“Dress for the job you want.”
“Clothes make the man.”
“Just look at what the boss is wearing, and emulate.”
“Business casual with casual Friday.”
Is it just me or has dressing for work become really complicated lately? What is business casual? Jeans and a blazer? But then what will I wear on casual Friday? How does one dress like the boss when you’re 30 and female and he’s 50 and a male?
The answer, like most answers, lies online. Let’s check out Instagram. Let’s ask Google. Let’s see what the influencers are up to.
Lace short sets and rompers for men. Plastic overlay over jeans. Glitter eyebrows and pom poms for eyeshadow. Jeans pre-stained with mud.
Ready to give up?
Stylist Jessica Gurney, founder of Walking My Runway (walkingmyrunway.com, @walkingmyrunway), is here to help.
“Social media and influencers are great to turn to for inspiration, but you need to be selective with the trends you choose to follow,” says Gurney. “Trends are tricky. They can make or break your presentation. Before looking to others for inspiration, you need to start by establishing your personal style, which takes into account your career, your personality and your lifestyle. Once you have figured out your personal style, you can start to experiment and evolve.”
So, bring on the pom poms, right?
Not so much, says Gurney.
“Some trends are fun to experiment with and some should never have surfaced. You can incorporate unique patterns, bold colours and fun textures into your wardrobe, but pom-poms as eyeshadow, glitter eyebrows, the proposed RompHim rompers and lace shorts for men are inappropriate, unprofessional and a distraction. You want to be taken seriously in the corporate world, and your presentation defines you in a way that could make or break your career. You want people to think you are knowledgeable, sophisticated, professional and put together. As for casual Fridays, sure you can ditch the suit, but make sure you are still dressed to impress.”
She notes that trends often have a dubious motive.
“A trend is a marketing technique created by stores and magazines to move product. They look to celebrities and other people of influence to find these trends, then they will use those same people to advertise them, and finally, society will incorporate them into their wardrobe. It can be consuming and pricey to keep up with the latest trends. Everyone is different, too, so one trend rarely works for everyone. I firmly believe that once you know your personal style, you do not need to rely on trends.”
KPMG provides audit, tax and advisory services to clients around the world. The firm has more than 6,000 employees and 700 partners. One of those partners in the Edmonton office is Robyn Eeson.
Eeson, whose professional and stylish wardrobe has been well documented in the city and is appreciated by clients and team members alike, is happy to share how one of the largest firms in Canada views dressing for success in the corporate world.
“We are not overly rigid, but we expect a baseline that reflects our values,” says Eeson. “We don’t say ‘long sleeves and nylons.’ By being flexible and letting people decide for themselves, there is lots of room for personal expression and to be on point in terms of style. We also have casual Fridays, which gives people the opportunity to be more creative.”
Eeson has yet to see any of the gentlemen in the office sporting a romper, or any of the ladies enjoying the convenience of tear-a-way plastic jeans, let alone shiny star stickers for blush and ocean themed eye-shadow (complete with tiny fish).
“I haven’t seen any of those trends in our office! First, there is the nature of our business: we are accountants, consultants and auditors selling a service to businesses and organizations. We have clients who expect a high level of professionalism from us and we must exude a nature of integrity and trust. You don’t want creative accounting or an exciting audit! Knowing that, there is an expectation to conform – not to stifle style, but to meet expectations. If someone was to be in on these cutting-edge styles, it’s not that we are not embracing their spirt, but it would limit them. We have to embrace what the client wants. [Crazy trends] would, to some extent, limit their advancement. It’s not up to us. It has to resonate with the client. Saying that, we do pride ourselves on promoting based on ability, but you need an opportunity to showcase that ability.”
Eeson points out why employees need to consider the company’s brand as well as their own personal style when dressing for success.
“We are selling a service and we need to represent the quality of that service. If our physical appearance is not matching the service, it distorts the view of the service. If you show up rumpled and unwashed, people translate that to the service offering. You can be brilliant and creative, but the packaging distracts from the service.
“In the office, we encourage staff to bring their whole selves to work but to also be mindful of how others feel, and to contribute to a healthy working environment. We don’t have to be clones, but if I showed up in a bikini, it would make my coworkers uncomfortable!”
The KPMG partner knows, however, that it takes time and money to build a corporate wardrobe.
“I’m sensitive to this because we do have lots of junior staff, fresh out of school, who are watching their bills. It’s important to pay attention to that and not to make people feel like they have to spend thousands on a suit. Having some key pieces and good, solid basics can really go a long way.”
What are those basics? Gurney is happy to share her expertise.
“Every businessman should have three or four tailored suits, each in a different colour and/or pattern. The suits are the foundation. Dress shirts are a crucial component and are meant to stand out, so always remember to keep the prints charming! You want a versatile selection that will work with each of the suits. Ties and bowties distinguish you from the rest and seal the deal. They must work with what you have and they must be bold.”
“As for footwear, three pairs are enough to start with. A black dress shoe, a brown dress shoe and a brown boot. It is very important that you have a belt in the exact same colour and shade to match each pair. Pair these key pieces together correctly and you will own any room you walk into.
“Every businesswoman should have three great blazers in a different cut, fit and colour. I usually suggest a white, black and navy. Those colours may seem boring, but they are so versatile. You need four pairs of dress pants, consisting of a black pair, a navy pair, a pop of colour pair (red is always a great choice) and a pattern pair. The pattern should be subtle, but distinguishable on your pants.
“When choosing a pant with pattern, you want to make sure it is on a muted colour like grey, navy, or black. Your tops are where you introduce the bold colour and patterns. You can go wild with tops, because they can be taken down a notch once paired with muted pants and a solid blazer.
“Dresses are easy, especially in the summer. A structured dress with a fun pattern needs nothing more than a pair of shoes and a bag and out the door you go! When choosing a dress for work, look for structured fabrics rather than a jersey. You want to make sure your dress means business and not beach.
“Skirts are a great break from pants, but not a necessity. A gathered or pleated skirt and a pencil skirt are all you need to switch up the pant looks.
“When it comes to footwear, I think three pairs are all you need. I am not saying to get rid of your wall of shoes if you have one, but if you are starting a collection from scratch, a black flat, a nude pump and a coloured pump will go a long way.
“Every businesswoman needs a power bag. It does not have to be a luxury brand, but make sure it is bold and structured.”
Gurney finishes with one time-honoured fashion quote that never goes out of style: “Confidence is your best accessory.”
There is no shortage of ideas online when it comes to dressing for success, but that does not mean they are good ones. Unless your job is showcasing haute couture as a model, avoid pushing the boundaries with daring fashion at work, and instead let your confidence, personality and professionalism shine through in a wardrobe that takes you right to the top of the corporate ladder.