Strict dress codes at work are slowly becoming a thing of the past and, frankly, we’re relieved to finally get to wear whatever we want. No more stuffy suits and ties. No tailored dresses and heels (at least, not if you don’t want to). Sounds like a dream come true, right?
Unfortunately, the lack of dress code at your office can be slightly misleading. Although there may not be an official dress code policy at your workplace, there are still unspoken rules that you need to follow. Otherwise, you could wear an outfit that sends the wrong message to your clients, coworkers and your boss.
So, how do you carefully balance your fashion freedom at work without crossing any invisible lines? Below, we’ll give you our best tips for dressing when there is no dress code to speak of.
- Dress for Your Audience
Choosing your own work attire based on what your coworkers are wearing is always a bit of a gamble. Just because Scott from the sales team has a great sense of style doesn’t mean that it’s right for you and your position in accounting.
Instead, focus on picking your outfits with your audience in mind. For instance, are you meeting with potential business partners in the financial sector? If so, a suit and tie are likely to be expected.
Are you dressing for a regular day as a game programmer? In that case, you can probably get away with casual attire (i.e., blue jeans and a nice t-shirt).
- Aim for Smart Casual or Business Casual
Casual, smart casual, business casual—are you confused yet? We’ll keep it simple. Smart casual simply refers to wearing well-fitting clothes made from high-quality fabrics and keeping a neat, tidy appearance. So, think wearing men’s khaki shorts with an Oxford button-down shirt and nice shoes (no sandals) for the guys and nice blue jeans paired with a blouse and a pea coat for the ladies.
Business casual is slightly more professional and works well if you’re attending meetings all day and hitting up happy hour after work. For a standard business casual outfit, just imagine preppy dresses for the ladies and chino pants with an Oxford button-down shirt for the men.
- Stock Your Wardrobe with ‘Hero’ Pieces
If you’re a fan of Queer Eye’s fashion expert Tan France (you know, the same man who gave us the glorious French Tuck), then you’re probably familiar with the concept of “hero” pieces. To give you a basic definition, a hero piece is a core fashion item that makes you look and feel like a million bucks.
A hero piece can be anything, as long as it’s a classic piece that you can create several looks with. For example, maybe it’s your favorite sport shirt that can be dressed up or down for work, the beach, date night and beyond.
The point is, you need clothes that make you feel confident, especially when you’re at work. If you’re uncomfortable in your clothes, everyone in the office is going to notice. With a few hero pieces in your closet, you can reach for them when you need to ace that big presentation or impress a new client.
- Class Up Your Look with Accessories
Need to spruce up your smart casual attire? Accessories are the perfect way to instantly elevate your look and show a little personality at the same time. The trick is to keep it simple and avoid anything that might be too distracting.
If you’re new to the world of accessories, start with ones that serve a practical purpose. For instance, watches, handbags, belts, scarves and tie bars all have their uses and won’t look like you’re trying too hard when you wear them.
Just remember, people should notice you—not your accessories—at work. If you think that your accessories might be too distracting for the office, save it for your weekend boating trip or date night.
- Be Professional with Color and Prints
Neutral colors such as gray, white, black and beige are common in the workplace, and for good reason. These are generally considered “safe” colors that you can count on to make you look professional.
On the other hand, these colors can get old quick. If there isn’t a dress code at your office, take advantage by adding a punch of (tasteful) color and prints to your office attire.
For instance, wear a green dress with gold accessories, or rock a striped polo shirt with khakis. Just play it safe by avoiding anything with neon, sequins or other distracting elements that might take away from your skills and accomplishments.
- Break Up with Your Backpack
It doesn’t matter how casual your office environment is: Backpacks are not professional. Yes, they are convenient for when you bike to work and need to store your clothes and things. However, let us stress the fact that there are several alternatives to the backpack that are just as convenient and that won’t hurt your professional image when you wear them.
For example, the leather messenger bag. Stylish, professional and perfect for carrying around a laptop, a high-quality messenger bag will keep you from looking like a college kid who got lost on his way to class.
Women have purses, so they’re less likely to make this work fashion faux pas. Even so, it’s a good reminder for anyone who is fresh out of college and starting their first job to save their backpacks for hiking on the weekends.
- Don’t Forget Your Footwear
Shoes that are too dressy can look out of place in casual office environments. Similarly, sandals and maybe some boat shoes can be too casual for work.
To find a happy medium, opt for closed-toe shoes that are business casual in nature. For example, Chelsea boots for both men and women are a fail-safe shoe in most office settings.
If you’re going to wear sneakers to work, make sure they’re in decent shape: No scuffs, fraying ends or holes. While you might not pay much attention to your feet, you can’t say the same for that important client or judgmental boss of yours.
Keeping it Classy at Work
Working at an office with no dress code can be a mixed bag. Although we love having the freedom to rock unique styles, it can make choosing outfits each day rather stressful.
If you feel similarly, well, we’re hoping these tips will make your morning routine a little bit simpler. By following the unwritten rules of office attire and keeping your look classic, you can make yourself stand out at work for all the right reasons.
Disclosure: This article was written by a guest author.