Working in an office that doesn’t have a dress code is a lot like taking the training wheels off of your bike. Your new responsibility means the stakes are even higher. Will you make all the right moves, sailing past your peers and earning the respect of everyone around you? Or will you crash in such an embarrassingly public way that it’ll take years of counseling to undo the trauma? It’s a stressful scenario, and the choices you make could have a big impact on your success in the workplace. So before you play fast and loose with your office attire, follow these 4 rules to make sure you come across as a professional, even when you’re dressing casual.
1. Dress like your superiors, not your peers. Even if your company doesn’t have a list of rules dictating how you should dress, there are other ways to gauge what’s acceptable. One of the best ways is to take note of what your coworkers are wearing. For example, even if there are no rules banning Crocs, if you haven’t seen a single pair in the office, they’re definitely off-limits.
To really make a positive impression, model your workplace wardrobe after your higher-ups instead of your peers. It might mean wearing khakis when your whole team is working in jeans, but it’ll also mean showing your superiors that you take your work seriously and that your professional attitude would make you a good candidate for promotion.
2. Stay clean and crisp, even when casual. Remember that casual and sloppy are not the same thing. You should take the same care with your appearance as you would if you were following a strict dress code. That means your clothes should always be clean and in good condition. Your hair should be cut and styled, your nails should be trimmed and neat and yes, you should iron your clothes every day. Ironing a pair of jeans might seem like somewhat of a foreign concept, but it’s far better than meeting with your boss while looking like you just rolled out of bed. If your peers aren’t taking some of these steps themselves, all the better. You’ll set yourself apart from the crowd.
3. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Do you hope to advance in your company? Think about the specific promotion you want and then ask yourself which qualities a person would need to succeed in that position. Write down at least three of the traits that come to mind. Then place your list on your mirror at home. Before you leave the house in the morning, check your outfit and ask yourself if what you’re wearing helps you project those qualities – or if you’re shooting yourself in your flip-flops. That tie-dyed t-shirt might not get you thrown out of the office, but it won’t help you come across as “innovative” either.
4. Wear something that will get people talking. If you buy the same bland department store clothes as everyone else in the office, don’t expect to get noticed. To separate yourself from the crowd, choose unique pieces that are eye-catching without being inappropriate. Accessories are a great way to do this. For example, women can bring originality to an outfit with the help of a statement necklace, while men can don a unique watch.
When a meeting with investors calls for more formal attire, don’t leave your individuality at the door. Work with online tailors like Trio Tailoring to build your own suit. Whatever you wear, make it your own. Unique items can serve as great icebreakers, and they’ll make you memorable for all the right reasons.
Choosing the right wardrobe for work in the absence of a dress code might seem tricky, but sometimes the things which cause us the most stress lead to the best opportunities. A casual office gives you the chance to sculpt your own image and to promote yourself in a fun and creative way. Let your co-workers do the slacking. As for you, future leader, take this opportunity to shine. It’s a chance to make an impression that could change your career. Make the most of it.
Alayna Frankenberry is a freelance writer who works from home, which means she gets to violate half of these rules without anyone being the wiser.