Office Dress Decoding

photo-15Yesterday was Halloween. Some of us dressed up, some of us didn’t. But what about the other 364 days of “costuming” at the office?

AlumniUBC recently hosted a career-focused fashion event, Dress for Success, at the newly re-vamped Park Royal in West Vancouver.  The event – part of their “The Next Step” series for recent graduates – brought together local fashion experts to talk about how what we wear can make or break our success in the workplace.

Whether you’re a week-before outfit planner or you sit squarely in the “I-got-dressed-today” achievement class, there’s serious value in taking a second look at what your personal style might be saying about you. After all, the fashion police (aka HR, your boss, your co-workers) are in full-force 9am to 5pm; and when it comes to how you present yourself professionally, there are no days off.

For the scuffed, wrinkled, stained and otherwise flood-ready of us, you can access the full-length event podcast here to undertake a total, personal fashion audit.  The podcast covers the in’s and outs of skirt lengths, shoe points, pant breaks, hem-lines, pleats vs. flat fronts, etc.

For those of us just looking for a bit of a style-rule refresh, here is the highlight reel from the event’s panelists:

  • Steven Schelling (Editor, Writer, Media Consultant, Stylist at THEY Rep, Fabulist)
  • Catherine Dunwoody (Style Editor at CGA Magazine, stylist at
  • JJ Lee (MArch’01, author of the memoir The Measure of a Man: The Story of a Father, a Son, and a Suit, which was shortlisted for a Governor General’s Literary Award).

Dressing up for the Interview

  • Whether or not you’ll wear a suit and tie depends on the field. If the entire office is under 30, you might want to hold-off on the double-breasted jacket and hard-shell briefcase. Marketers and creatives have a bit more leeway when it comes to showing off their personal style, but industry-wide, professional first is always a good rule of thumb.
  • Look your best, but make sure you’re comfortable. If you buy a new outfit or suit, make sure you break it in at least a week beforehand. The heat from your body will actually change the shape of the clothes (due to the glues used in manufacturing process).
  • Be a knife: The idea that if you pick your interview outfit correctly (i.e. it makes you feel like a million bucks), you’ll exude equal worth in personal confidence. The right outfit can help you cut through anything, solve any problem and answer any question – or at least, it will help you believe you can.
  • Things to avoid: loud prints, logos, too much skin, untailored anything (fit is everything).

The Real Rules for Casual Friday Jeans:

  • These are your serious jeans. Once they get worn, they become your chore jeans.
  • Look for clean back pockets with minimal stitching. No flap pockets, thick, high-contrast stitching or jewels on the bum — unless you’re a Real Housewife.
  • Both sexes should own dark, dressy jeans with clean lines, no ‘whiskering’ or fading.

If your boss is fashion savvy:

  • Dress like your boss – not literally, but take your clues from what he or she wears. If your boss is super fashionable, you’ll want to up your personal game too. If that skill doesn’t come naturally for you, you may require some extra help in the form of an a-la-carte personal stylist.
  • Invest in a classic corporate suit. If you don’t have the time or interest in taking a lot of care with your clothes, opt for a flecked gray tone (it won’t show as much lint or stains).
  • Clean lines and good tailoring will always make you seem more fashion savvy.
  • Sloppy is as sloppy does. If you look like you don’t care, neither will your boss.

While we all like to think that our work will ‘speak for itself’, what you’re wearing right now tells an important story too – and a big part of feeling your best in the workplace means looking your best too. Take care to always put your best foot forward – wig-tipped, suede, heeled, laced or otherwise. What are your essential rules for fashion at the office? Dos and don’ts? Pet peeves? Share them here!