What Does Dress For Success Mean? A Graduate's Guide to Professionalism

Professional attire is at a strange crossing point. Some people wear the tradition suit and tie or suit jacket and skirt. But sometimes the attire is jeans and a t-shirt.

This confusing mix of signals can take even in a single office space. part of it is due to personal style, but a large part of it is based on one factor: who's meeting clients today and who isn't.

So, what does dress for success mean?

If you are just finishing college or a graduate, here are tips to dress for success.

Over-Dressing Is Safer Than Under-Dressing

It's a standard piece of advice, and it will rarely steer you wrong. Professional business attire may be out of place for the client's internal employees, but you're a guest.

What you wear is part of the first impression everyone receives from your firm and looking professional always helps.

It's also helpful that there's not quite a slot of expected attire in your audience's mind: there's not another third-party expert standing right next to you for easy comparison.

As a general rule, feel safe sticking to what you would wear to an interview. After all, every meeting with a client is a new opportunity for them to renew or cancel their agreement with you.

Prepare for Surprise Client-Facing Meetings

Not all client-facing meetings are actually face-to-face. Video conferencing and Skype calls are increasingly common in the business world, so you have to be ready to look professional at a moment's notice.

That doesn't mean you have to keep wearing a suit every day of the workweek.

But it does mean you should maintain a baseline that doesn't dip completely into weekend casual.

A good backup is to always have a blazer in the office or your car. Throwing a sports jacket over anything, even a t-shirt, instantly more professional. It's also a commonly accepted happy medium for more formal business occasions, and you can find CEOs in every industry adopting the look.

Looking the part for any job is vital to your success. Taking care of your outward appearance will show your employer and your clients that you have what it takes to get the job done.

Dress to Impress

This advice was probably beaten into your head throughout high school and college, but it's the truth. Nobody is going to take you seriously in the office if you walk in looking like you did at last night's party at the club.

Separate your career wardrobe from your lifestyle wardrobe if you have to. It'll look a lot better not only in your closet but on you as well.

Another tip is to observe what your co-workers are wearing; you don't want to completely emulate them but getting a feel of the general style will help you look like you are part of the team.

Less Is More

When it comes time to step in front of your vanity and choose your beauty essentials for the day, think less is more". Beauty experts from Marie Claire suggest "subtle is better".

This isn't to say that you can't rock a red lip; it simply means to wear it properly. If you want to draw attention to the red lip, keep everything else neutral and soft.


Your hair is also important to keep in mind. Office professionals often wear their up in ponytails or buns, as to keep it out of their face, therefore eliminating as many distractions as possible.

Spraying a light layer of hairspray will keep your locks in place all day.

Confidence Is Key

After your clothes are on and your hair and makeup are done, what's left? Confidence. This characteristic will not only bring more positivity to the workplace, but it will "...boost your self-esteem and your career...", says career expert Lynn Taylor.

Who Do You Want to Attract?

The way you dress is, to an extent, part of the marketing of the firm. Tailor your wardrobe to accommodate the taste of your most desirable client, while taking into account that you don't want to intimidate any rising clients with over-dressing.

You don't want to offend any clients with clothing that is too tight, too low-cut, or wrinkled. Your management will have a dress code that may be simple or complicated.

Whatever the code may be, spend some money on a clothing coach to establish the colors that you look best in.

Business Casual

Be on the alert that sharp, clean lines with comfortable slacks and skirts occasionally accompanied with blazers are welcome. Pay special attention to correct fit.

Shoes should be gleaming, although more casual shoes are sometimes allowed. Build a mix and match wardrobe based on good fabrics, neutral tones, and classic lines.

Color can come from a closet full of well-made blouses, sweaters, vests, scarves, and ties that will please the eye. Few people look good in cheap clothing. Buy two or three items each season.

Buy good items that will last for years instead of splurging each year to accommodate fads.

Accessories and Jewelry

Accessories and jewelry can be used to dress up or down. An understated business blazer is an excellent background for a good broach or expensive cufflinks to impress that prospective client.

What Does the Boss Wear?

Some modern firms who cater to small business may allow or encourage jeans in a more casual environment, but what is good for the boss may not be what he wants his employees to be wearing.

And even when jeans are allowed, that doesn't necessarily mean that you can throw away your high heels or your tie. For accounting environments, err on the side of conservatism. If certain days (Fridays, for instance) are reserved for casual wear, then don't wear jeans on Wednesday.

What Does Dress for Success Mean

For an interview, never wear jeans, even if you know that the office dress is casual. Wearing business attire to a business interview shows respect to your prospective employer.

A good way to set yourself apart from the crowd, and to establish yourself as a professional is to dress as though you worked for the best accounting firm in the state.

If you are asked whether or not you have questions (and you will have questions, of course,) then ask if casual attire is permitted for the accounting personnel. Contact us for more information on business attire.

Contact us to learn more about what does dress for success mean.

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