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By: Jamie Collins
Surprisingly, one of the searches that frequently lands people on our blog is those on a quest for tips regarding office appropriate apparel; people looking for a little help in the “what is appropriate to wear to work” department. While we may get away with wearing dress slacks and a button down shirt on most days, there are certain days when we know we need to up our game! Think: Big interview, a day at trial, large conference room full of people, round-table discussion or an important meeting, just to name a few. Today, we’re here to offer some basic business attire tips!
As a member of a professional team (or an interviewee who seeks to be), one’s appearance should convey confidence, and reflect a look that is polished, sophisticated, and professional. Repeat after me: Professional attire is not optional. Professional attire is not optional. Professional attire is not optional. It is expected…at least in most business settings, and especially for important events.
While our employers may not specifically articulate what constitutes “appropriate” office attire (after all, we are grown adults), you better believe they do take notice, whether they choose to verbally acknowledge those who get it right or issue formal warnings to those ever-present, fashion offenders. You better believe if the bosses of the world were asked to compile a list of who makes the “Top Dressed of 2012” for the office, they would have no problem coming up with that list of names, in sequential order, signed and sealed, faster than an eager, newly-minted, White House intern on beck-and-call duty could expeditiously deliver a cup of coffee to the President.
Although each office atmosphere is different, with some being far more casual than others, if you do not currently find yourself working for the corporate offices of Elle magazine, as general counsel for Levi’s or at a firm which allows its employees to pay daily pay homage to an array of blue denim, there are some fashion rules to keep in mind.
When you wish to convey the image of a consummate professional, you must tip the scales to the conservative side on the fashion pendulum. While this is not always fun, it is necessary. When dressing to impress, it is not the day to wear a suit with loud pinstripes, a wild necktie, flamboyant scarf, 6 inch stilettos, flashy jewelry or an over abundance of perfume or cologne. The goal is to portray the look of a professional and dignified member of a professional team. Here are some specific, fashion guidelines:
Suits are typically the preferred genre when selecting formal, professional attire. They should be of a solid color or contain only a faint pinstripe or pattern. Black is the safest choice, but navy, brown, tan or gray will also suffice, so long as they are not too flashy or overly casual. Save those fun, fashion-forward outfits for another day!
Note to paralegals: You should own at least one really nice suit. If you don’t own a suit, at a minimum, buy a few jackets that you can mix and match with dress slacks, skirts, and button down shirts to create a more polished look.
Layering. A camisole or professional layering tank is a great accessory to wear, even if the jacket you select has a fairly high neckline, as it will allow you to rest easy that there will be no inadvertent, bodily exposure mishaps. Often, when you are seated, a suit jacket will buckle, slide open or change shape, creating issues you may not anticipate. Always best to play it safe.
Note to paralegals: Steer clear of provocative items, such as overly short skirts or low cut tops. As a general rule, if one part of you is exposed, for example, your legs via a skirt, then no other part of you should be! You want your image to say, “Do you see my professional image?” not “Are you checking me out?”
Jewelry. Jewelry should be conservative and minimal. It should add a little something to your outfit, but not take over the look or make a major fashion statement. In other words, it should blend with or subtly enhance your look.
Note to paralegals: For purposes of trial, if you have an impressive wedding ring, you may want to leave it at home or purchase a “stand in” ring. While this may seem ridiculous (and I realize it does) if you ever end up at a trial in a small town that will likely boast a very conservative population, it is best to steer clear of “the bling.” When in doubt, ask your attorney. To bling or not to bling? That is the question.
Hosiery. Hosiery is not optional; you should consider it a part of the professional uniform where formal meetings or the courtroom are concerned.
Shoes. Shoes should be professional, fairly conservative and free of scuffs, nicks or scrapes. If you opt to wear heels, select a pair that boasts a heel not taller than 3.5 to 4 inches, at a maximum. Generally speaking, 2-3 inch heels are a safe bet.
Note to paralegals: When in trial, you may occasionally find yourself running through the halls of the courthouse, so be sure you can run without issue in the shoes you select.
Briefcase or Oversized Handbag. A solid colored, professional briefcase or oversized handbag is a necessity. When selecting an oversized handbag, be sure it can at least hold a regular sized notepad and any necessary personal items from your regular handbag.
Pad folio. An attractive, leather pad folio is also helpful for taking notes during important meetings or trial. It will help you to look prepared, remain organized, and further convey a professional image.
Necessary items. A notepad and a few ink pens are a requirement for any important meeting. Pack them.
Nail Polish. If you choose to wear nail polish, it is best to select a conservative shade of color. Stay away from bright red or other avant garde colors, such as silver, blue, green, purple, etc. While they may be all the rage, they are not approriate for the “big” day. Chipped nail polish is also a big no-no. It will majorly detract from an otherwise professional image. If wearing polish, toss a bottle of the selected shade into your briefcase/handbag for touch ups, just in case!
The same rule applies with regard to suits. Typically, tan or light gray suits give off a less formal vibe. Stick with black, navy, dark gray or dark brown. Again, either a solid fabric or one with minimal pinstripes.
Neckties: Loud neckties are definitely something to avoid. A striped, power tie in a subdued hue is always a safe choice. Stick to conservative colors and patterns when making your selection. Also, ensure that your tie is tied to the proper length. It should be securely fitted to the neckline collar, with the knot adjusted straight and flat, and the point at the bottom falling at the top-to-middle of your beltline.
Note to male paralegals: Nothing kills a man’s image faster than a tie that is tied to an improper length. People do notice. Wearing a tie tied to the wrong length says, “I don’t care that my tie is too long or short – either I don’t realize it to be a problem or didn’t bother to fix it.” Keep that perfectly tied tie ready to go in the closet, so you can simply slip it over your head, when needed, to avoid the last-minute, tie tying marathon. Plus, if you managed to miraculously line up the pattern on that stunning neck tie just right (think stripes), no need to go in search of the second coming of perfection.
Shoes and Belt. The shoes and belt should match one another. The shoes and belt you wear will either take your image up or down a notch, so be mindful of your selections. Again, the shoes should be free of scuffs, nicks or scrapes.
Socks. Socks should match the suit/pants and be more subdued. Again, no loud patterns or boisterous stripes.
The Bottom Button. Unless you are wearing a double-breasted suit or jacket, the bottom button of a suit jacket should always remain unbuttoned. You should never remove your suit jacket during an interview or trial, even if the room is excessively hot, as it will offset an otherwise professional appearance. This remains true even if the judge or interviewer removes his own jacket – don’t follow suit.
Pocket Silk/Handkerchief. If you prefer to wear a pocket silk in your jacket pocket, a subtle hue is best.
Briefcase or Satchel. The same rules apply with regard to the selection of a suitable briefcase or satchel. Also, be sure to bring along the pad folio, notepad and a few pens.
Be sure that all items of clothing that you select are event appropriate, fit well, and are freshly pressed for the big occasion. Always plan what you are going to wear the evening prior in order to avoid any potential pitfalls, such as a suit that must be dry cleaned, a shirt boasting a permanent stain, pants that no longer fit properly, a missing button, snag in your hosiery or that dreaded necktie that isn’t tied to the proper length!
In essence – plan, prepare, and seize the day.
While we do not believe we are making fashion history here, we hope this short list of tips will help you to take your professional image to the next level. Show that judge, attorney, conference room of co-workers, round table full of folks or intimidating interviewer exactly who you are – a distinguished professional that takes the job seriously, knows exactly how to dress to impress for the next big, important event, and will undoubtedly make the bosses’ coveted list of the “Top Dressed of 2012.”
You bet we will!
As far as we can tell – it’s fashion week here at TPS! Be sure to check back with us later this week for another fun, fashion-related post written by the Founder on how to infuse your work wardrobe like a pro…for the ladies and the fellas! We don’t discriminate. Paralegals: we love them all!
We’ll see you soon. Until then, cling to the sanity, and dress to the nines! Actually, paralegals are known for being overachievers. Go ahead and make it a 10!