environment
As workplaces continue to exist within our homes, consider your lighting, sound, and background when setting up your home office. Your workspace need not be big or fancy, but it should allow you to do your best work, free from distractions. (And when distractions inevitably happen, know that you’re not alone!)
“Comfort” and “casual” attire are much more common, and with that, many more options for workplace dressing have emerged. These can be welcome but confusing shifts, and they are why we continue to encourage informational interviews to learn about workplace norms and expectations. Many employers now employ mantras like “dress for the day you have.” If you are working from home, you will likely dress differently than for an in-office day in which you are meeting with your supervisor and/or clients.
Ultimately, you should dress in a way that you feel comfortable about and feel proud of. It is up to you to determine how much you want to conform to existing norms in your workplace and how you wish to express your identity through your attire. If you are interviewing for a position in a company with a restrictive dress code, you might consider how the restrictions may impact your comfort and productivity on a daily basis.
It’s also important to know your rights. DC legislation prohibits discriminative dress codes such as restricting hairstyles. When in doubt, reach out to your career center advisor with questions.