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How to Dress for Work Without Becoming a Clone

Having a cavalier attitude about clothing choices isn’t advised.

Whether spoken or unspoken, every company has its employee uniform. You’ll do well to become versed in the stated or unstated clothing style of the company in which you’ve landed. Having a cavalier attitude about clothing choices, especially during your incubation period with a new employer, isn’t advised.

Look around you. Note who among your coworkers are the better dressed and try to emulate their style. Not only will the appropriate choice of dress help you look the part of a professional, it will help you feel more professional.

In the for-profit world, the wardrobe tends towards two- or three-piece suits. Women may get away with wearing a jacket and coordinating skirt or pants, but outfits must be put together with style and quality fabrics.

If the office has a more relaxed wardrobe vibe — khakis and a plaid shirt, for instance — note that it’s still  a dress code. Others will look down upon anyone sporting an out-of-fashion suede vest or vintage dress. If you don’t adhere to the “uniform,” you won’t be considered a team player and you’ll lose any chance of getting ahead.

In today’s modern workplace, blending in is a much smarter strategy than standing out. But that doesn’t mean you can’t express your own personality. Once you’re uniformed, you can brandish small violations or additions that add panache.

Consider these slight deviations from the office norm, while still keeping up your professional appearance:

1. Bring needed relief to tedious monotones.

Too many dark colors in your wardrobe can get dreary — and these days, you want to stay optimistic. Are you in a color palette rut? Try this year’s color of choice, living coral, to breathe life into dreary black, gray and navy. Mix in color with a shirt or tie, as long as they’re not too loud. You may want to veer into a lighter color of suit. But here, men have less leeway than women. Brighter colors may work for women, but men should steer away from shades that bear any resemblance to tropical birds.

2. Find the color that puts you in command.

If you often receive flattering remarks when you wear your dark blue sweater, chances are you’ve stumbled on your confidence color. Once you discover the color that suits you best, build your wardrobe around it. Find accessories — a tie or a scarf or a belt, perhaps — in that shade and you’ll look smashing while making a strong impression. Wearing your confidence color gives you a sprightly spring in your step. Take note: others will notice.

3. Fitting in when you’re strapped for cash.

Following office fashion norms can be costly. Keep from becoming clothes-rich but cash-poor by limiting your purchases to just a few good items. You can pair less pricey pants or skirts with a well-tailored jacket and rotate through a handful of shirts, while still appearing well put together. Draw attention away from your limited clothing rotation by embellishing with an eye-catching necklace or tie.

4. Liven up work attire with accessories.

True, office fashion tends toward the homogenized, but you can show your fashion flair with a colorful handbag, belt or even phone case. Let your choice of accessories add a splash of color or pattern to neutral business outfits. Just don’t go overboard — those giant earrings that clink on the phone or cluster of bracelets that jangle as you type will annoy you and those around you.

5. Plan our outfit for your type of workday.

Are you meeting with a client today? Have your A-game outfit cleaned and pressed. Check that there aren’t any frays around the cuffs or hems, and be sure to remove any stray pet hairs.

6. Business casual is different from weekend casual.

If your workplace relaxes its dress code standards on Fridays, here’s your chance to break free of the suit. Still, dressing too casually or provocatively will harm your office credibility. Skin-tight dresses that hug the body and yoga tops should only be worn under sweaters or jackets. Even on casual Fridays, ban jeans and T-shirts, shorts or baggy clothing. Boat shoes and sneakers are borderline.

7. Know what’s taboo before getting piercings or tattoos.

If you and your buddy want to mark your wild weekend adventure with matching cuff tattoos, think twice. Once you’ve secured that choice professional job, don’t let your friends goad you into visible tattoos, eyebrow piercings, purple streaks in your hair or other reputation-tarnishing fashion statements that can’t be hidden at the office.

The bottom line for business attire: align your appearance with the professional stature you plan to attain. Strive to balance style and originality with what’s generally considered acceptable.

**Originally Published at CareerBright

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