How To Dress Your Best At Work

Pamela Wintour · Nov 13, 2019
illustration of office clothing
Dressing well for work (or any occasion) doesn’t have to feel as daunting or expensive as it seems. Start with a few simple tips, and then build up from there to master presentable looks that fit you, your style, and the office dress code.

Take a look around your office. Are there a lot of jeans and plaid shirts, ankle booties and oversized sweaters, blazers, and khakis? Once you feel out the vibe of your work’s atmosphere, you can figure out how dressy to go. While there are a lot of helpful guides and rules for men and women out there, filled with suggestions on what to do and what not to do, we’ve put together an even easier cheat sheet of the basics. With our rundown, you’ll be in the right mindset as you build your wardrobe for work. You know what they say, look good, feel good—so let’s get started with the first part.

Start With A Great Fit

It won’t matter how much your outfit costs or what labels you’re wearing if the pieces don’t fit your body. Also, your shape or size doesn’t matter, which is where a lot of people can get stuck. What matters is how the clothes fit and drape on your body—no one else's.

For Men

Guys tend to favor an oversized fit to cover up areas they’re self-conscious about, but this either adds bulk or excess fabric that will hang in an unflattering way. Finding the right size will require trying on a few different options. You could be a medium in shirts and a large in blazers. Just make sure the shoulders always fit, all of the buttons button without pulling, and a belt is just a nice accessory—not holding up your pants.

For Women

Women, on the other hand, choose ill-fitting clothes, even if the size is correct because they don’t usually know their body shape. First, identify your body shape and then looks for pieces that flatter that specific shape. A general rule of thumb to follow is not wearing anything that’s too tight or loose. You’ll know when it’s the perfect fit because you’ll be able to move comfortably while still showing off your silhouette.

Once you do find out what your true size is, you can take your clothes to a tailor to get the proper adjustments. A good clothier will know how much to take in a jacket, where the hem should hit your knees or ankles and so on.

Invest In Quality Pieces

Quality isn’t always attached to a name brand, but rather, fabric content. Look for natural materials from plants and animals, such as cotton, wool, and silk. Touch the fabric—it should be smooth and soft—yet durable. Details matter: Seams should be tight and straight with no frays. Once you find a material you like, try the item on. After all, the fit is still the most important detail.

Yes, you may pay a little more for a non-synthetic garment because synthetics such as polyester or even a blend of polyester and cotton usually cost less. But the trade-off is that a garment made with natural materials will last much longer than a poor-quality, poorly made one. You can also wait for sales (even designer clothing goes on sale eventually) during the holidays or in the months right before summer, or even try a second-hand route such as The RealReal or threadUP. It’s good for the environment, usually half the price and a lot of the time, pieces are new with tags attached. Once you find a brand or designer that fits you well, stick with it. It’s easy to go online and search different sites for it.

Remember: Quality over quantity. You won’t need a lot of options if your clothes last a long time, mix well with each other, and fall in the timeless bucket when it comes to style. And to top it off, you’ll always look good in good-looking pieces that fit.

Keep It Classic

There’s a reason classic styles stick around. They go with just about everything and look good doing it. A crisp white button-down shirt is a great example. It works for both men and women, can be dressed up or down, is stylish year-round, and is available in all sizes and price ranges. When the majority of your work attire is made up of quality pieces that stand the test of time, you can easily add in trends and pops of color. You’re not limited to anything, but if you’re starting from scratch, here’s a good foundation to start from:

  • Navy blazer
  • Long-sleeve white button-down shirt
  • Khaki pants for men and a black pencil skirt for women
  • Camel topcoat
  • Dark-denim jeans
  • Smart shoes for men or black heels for women

Take Care Of Your Clothes

Once you make the investment, you want everything to last. Follow the directions on the care label to the letter if possible. Wash clothing with like colors (handwash when necessary), dry completely (air drying is best), and hang or fold everything. Spot treat stains immediately and then launder the item. Stuff your shoes when you’re not wearing them and get them resoled before they look like they need it. The more gentle you are with your clothes and accessories, the better they’ll look (and last).

By following this style guide with tips on dressing better at work, you’ll own comfortable, stylish work looks that hit every dress code. Also, you’ll feel good knowing the time and energy you put into finding the right pieces pays off every time you wear them.

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