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Group of professional office employees wearing business wardrobe

*This is Part 1 of 3 from Planning Your Professional Wardrobe.

A nice appearance is an investment in you. It gives you confidence and enhances how you want others to perceive you. Clothing speaks volumes about you, whether you are aware of it or not. Your appearance reflects how you feel about yourself, and it may be the only impression a stranger gets to see. Remember, first impressions last! Understanding and accepting yourself is the most important aspect of a positive image. Everyone isn’t a size 0, 2, 4 or 6. Garment size is not the issue, but body image is. Take a look around. There are people of different sizes, shapes, weights, and heights; you are not alone. Learning to look and feel good about yourself, and your appearance begins with recognizing, understanding, and accepting who you are today. Tomorrow’s success begins now!

Your Professional Image

A nice appearance is also an investment in your career. Although it will not take the place of education or competence in your job, it will enhance those requirements and increase your chances of getting ahead in the business world.

An interviewer’s decision to hire a job applicant is usually made within the first 30 seconds of an interview, and it’s based mostly on your appearance. The right look can make a person look more professional and not only increase their chances of being hired but possibly increase their starting salary as well.

First, there is more to dressing right for the job than just having a sense of what looks right for you. There’s more to consider than the color of your complexion, the shape of your body, or the kind of personality you have. Consideration for the kind of company you want to work for, the kind of people you will work with, the kind of work you are seeking, and where you would like to see yourself in the future of the company, are also important.

Next, plan your professional wardrobe with these goals in mind. Remind yourself; if you’re smart enough to do the job, you’re smart enough to dress right for it.

Communicating through Clothes

What statement do you want to send? What role do you want to play? Some people send out the wrong message unintentionally. What does your dress appearance say about you? “I don’t care,” or “I’m not organized.” Believe that clothing communicates facts about you, whether you are aware of it or not. First impressions stay with people for a long time. On the office grapevine, clothes speak louder than words. Know how to use clothing to establish yourself in whatever role you want to play in life. It will help you win that role much quicker. Dress for the job above you or the one you would like to have to let others know you want to advance.

Planning Your Wardrobe

A good wardrobe should:

  • Cover your life and your body.
  • Comfort your purse.
  • Bail you out of most emergencies.
  • Bring out your best self.
  • Boost your soul.
  • Beam out messages of approval from others around you.

A good professional wardrobe should:

  • Work nonstop!
  • Continually be in fashion.
  • Take the minimum amount of time and effort.
  • Be varied and versatile, and should make you feel and look good.
  • Be thought of as an investment in your career and your future.

Tips on Professional Dress

Think classic styles that are never outdated!

  • Quality: Buy the best you can afford. Shop the sales, thrift, or consignment shops.
  • Body: Choose clothing that compliments your body and enhances your skin tone.
  • Fit: Choose clothes that fit with ease — not too tight or too big.
  • Grooming: Shoes, hair, face, and hands should be neat, clean, and appealing.

NOTE: Always dress conservatively for interviews.

African American woman wearing black button-up blouse with small white polka dot pattern. Paired with black slacks.

Figure 2. Simple, professional outfit with a bit of flare. Stock image by Kiuikson

Ways to Dress: How do you dress?

  • Flare
    • Creative artsy: Express your artistic flair
  • Feminine
    • Basic feminine: Wear an angora sweater
  • Sexy–Alluring
    • Basic sexy: Wear short-fitted garments
    • Creative sexy: Wear long-fitted garments with side slits or hugging slacks

Wardrobe Engineering

1. Benefits of a Well-Planned Wardrobe

  • You can project your best self-image
  • You can save money
  • You can gain flexibility

2. Developing a Well-Planned Wardrobe

  • Know what apparel you already have
  • Group your clothes by:
    • Clothing you wear often
    • Clothing you wear occasionally
    • Clothing that needs repair or cleaning
    • Clothing not worn in the past year or two

3. Distinguish Wants from Needs

  • A “want” is a desire for something that gives you satisfaction.
  • A “need” is something you must have for your continued existence or survival. It is necessary for your basic protection, modesty, comfort, or livelihood.

4. Choosing Accessories

  • Use accessories to your advantage, such as:
    • Footwear
    • Handbags
    • Headwear
    • Scarves
    • Handkerchiefs
    • Belts
    • Gloves
    • Eyewear
    • Hosiery
    • Jewelry

5. Develop a Total Future Plan

  • Your basic garments
    • Basic apparel
    • Investment dressing
  • Your basic garments
    • Extenders (additional clothing you desire after building your wardrobe)
    • Seasonless clothing
    • Write down your plan

6. Consider your Resources

  • Resources (end of season sales, consignment and thrift shops)
  • Sewing as an option


Continue to:

Planning Your Professional Wardrobe Part 2: Dressing for your Body Type

Planning Your Professional Wardrobe Part 3: Color in your Professional Wardrobe


Source: A. Reneé Heard, Urban Regional Extension Agent, Morgan County Office, Alabama Cooperative Extension System at Alabama A&M University.

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