Workplace Apparel – What works best for you

Someone once said – ‘Clothes don’t make a man’. He sure wasn’t into corporate culture.
As we head further along the ‘food chain’, we tend to realize how important one’s appearance and first impressions can be, in terms of career progress and public interaction. Most people, however,  pay little attention to what they wear to work everyday, and more importantly, how it effects people’s perceptions of you.
I once wore my ‘lazy dude’ kurta shalwar (its kinda something like sleeping pajamas, usworkplace appareled widely in eastern countries) to my office on a half day, and the building’s elevator rep. (who salutes me every OTHER day) stopped me from entering, n said – ‘Executives only’. Unbelievable, and very, very embarrassing.
Like all other things however, it made me realize just how much importance people tend to attach to first impressions n how you look, instead of focusing more on what you’re all about.
Coming back to the topic – what kind of apparel suits you best, in your work environment, and why. Feel free to state your favorite colors, how they effect/portray your mood, your lucky shirt, etc.
E.g. I always seem to be more confident when I’m wearing something black. I prefer loosely fitted dress pants, and a business casual shirt/top.  If I’m in a really good mood, I wear something blue, it helps me be more lively. N when I need to work a lot sometimes, I really dress up like a peon that day, n isolate myself to my workplace, to make sure that I’m not wasting anytime being ‘proper’. I’m into the IT business, so I have quite a bit of space to do my own thing, but this differs from business to business.
That was my bit, now its your turn. N I just might consider sending something nice to the winner of this discussion 😉


  • I agree with your main point – clothes don’t make the man, but they do make a first impression. Personally, I aim for the professional but relaxed look:
    Winter: black dress pants, comfortable black shoes (but not necessarily dress shoes) and a dress shirt. If I’m aiming to look a little more formal, then the shirt will be either black, or some other solid color, with a tie that has personality (stripes, geometrical patterns are out, tend to go with a single large motif such as a black tie with a large swirl or such).
    Summer: khaki pants, comfortable brown shoes (but not necessarily dress shoes) and either a dress shirt or a polo shirt. When going a little more formal, then I do the same as in the winter.
    Spring and Fall: transition, and tend to dress based on the weather.

  • Natalia K Bilash

    I saw your question on LinkedIn, but decided to reply here.
    I am currently consulting for several firms. On those projects that I do from home, I dress in jeans & a T-shirt, because I don’t really have interaction with others, other than on the phone & by email. On the occasion that I need to go into the office of my client and work there, I dress in a corporate manner – nice black slacks and a fancy top, sometimes with a blazer. In the spring and summer months, I wear skirts as well, and always wear heels to the office.
    Having said all that, unless I go to a very corporate meeting or conduct an interview with a candidate for an executive position, I tend to wear very colorful tops and shoes. I like loud colors, such as red, blue, orange and yellow, but I’m careful when to wear them.

  • I’ve always been a business casual and sport coat type but I like the suit and tie look and feel too. I notice I seem to gravitate toward dark colors and gray. Given the opportunity I’d wear dark executive suits/sport coats every day. And I am looking for that opportunity 😉
    Check out my profile and call me!

  • The answer is extremely cultural. I mean that in the narrowest sense, not just national culture but regional culture and corporate culture as well as professional culture.
    Workplace apparel is also a costume. The best choice for some places might be a coat and tie. For others, this costume would make you appear stuffy, working political angles and not really contributing to a solution. I’ve worked in places that embraced an international perspective and where people would dress according to foreign principles. This was viewed positively, honest and also interesting. Other places, this would be a real mistake. I would be more inclined to dress formally if seeing a client in downtown New York City than in Downtown Boston.
    Wearing all black in much of the US would be seen as being sort of “Punk” or “Bad ass”. This might be OK in some places, even embraced and others would be a real mistake, especially for a foreigner. This brings up my other point which is that, until I really know, I dress as neutrally as possible, providing as little of what I am about as I can. In addition to not introducing potentially controversial ideas, it also puts the focus on my ideas and on what I have to say, which is usually why I am there anyway. For the same reasons, I avoid stickers and placards on my car. During recent political campaigns, I resisted promoting my candidate.
    Weather is also an issue. Here in New England, people expect you (especially day to day), in the winter, expect suitable apparel. So, during heavy weather a less formal approach, perhaps heavy boots for example, would also be appropriate and sensible. Similarly in the hot and humid summer, a coat and tie is less expected.
    Depending on my perception’s about the needs, I wear a coat and tie … cheering it up a bit as needed with a colored shirt or interesting tie. Alternatively, “business casual”. Slacks and I go a little more interesting on the shirt usually.

  • For women there are a host of clothing options and this is where some people get tripped up. I’ve found by wearing fashionable but not revealing clothing I am taken seriously by both men and women.
    I tend to wear a lot of skirts and dress shirts. I favor solids – warmer colors during summer and more somber for winter months. I use funky shoes to add personality to my outfit. I do have a number of pieces that are unique – embroidered or beaded flourishes that express a side of my personality without screaming “pay attention to my clothes.”
    Clothing, like makeup and hair, should complement not distract from the person – defining that line can be challenging for some people.
    I’ve used personal shoppers in the past to help me find the most flattering fit and understand what works for my body shape.
    My best advice to women is to invest in their wardrobe – have less clothes but quality ones you can wear for many years.

  • Unfortunately people tend to judge you by your clothes. It’s like a first impression and it’s hard to change your image after a bad first impression. I use to wear suit and tie because I like it, and some months ago I found out that this was a good choice. I went to the plant (I work in a huge plant where we have both, factories and offices) wearing casual one Saturday (I don’t use to work on weekends), and believe me, people looks at you in a different way. It seems a complete ignorance to me, but it’s the reality we live nowadays… so… you better adapt to it! lol

  • Clothes. I love clothes. I’m in a conservative industry and a fairly traditional company so, despite “corporate casual” (for me, that consists of a jacket, trousers, and a shell or sweater, with appropriate jewelry), I like suits. For one thing, they’re mindless. Grab a hanger the night before and you know what goes with what.
    For another thing, they look good, they wear well, people don’t hassle you, and You Never Know.
    I live in New York. I wear black, of course. EVERYONE wears black. I like to mix it with one bright accent. On rainy days, I wear red or a deep pink near my face because it brightens people’s moods (starting with mine). I like stained-glass colors. Occasionally, I’ll wear metallics.
    No one wants to know my opinion of pantyhose. Believe me.

  • I remember hearing a story on NPR about a company in the UK that implemented Naked Friday policy this year, just to improve the moral and productivity?
    Apparently it work very well.

  • In the United States classism trumps racism. Your class is determined by your dress. I learn this each and every time I enter a clothier when I am not dressed in my work clothes (shirt, tie, jacket, etc).
    I receive little or no service in these establishments. In fact, just yesterday, I entered Nordstroms at Old Orchard Mall in Illinois and no one asked if I needed help. I was dressed in shorts and a t-shirt.
    I have tested companies, like Brooks Brothers, to see if I would receive “equal” treatment when dressed in casual clothes as opposed to dressing more professionally. these establishments have never provided even a modicum of service to me unless I was dressed professionally. One time, I pit Brooks Brothers and Nordstroms against each other by having $2,000 in my pocket to buy a couple suits. I decided that which ever one provided customer service to me, would get my business. Nordstroms failed, then Brooks Brothers failed too. I went home and changed clothes and went back. Nordstroms received a nice sale that day.
    The point is that clothes speak volumes about a person, their fashion, their state of mind, their self-confidence, self-esteem, and more.
    Having served in the Old Guard (Honor Guard) in Washington D.C. (the unit that guards the tomb of the unknowns, ceremonies at Arlington Nat’l Cemetery, etc) I learned attention to detail and ironed all of my shirts myself for years after leaving the Army. I was complimented often on my shirts and how neat they always were. I was taken seriously and with hard work along with professional attitude and dress, I was promoted 3 times in 20 months.
    Professional dress matters.
    Now that I work from my home office, when I have a serious telephone conversation with a client or an important conference call, etc. I dress much nicer, even if there is no one there to see me. Why? It affects your way of being. Your confidence is improved, your voice resonates, you are more persuasive and professional. I can feel it and others can hear the difference.

  • When i Rome…do as the Romans…..
    So in the West….western clothes suited me and when in India…Indian clothes….

  • Hi
    Good companies would like their workforce to project a professional, business like image. For this reason, companies expect both men and women to look like professional. In my opinion, work place attire has to be neat, clean and appropriate. I agree with you that people in general observe your appearance therefore it is the responsibility of every individual to dress properly. Moreover, identification of such norms of what is and what is not acceptable rest with the employer, managers etc.
    Personally I like black, pink and blue. I opt for those outfits which suits me and in which I feel comfortable and confident.

  • Fashion is about clothes—you can buy the right togs for your workplace, suit up in Michael Kors or Brooks Brothers, even hire a personal shopper—whereas having a unique style all your own and thus projecting a strong sense of self, of character, shows you are a man of ideas. So think about that the next time you get dressed to meet the world.

  • What works best for me?
    Jeans and a casual top to go along with it on a normal work day as I work in an Ad agency. But on days when there are important client meetings, I would probably team a pair of formal trousers with a crisp white top and heels.
    On no meeting days I prefer bright colours, bright green, orange, white and black (my all time fav’s) and yellow ofcourse! I like colour in my wardrobe!

  • In case you don’t know, I’m a naturalist and feel very at home at the all nude beaches too. However, I’m forced to dress business casual at work. But I dislike cloths so much I only buy second hand ones at thrift shops. Thank God for big back yards, and the warm Texas sun. I’ll have to post a new photo so you can see my tan Zohaib. ; )
    Clothes are an abomination! The world would be a much friendlier place with people in their natural state. War would be history too. Create havoc steak naked in a public place. I love it, baby. Hippy Hollow beach in Austin still has an all nude section with a nice view of beautiful Lake Travis. Wahoo!

  • I work with programmers (though in finance). These guys usually wear jeans and T-shirts, but my co-workers dress a bit nicer. Regardless, I dress well. I do not buy any clothes without my sister’s approval, so most of the things that I wear are nice (even if they cost only $15).
    I do not spend a lot of time on trying to look decent. I would shave my head every 2 months (because I am too lazy to deal with a barber). I like comfortable clothes; it is very important, but it can also look good at the same time. Since I can afford the articles, I prefer buying better stuff, but less of it.
    Makes moving easier (I do that pretty often).

  • Smart casual. the attire needs to suit the work & weather you’re in, more than the people you’re among. That’s what marks the difference between a professional and a wannabe professional

  • What “works best for you” is a function of the OUTCOME you are working to achieve.
    “Functional Dress” is a concept that has been adopted by many. Translated – dress appropriately for what you are doing that day. For example, if you are going before investors for startup funding, you’d best dress like someone who they would trust to use their money wisely. If you are trying to close a sale, you’d best dress in a way that puts your prospective customer at ease. If you are going to crawl all over piece of equipment in a manufacturing plant, you shouldn’t be wearing high priced business dress. If you are working virtually, wear what makes you most comfortable and able to contribute (be careful of video conferencing LOL).
    The golden rule, never dress in a way that WHAT you are wearing takes away from the intelligence and contribution you are bringing to the situation. If you own your own business – do your own thing – it’s your money, and the consequences (if any) affect your bank account. If you don’t, be the impact player you were hired to be – not a distraction by what you wear.

  • Hi Zohaib.
    Interesting question. I wonder where the dress code is often part of the organizational culture/policy, what sort of leaway would exist for the employee other than playing up with colors…
    Hence you may well ask whether organizational cultures are defined by dress codes or whether dress codes really help consolidate a culture…
    And I would like to think the latter is true since the first thing you notice when interacting professionally is the dress and how one carries oneself in that dress. Your dress sense is a strong indication of the person you are and the persona you carry, more so if you are comfortable in what you wear.
    Yes, colors do play on the mind just as the mind can play on the colors helping us decide what to wear when! Black is my favorite too. Bright colors add color to my mood and a sari is the ever green dress apparel I would chose to convey my thoughts and ideas and my own self.

  • It is not just the cloths but your attitude to carry them is imp than anything else.
    My clothing is based on the day schedule. Only in Corp. meeting I prefer formals otherwise I carry myself in my choice.
    I remember best e.g. of clothing in image industry i.e. Bollywood Inc. One leading actor was famous for his kurta-pajama ware. Once he was asked Q by HOST & friends that why does he ware that cloths everywhere? Very coolly he replied, what you want ME or My cloths? Tomorrow I’ll send my Armani on hanger with nametag. Will that make you happy? & Till date he wares same kurta-pajama maximum time.
    I remember, 15yrs back someone asked me at mumbai airport whether I came to receive someone? When they saw me in shorts and my reply, NO, coming from Delhi left them wondering how can I fly in shorts. Have we changed till date?
    “Attitude matters confidence comes with it.”

  • Brandon Smith

    For me, I dress ala Michael Kors…. fitting jeans, black tshirt and a sport coat. Sandals in the office (I’m the boss, deal with it) and shoes for meetings (I keep a pair in the car and in the office….). Kinda hard to walk job sites in a suit and tie….

  • Debra Bankes

    YIKES! It really does go “as in Rome….” Geez, I used to wear leather – black, white, purple, green. Until – some corporations freaked.
    I do as their culture does – to avoid conflict and embarassment.
    Trust me on this – go shopping – spend some money.

  • Darshana Bhatt

    Firstly I have to commend you for initiating a very relevant discussion.
    I would like to comment especially on the deteriorating dress sense of some women in the Indian corporate sector. It is appalling to see such women maintain no protocol as far as dress code is concerned and misuse the gender privileges.
    They forget that it is not necessary to be a prude to be taken seriously but surely they will not be respected for their professional strengths or personality if they wear provocative, suggestive or vulgar clothes.
    The following must definitely be avoided at work:
    1. Tight or short tops and tights or jeans. Remember you are work not at a gym or at your home. You must ensure you and others are able to concentrate on work and not invite distraction.
    2. Avoid leaving long hair open at work. If you have long hair, you must tie them else it looks like you are out on an evening stroll or have just come out of the shower. If you must leave them open, please make sure you cut them short. I know a very senior corporate professional lady of a reputed bank who keeps her long hair open and it makes her look really like a housewife going out to the local market than the head of the organization.
    3. Wearing a multitude of multi-colored bangles. These days you see women wearing bangles up to their elbows with western and Indian wear. There is nothing wrong in adorning accessories but it must make you look chic and smart not as if you could just break into a song and dance around the office pillar (for absence of a tree:)
    Women have a natural need to look good because it makes them feel good about themselves and be more cheerful and productive. There is nothing wrong with that. But in the zeal to look good one should not compromise on professionalism or elegance, on decorum or protocol. I suggest a business or business casual dress code with clear guidelines on do’s and dont’s. In the absence of guidelines a lot is left to people’s interpretations and corporate image is often compromised by this negligence. Some people tend to forget they are not on some Bollywood movie shooting but at work.
    What you wear depicts your personality. You need to exude elegance and professionalism while trying to be comfortable. Remember that just as packaging products is essential, packaging yourself well is as essential for you and the organization.
    Darshana Bhatt

  • Black shirt, trousers (who uses the word trousers anymore) black socks and shoes, fedora, silver vest… The WireMan’s attire of choice…

  • I’m flexible… In my studio in Santa Barbara, I usually wear shorts and a T… Walls.

  • Suzanne Herzog

    Clothing does not make a man/woman. The man/woman makes it happen via individual expression. Since when does someone who wears a suit trump someone else in a pair of jeans and a shirt? I think that Corporate America places way too much emphasis on how someone is dressed. In my opinion it’s about performance.

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