"Business casual" is a phrase that's popularly thrown around to describe the attire that's expected in a majority of American workplaces. When I began my first internship (and entrance into the professional world) last summer, I got to experiment with what that phrase really meant in terms of my own personal style. Now I'm confident in my workplace wardrobe at Edelman and am continuing to expand it even more.
Dressing for success is an important part of any job, it's also an identifier of the type of company culture your establishment has. Even locale plays a big factor in how the working stiff dresses, whether your in somewhere relaxed like Silicon Valley, California or somewhere strictly professional like Washington, D.C. The important thing is that you feel comfortable with whatever you're wearing because you'll be wearing it most of the day.
The nice thing about working at a public relations firm in Seattle, is that the day-to-day uniform changes just about every day. If I'm working on something at my desk most of the day, there's no pressure for me to wear anything too fancy. If I were to work from home, I wouldn't even have to leave the comfort of my bed. But if I were to meet with a client, help with an event or present something internally to the firm, taking my day-to-day uniform up a notch is as easy as adding a tie and a blazer.
Most of the time I stick to my tried-and-true fashion formula at work: a button down long-sleeve shirt, casual pants and trendy shoes. Neutrals, like black, gray and navy, are a great place to start for a professional look. The above outfit includes a Forever 21 shirt, Levi's jeans and black Nike athletic shoes (not pictured). Athletic shoes is a trend that I introduced on Diamonds & Discoveries back in February, and time has shown that the footwear fad is here to stay. As long as you understand how to style the shoes modernly with your outfit, you'll avoid looking like a dork.
One thing to consider when buying work clothes is the cost and durability. Sometimes it's better to buy your basics from fast fashion companies like H&M and Forever 21 instead of high-end retailers like Nordstrom or Barneys. If you're going to be wearing these pieces a lot during the week, you'll feel better about wearing down a pair of Hollister Co. pants than say some slacks from Ralph Lauren. Nothing is more tragic than seeing luxe labels left in tatters or covered in coffee stains. I've collected most of my button down shirts and pants from inexpensive brands so that I have a variety of combinations. For more important events, I have a few more expensive pieces on hand.
Something else to remember during the summer is the type of fabrics and colors you should be buying. Linen, cotton and light colors are easy solutions for staying cool during your eight to ten hour days. The above outfit has a linen light pink shirt from Forever 21 that is ideal for the days it reaches 75 degrees and above in downtown Seattle.
The final piece of advice I have for anyone entering the workplace is to find a way to insert your own personality into your outfit. It seems obvious and self-explanatory to say, but like college and high school, you may feel a pressure to conform to the crowd or, in this case, to the person in the cubicle next to you. Don't be afraid to wear bright patterns or add sporty appeal to your look if that's genuine to your style. For me, I love wearing blue and rolling up the cuffs of my pants (like the ZARA pair above). You can fit into your workplace without losing your personality in the process. Just like the unique talent and value you bring to your organization, your wardrobe should still reflect your own original personal brand.