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Once upon a time, dressing for the office was second nature. However, that was a pre-COVID era, and now, workers are faced with transitioning their at-home Zoom wardrobes to office-appropriate attire. No need to stress over it, though. Whether you’re applying for a new job you’ve found on ZipRecruiter or LinkedIn, or your corporate job has newly mandated in-office days, we’ve compiled six ways to dress for success in business professional attire.
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1. Start with the basics.
When dressing for a business professional environment, less is often more, and as such, developing a capsule wardrobe for work can be hugely helpful. By filling your closet with staple pants, skirts, dresses, and tops, you’ll easily be able to create a number of different outfits by simply switching out which accessories and statement pieces you add to your overall look.
Not sure what makes something a staple? Generally, you want to look for solid colors and classic, stylish designs that can go with just about anything (or at least many things). Love a wide-leg pant? The Ripley Rader Black Ponte Knit Wide Leg pants are Instagram-famous and sold in women’s extended sizes from XS to 3X. Looking for button-up shirts that are professional yet chic? The Banana Republic Satin Classic shirt, which is sold in six colors and sizes XXS to XXL, fits the bill.
All in all, it’s best to figure out which silhouettes you like best for each garment category, and then buy a few of each (preferably in different colors). That way, when it comes time to get dressed each morning, you’ll know exactly where to start and you won’t have to encounter decision fatigue in the process.
2. Add a statement piece
Once you’ve figured out what top and/or bottoms you want to wear, it’s time to think about ways to spice it up while still keeping it business professional. Think: patterned shirts, bold blazers, eye-catching shoes, and so on.
If you love your work pants and prefer to switch up your ensemble with shirts, check out Never Fully Dressed. The UK-based clothing brand, which prioritizes pretty colors and fun prints in classic silhouettes, takes dopamine dressing (ie: dressing to feel happy) to a whole new level. The sheer (but not see-through) Never Fully Dressed Seraphina Sami shirt, which is sold in sizes S to XXL and designed to fit loosely, will add an abundance of color to your outfit while keeping the overall look polished and office appropriate.
On the other hand, if you love your staple pants and tops, a uniquely-colored or patterned blazer can totally transform your business professional look. If you prefer solid colors, consider the Zara blazer with Rolled Up Sleeves, which is sold in seven colors (including a particularly on-trend Barbiecore pink). If you’re a fan of patterns, Anthropologie’s new Maeve Slim blazer in Raspberry is a beautiful choice—especially for fall.
No matter what you pick, stylist, bestselling author, and TV personality Jené Luciani Sena says that clean and pressed is best. “Be sure that whatever you choose is clean (not stained), pressed (not wrinkled), and has no threads hanging from it,” she says.
Pro Tip: If you want to take your business professional wardrobe a step further without necessarily spending beaucoup bucks on your garments to begin with, you can buy pieces you love from more affordable places like Target, T.J.Maxx, and Marshall’s, and enlist the help of a tailor. “You can always spend a few bucks on a tailor to make it look custom made—especially when it comes to pieces like blazers,” Luciani says.
3. Be mindful of your hemlines
If you prefer skirts over pants, nine times out of 10, you’ll want to be mindful of your hemlines. While some workplaces (like trendy women’s lifestyle magazines) don’t enforce strict dress codes, most business professional establishments have certain guidelines in mind. Generally speaking, Luciani says that skirts hitting just above the knee and longer are best. “No mini skirts in professional settings,” she emphasizes.
Don’t let a longer length requirement dissuade you from reaching for a skirt, though. Nowadays, so many beautiful longer skirts exist that can easily be paired with staple tops for a stylish business professional ensemble. The Eloquii Column skirt is a fan favorite for its form-fitting, high-waisted, knee-length silhouette. Best of all, it’s sold in 14 colors and prints, not to mention sizes 14 to 28. If you prefer a solid skirt that can go with everything, Spanx’s The Perfect Black Pencil skirt is a great choice. The high-waisted silhouette is designed to smooth and lift, creating an even more polished end look.
Pro Tip: “Certain colors can evoke confidence for example yellow symbolizes happiness and makes you appear optimistic and red generally means strong and powerful,” Luciani says.
4. Pick (and maintain) the proper shoes
Depending on where you work, your office may have shoe guidelines in place. If that’s the case, the most common rule is that shoes be close toed. Thankfully, business professional shoe silhouettes have come a long way over the years, with stylish loafers, trendy mules, and beautiful (and comfortable) heels becoming the norm.
For chic, everyday black work shoes, consider the Eda loafer by Sarto by Franco Sarto. Designed with clean lines and a slender bit, these loafers are about as classic as it gets. If you love the idea of loafers but love dressing boldly (even if just on your feet), Sam Edelman’s Loraine Bit loafer is a great choice considering it’s sold in 35 colors, textures, and prints, in sizes 5 to 11. Sticking with the loafer silhouette (considering it’s a top theme for fall 2022 fashion), the Bernardo 1946 Selma loafer marries the classic style with a retro chunky lug sole that will introduce ’70s style into your modern business professional ensemble.
As far as heels go, you have many options. You can opt for a stylish-yet-comfortable block heel silhouette, like the Marc Fisher Zala Block Heel pump, which is sold in five colors and sizes 5 to 12. Alternatively, you can embrace a slimmer heel like the Jessica Simpson Haneh pump, which is sold in five colors and sizes 5 to 12 and is beloved for its padded sole and shockingly comfortable wear.
Once you fill your wardrobe with all your work-ready shoes, Luciani says to maintain them. “Shoes should be polished and not scuffed,” she says. “I make regular trips to shoe repair just to fix scuffs or clean suede. It goes a long way for just a few bucks.”
5. Don’t forget about what’s underneath
While your outward appearance plays a big role in dressing for success, Luciani, who is the author of The Bra Book, says that foundations matter when making a good first impression, too. “As a bra expert, I get a lot of questions on the topic and something as simple as a bra can make all the difference in whether you stand up straighter and look more confident,” she says. “You want to make sure you wear the proper undergarments and that they are smooth under your clothing—with no visible bras, panty lines, lumps, or bumps.”
To ensure a smooth bra fit, consider going to your local bra retailer and getting measured. Alternatively, some online stores, like Thirdlove and Cuup, offer multi-question quizzes to help find the perfect fit. For undies, opt for seamless silhouettes—like Old Navy’s Soft-Knit No-Show Brief underwear, which is sold in sizes XS to 4X and is less than $5 a pair, and Skims’ Fits Everybody High Waisted thong, which is available in the same extended sizes as the Old Navy pair and is beloved for its ultra-soft, virtually invisible fabric—that are specifically designed to go unseen beneath clothing.
Pro Tip: No matter the garment you’re shopping for, Luciani emphasizes the importance of dressing your size. “Dress for your current size and not the size you hope to be or used to be,” she says. “A big misconception is women will wear clothes too large thinking it will make them look smaller and in reality it does the opposite.” With that in mind, she says that opting for a waist-cinching silhouette or a belt can make a huge difference.
6. Reach for the right accessories
When dressing for a business professional environment, it’s important to think beyond just your clothing. According to Luciani, your jewelry and other accessories impact your overall look. Her suggestion? Opt for a less is more approach. “No distracting accessories; nothing that jingles, jangles, or dangles,” she says. “Go for understated—one key piece that complements or highlights your face such as bringing attention to your eyes.”
Whatever type of statement jewelry you’re looking for, J.Crew is renowned for its offerings. If you’re searching for a bold pair of earrings to make your face pop, the best-selling Colorful Floral Hoop earrings, which are sold in two colorways, are hard to beat. Kendra Scott is another jewelry retailer that offers beautiful statement pieces, as well as more minimal styles that still offer that special je ne sais quoi. The Elisa Gold Pendant necklace is a cult favorite for its simple, stunning design, which is sold in 23 colors. Best of all, there are earrings and bracelets to match, so you can coordinate your accessories while maintaining a minimal aesthetic.
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