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February 5, 2008

Clothes-Minded—February 5, 2008

Dressing for business can be risky. Looking too informal can be harmful to your office image, and while not everyone is expected to wear suits every day (especially if you’re interning), it is generally not acceptable to wear leggings and a tunic to the office. Whether you’re getting ready for an interview, summer internship, or a real job, it’s important to look put-together. The way you dress tells people about your working style. Looking sloppy never got anyone the corner office, so take some time and think about what you put on—your smarts will do the rest.

Spending thousands on a suit does not ensure it will fit, so take time in the mirror before you leave the store. The suit—skirt or pants—is a business essential, and everyone should have one in her closet when paddling or jumping into the real world. The suit you pick should be structured and fit impeccably. It is well worth a high tailor bill to get pieces that fit like they were made just for you. Stay neutral on your first suit purchase—black and dark gray are safe go-to colors. After you start building a work wardrobe, exploring other pieces of the color wheel can be thrilling. But remember to keep the fabrics rich. Here a quick word to the wise should be inserted: Keep out of the pastel shades. Easter egg hues are delightful but are not for the outer shell of an office ensemble.

A suit is more than a two-in-one. One of the best things about suits is they come in pieces. Adding the jacket or skirt in with other pieces can be a great way to get extra mileage out of a basic suit set. Pair a black jacket with a tailored white shirt, tweed trousers, and black patent loafers for a day running around the office. A romantic ruffled shirt tucked in to the bottom half of a suit shows that you can wear the pants and still look sweet. Boho does the office in layers of button-ups, cardigans, and jackets, with dangling—but not distracting—earrings. Pick an outfit inspiration and run with it. Just throwing a suit piece into the mix moves most looks to the near side of office-appropriate.

Even if you sit at a desk day in and day out, shoes are a make-or-break addition. Matronly heels, tennis shoes, white oxfords, and strappy sandals are a few options you should kick aside in the morning when getting ready for work. Depending on your work environment boots can be in or out, but never should they be thigh-high and patent. Classic black leather pumps with rounded or pointy toes are an excellent investment, as are tan crocodile heels. Menswear-inspired loafers, ballet flats, or other heelless shoes are good to keep on foot (or in handbag) for office errands and aching arches.

Adorning yourself with the entire contents of your jewelry box will guarantee a personal flair, but not necessarily one you wish to be remembered for. Chunky, bold metal rings and bracelets are chic when worn in moderation—so keep it to one statement piece per outfit. If you go the earring route, simple studs and hoops are always winners. The key to office jewelry is to streamline your pieces, suppress the urge to load yourself down in beaded handicrafts, and keep the chain charm belts for after hours.

Work wear doesn’t have to be dull, but it does have to do its job. Donning sophisticated professional wear will show the higher-ups that you pay attention to presentation, you know what’s expected of you, you can manage putting things together—and that you have excellent taste in apparel. Also, that same sleek ensemble will no doubt give you confidence to tackle whatever task should be thrown your way. So dress to impress, and work it out.