Professional and Business Attire…It Can be Confusing!

Kathleen Powell

Kathleen Powell, Assistant Vice President, Student Affairs, Executive Director of Career Development, Cohen Career Center, William & Mary
President-Elect, National Association of Colleges and Employers
Twitter: @powellka
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/kathleenipowell/

Can you show up to an interview in a tank top—with much exposed—“statement” jewelry as an accessory, three-inch heels, and a skirt so short that one could describe your choice of undergarments? Or, argyle socks, wingtip shoes, shorts, and a dress shirt? It was hot the day of the interview!

How does one transition from being a student or graduate student to a professional?

There are so many choices available today to complement your wardrobe. You’ve see leggings with a dress, heels without hose, popped collars with a suit jacket. Skinny pants and jeggings. How does one decide, really?

I’m sure you’ve heard, “I just want to stand out,” or “I’m my own person,” or “I’ve got my own style of dress,” or “I don’t want to be put in a box and be mandated a wardrobe.” I started to think about all the styles and clothing choices available. Interview season is upon us and there seems to be a need for individuality on the part of the interviewee and the need for professional attire on the part of the interviewer. I’m certain there is a happy medium. I’ve seen it.

Do we give new college hires a bit of a pass—understanding they don’t have a large budget for their professional wardrobe?

But, at some point, do we sit that young professional down and explain the expectations of professional attire? Do we assume they’ll figure out what is appropriate—or note—by observing those around them? It seems there is a need to set expectations for all professionals in the work force.

Where one works and what they do will dictate the wardrobe, but being transparent about expectations and appropriate attire will win the day.

Do you have a no jeans or leggings policy at work? If it is your preference/policy that your team not wear jeans? Make it clear to them, up front, that jeans are not a part of office attire.

You’ve heard something like, “IT wears jeans all the time, why can’t we wear jeans?”

Ask the questions: Who is our customer? Is our work outward facing? How do our clients want to see us? How do you want to see yourself?

Do a Google search for professional and business casual and you’ll find varying degrees of what that means. First and foremost, set the standard you want for your team. However, be open minded to the work at hand on any given day to help your team, and especially young professionals, to determine whether they should continue to invest in buying shorts that match their argyle socks or skirts and tops that reveal too much. New professionals need support and guidance and helping them “dress for success” will win the day, every time!

First impressions count. Dressing conservatively for your interview or your first day on the job is always the right choice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source: National Association of Colleges and Employers

 

 

9 thoughts on “Professional and Business Attire…It Can be Confusing!

  1. My issue with much of the professional attire training that colleges and universities are putting out is the intense gender norming around “men and women”. I hope that we can get to a place where we can provide all options for professional attire and trust our students to know themselves and make decisions about what is appropriate for their gender identity and expression.

  2. “One of my favorite academic articles is Tara Yosso’s ‘Whose Culture Has Capital’ (2005). In this piece, Yosso challenges the notion that only dominant culture holds worth and wealth. I bring her work up here because I think it’s worth it to call another question into the space: “Whose Culture Has Style? Whose culture is seen as the standard for professionalism and professional style”?

    As student affairs professionals, it’s important to raise this question as we work with students / new professionals on ‘dress’ and style. A few sub-questions emerge as a result of that initial question:

    1) What / where are the resources on professional dress for gender non-conforming persons? How are we taking their lived experiences into account regarding professional dress? (Great article on that here: http://mediadiversified.org/2014/03/17/first-boi-in-dressing-queer-in-the-corporate-world/)
    2) How are we qualifying ‘well-groomed’, neat, and tidy hairstyles? How do our choices of visuals in career services centers, training sessions, etc. advance a narrative about whose hair is socio-culturally ‘professional’ enough?
    3) How are we, as student affairs practitioners, accounting for the socioeconomic and class underpinnings of our students and how that shapes their practice of professional dress?

    Professional dress is such an important topic to talk about with our students in ways that allow them to a) nuance their sociocultural realities and b) navigate their chosen career fields in ways that allow them to achieve their measurements of success.

  3. Ok so here we go…

    As a person of color, a Black woman who at one point in time was low income, and now wears my naturally curly hair…I have a few questions.

    What is a ‘well-groomed’ hairstyle? And who gets to decide that?

    And transitioning from graduate student to professional…how would you suggest students do that if there is a lack of means to purchase said items for a ‘professional’ look.

    I understand you’re not on the hiring end, but how can we empower our underrepresented students instead of leaving them defeated?

  4. I agree with Will, the commenter above, There’s also something about the concept of professionalism as it relates to identities of color that need be explored. When you tell someone to wear neutrals but the clothing and attire of their home countries or culture bear patterns and prints what are we saying? Beyond this, how do we decide where the line for professionalism is and who gets to decide that? If the answer rests in “leadership” but the leadership of your organization has had a pipeline that began before people who look like me could even work alongside them, how does this translate? There are posts on this blog, like others, discussing hair particularly as it relates to Women of Color, but we also need to think about what we are communicating when we define professionalism in narrowed terms along gender and cultural lines.

  5. Reblogged this on Brittany M. Williams and commented:
    There is something about the concept of professionalism as it relates to identities of color that need be explored. When you tell someone to wear neutrals but the clothing and attire of their home countries or culture bear patterns and prints what are we saying? Beyond this, how do we decide where the line for professionalism is and who gets to decide that? If the answer rests in “leadership” but the leadership of your organization has had a pipeline that began before people who look like me could even work alongside them, how does this translate? There are posts on this blog, like others, discussing hair particularly as it relates to Women of Color, but we also need to think about what we are communicating when we define professionalism in narrowed terms along gender and cultural lines…. Just a few thoughts I have.

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