Simply don’t know what to wear?

Starting a new job is daunting on a number of levels. There are many brilliant books out there that reveal just how quickly others form a first impression of us when they meet us for the first time. Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink for starters.

That’s what makes the first day, and the all important first day outfit so crucial.

Working in a business with frequent new joiners gives me the opportunity to watch the all important first day on a regular basis. I often reflect how hard it is to choose an outfit. So I’ve challenged myself to come up with a little advice to share.

Imagine a Venn diagram with the circle on the left “dress for the job you want”, and the circle on the right being “wear what you feel comfortable in”. If it’s a true Venn diagram then there should be at least a small overlap in the middle of the two circles where you are able to select clothes - ideally that you already own - or if not, those that you can afford to buy.

But what if there isn’t an overlap? Or what if you’re not sure what goes in the circle on the left? Why is it important to dress for the job you want? Why not just wear what you can get away with? I have assumed that you are an ambitious go-getting kind of a person, you are after all reading this blog.

For example, if you aspire to be trusted to work in a customer facing role, dress in a way that shows you know what’s appropriate. Be ready to step up when you’re asked to, even if it means being slightly smarter than you need to be on most days in the office. What you wear in the office is your uniform, your armour, your second skin. It shows the work world what you’re made of. It’s important to convey that you understand that.

Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to transition. The jump from student to professional is a huge leap, but all throughout your career there will be transitions. You may take a new job doing the exactly the same role at a new company and land in a very different culture and dress code. You might change jobs completely and need to reinvent your wardrobe.

Working in a venture builder means I have transitioned from public sector outsourcing to an online behavioural analytics start-up, to a charitable investment vehicle to a fintech business with a little Arch Graduates along the way. Trust me when I say my wardrobe has felt the strain on a number of occasions.

So what have I concluded? That if all else fails, if the circles are just circles and not a magic Venn diagram, that you need to be true to you first. Most of my colleagues might wear plimsolls in the office but that doesn’t mean I have to. Sparkly flip flops, on the other hand are right up my street!

How you dress affects how you feel and feelings are conveyed through body language which matters a lot at work. I refer to my favourite TED talk by Amy Cuddy. If you’re feeling like you’re playing dress-up, or worried people will think you’ve borrowed your mum’s clothes then your work will suffer. Focus on cladding yourself in garments that allow you to deliver a good day’s work.

If you can’t get it ‘right’, please don’t get it ‘wrong’. Please try to avoid the terrible gaffs and wardrobe malfunctions I’ve seen (and heard about – usually over wine with much mirth).

Guys: if you’re in a professional environment no, it’s not ok to wear a sweater with a derogatory slogan on the front; no, it’s not ok to wear a fitted shirt with a flared collar and an embroidered dragon down the back; and no it’s definitely, extremely not ok to wear a t-shirt with a naked woman on the front.

Ladies: underwear is just that – it’s under your clothes and should be invisible, a white shirt with a black bra might be fashionable but it will never catch on in the office; if you have to pull it down or hitch it up then it’s too short or too low; and although everyone loves a great pair of shoes please double check that you can walk in them and properly and carry plasters if you need to.  

Keep it simple. Keep it smart. Keep it clean. With these basics you won’t be too far out of whack in any environment.