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4 tips to help you dress for success at a new job

Take the guesswork out of weekday dressing.
Portrait of young businesswoman in office
Luis Alvarez / Getty Images

You know that feeling you get before you start a new job? It usually happens the night before, when you get all 10th grade on yourself and think: Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of my life. Tomorrow I become a brand-new person who packs their lunch every day and also gets up and goes to the gym before work.

Yeah, that feeling scares me because every time I look in my closet to pick out my first-day-of-work outfit, I become paralyzed with fear that I don’t have anything appropriate to wear.

Even though corporate culture has gotten more and more lax around attire overall, there’s still such a thing as making a solid first impression — and making a bad one. That’s something you really don’t want to do (especially over something as simple as the kind of pants you’re wearing).

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Unless you work at a fashion house or a fashion magazine and have superior taste in clothing to my own, you should heed my advice if you don’t know what to wear to work — on your first day, or any day:

  1. There are things you just can’t wear, period: Shorts, flip-flops, tube tops, crop tops. Then there are things you could wear, I guess, but shouldn’t: Sequins, anything you’d wear “to the club,” distressed jeans that your grandparents would shake their heads at. Just get over that now. Don’t bother trying to make it work. Unless, like I said, you’re doing a “look” and doing a “look” is expected of you at your place of business.

  2. Always have a business casual outfit ready to go. Tailored pants, a fitted blazer, nice loafers or heels (nothing too scuffed or worn down), and a classic shell or T-shirt underneath can always work. Even if you show up to the office and find everyone in sweatshirts and jeans, it shows that you take the job seriously enough to make a good first impression. Keep dressing up until you feel comfortable enough to start matching your co-workers (or better yet, your boss). It’s way better to overdress than to underdress.

  3. Create a “uniform” for yourself. After a few weeks or months, you’ll be able to figure out what your co-workers wear for a multitude of things: meetings with clients, meetings with the big bosses, summer Fridays, etc. Figure out a sweet spot and lean into it. Does one specific tee or blouse look great with or without a blazer? Buy three! Is it helpful to keep a jacket in the office coat closet that you can snag at any moment for a last-minute meeting? Do that. Can you handle a nice pair of heels while walking around the office but can’t commute in them without tripping all over yourself? Keep a pair in your desk to change into when you get to work. If you have a rotating cast of characters in your closet, it will save you time, money and brainpower each morning.

  4. Save fashion experiments for the weekend! The shortest and most simple piece of advice I can offer: If you have to ask yourself, your partner or your roommate if they think you can “wear this to work” then the answer is no. Go change!

Can this be annoying? Yes! Clothes are an incredible form of expression and it feels wrong to have to stifle your personality in the service of your job. But remember, that job pays you to go buy better, more fun, more you clothing that you can wear when you’re not in the office. Just stay under the fashion radar and you’ll never go wrong.