Tips From the Pros on What to Wear on the Job

By Andrea Lopez, Class of 2019

Her resume was carefully placed on a table at Pete’s Place. She wore tight dress pants and a white button down. Sophomore Nadira Fardos nervously sat down and tied her hair back in a professional ponytail.

“Do I look professional enough?” she asked her friends, laughing at her own uncertainty. After getting their silent nodding approvals, she picked up her things and started her way to her new job interview.

Today, 61% of finance professionals go to work in “somewhat casual “clothing, according to a 2017 Robert Half survey. The rapid growth of technology has enabled the rise of jobs that don’t necessarily demand the need for a suit and tie. However, this shift in America’s professional culture can sometimes be confusing to millennials.

“Like, I usually just think that as long as you’re covered, you’re good,” Nadira said. “I don’t really buy the most expensive thing at Macy’s or H&M, you know? If it just looks like I can wear it in a conference room, I’ll buy it and put it on. If I think about it too much, I’ll get confused and then probably make a mistake.”

An Office Team survey shows that 58% of individuals prefer going to work with business casual clothing.

So how does a millennial know exactly what to wear to in the workforce?

Searching online for professional advice may not be thoroughly helpful. For example, Robert Half’s advice of,  “Don’t assume you can dress down,” is vague. Not defining what dressing down looks like may not be the sufficient advice to young people who are still learning to navigate the professional world.

When looking for more reliable ways to learn about dressing professionally for any occasion, reaching out to one’s university career center is a good idea.

Sondra Buesing-Riley, the Director of Internships and Cooperative Education in the Career Engagement and Experiential Learning department, is one source to turn to at the university.

“Plan ahead by researching the company and its culture,” said Riley. “It’s important to look polished and professional. Your hair should be neat and away from your face, your nails should be clean and filed, your hands should be lotioned. Remember that dressing for success is one of the cornerstones of the interview process – it helps build confidence and make a great first impression!”  

Different companies have unique corporate cultures that require different attire in each of their individual environments.

Chanaz Gargouri, MBA; Ph.D., a business professor at Saint Peter’s University and former business woman, shared her experience with what she wears on campus.

“I wear suits most of the time and business casual clothing,” said Dr. Gargouri. “Dressing etiquette is important in the workplace. It’s really reflecting the personality and behavior of the person that you are dealing with. The way someone dresses affects the perception of a company’s managers, customers, etc. I think it is important to maintain a standard of dress that creates a positive impression on the people that one is meeting everyday.”

On the other hand, someone like Nicole Longhi, a casual fashion designer for Heritage Brands Wholesale Bottoms, the parent company of Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein, may have a less demanding dress code.

“My work environment is laid back, fun and inclusive,” Longhi said. “I wear business casual clothing; generally a dress with heels.”

Suits for Success is a nonprofit organization that helps aid students with professional attire for their interviews and job entrance. Jewel Savvides, the Program Coordinator for Suits for Success, suggested that people understand the required dress code before going in for an interview.

“If you’re dealing with the corporate structure, a suit is the way to go,” Savvides said. “If you’re interviewing in a startup culture, you may want to be a little bit more casual. And that’s well within your right to ask what the dress code is, just to make sure. There’s no penalization for that… always make sure.”

Experts like Savvides and Riley agree that it is up to the young adult to do research about the field he or she desires getting into. Whether it’s  by asking the company directly before going to the interview or by checking in with career services, young job seekers must get educated about what to wear at work.

When preparing for an interview, students should remember these three important words: Conservative is best!” Riley said. Plan ahead by researching the company and its culture.”



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