There was a time when office workers wouldn’t dream of leaving the house in anything other than a suit.
But these days we are a little bit more relaxed about how we dress in our workplaces.
And that is no doubt a good thing, as there is nothing more uninspiring than the sight of a bunch of suits who all look the same.
But not everyone gets the balance right. And, while so-called fashion crimes are no big deal outside of the workplace, if an employee doesn’t look the part in work hours it can create a negative impression and potentially stymie their career prospects.
So, if you are totally clueless in the fashion stakes, here is how to avoid common sartorial slip-ups.
Context is everything
Of course, there is no need to wear a suit if you work at an internet startup and jeans are de rigueur.
As top Sydney style consultant Alarna Hope points out, creative fields are often a lot more flexible.
“A great way to understand how to dress at work is to look at the way your boss dresses, or the person in the role who you aspire to be like dresses,” she says.
Fashion designer for Big W Peter Morrissey agrees that these days we can be a little more casual than the buttoned-down Australia of the 1960s.
“I think this really depends on the office culture: if it’s appropriate then smart casual can definitely be a good option, but always be dressed to impress,” he says.
“Make sure you own great tailored blazers and smart jeans.”
Needless to say, there is definitely such a thing as too casual, even in creative fields.
“As a general rule, avoid low-cut tops that show cleavage or your lower back, skirts that are too short or tight, and heels that verge on party heels,” Ms Hope says.
“For men, ensure your pants and jackets are hemmed properly and that you wear an undershirt with your work shirt if you sweat easily. No one likes to see sweat marks (or nipples for that matter) at work.
“Thongs and toe-showing shoes are rarely appropriate in the work environment, particularly an office setting.”
Keep it tidy
Mr Morrissey says his biggest pet peeve is sloppiness.
“Not tucking your shirt in or ironing your outfit, for example,” he says.
“It’s a simple task and makes a big difference to your overall look. It’s also just about general respect for your position and if you wear the look, you live the life. Honestly, if you try it for a day you’ll see how much of a difference it makes.”
Mr Morrissey recommends satchels for men as a middle ground between school backpacks and stately briefcases, and notes that women shouldn’t be too quick to get into their gym gear at work.
“If you work somewhere that focuses on fitness, then it does work, just make sure your gear isn’t see-through from age,” he says.
“The other option here is to embrace the ‘sport luxe’ trend by teaming a training top with a smart pair of pants. I’m not a fan of leggings at work but underneath a tunic they can work.“
Some of you may be thinking that what you wear is irrelevant, that it is how you do the job that matters. The trouble is most people form strong opinions about you – and potentially your worthiness as an employee – according to how you present.
“Always overdress when you’re unsure of the dress code,” Mr Morrissey says.
“When we see someone who is well-dressed those assumptions are more often positive and favourable.”
Or as Ms Hope puts it: “The main thing to understand is that (according to research) 55 per cent of a first impression is made up of your appearance so the clothes you choose to wear to work each time you’re facing a new person will reflect on the way people perceive you, your skill level and professionalism.”
Industry index: how to dress at your work
Tech startup employee: If you are a 30-something hipster working for a startup then you can ditch the formal attire, which reeks of grubby capitalism anyway. You will want to match your warehouse conversion office space with an ironic t-shirt that references kale, coffee or the suburb you live in, plus jeans and converse sneakers.
Tech startup boss: It’s important you dress even more casually than your staff, as a way of imparting that you don’t believe in capitalist hierarchies even as the money from your app development pours in.
Health and fitness guru/food blogger/wellness instagrammer: No one is quite sure what you do for money, but you do spend a lot of time at the gym and you have the selfies to prove it. Not content with some exercise shorts and a couple of tank tops, you buy strictly from Lululemon, which you call athletica, and own at least five pairs of Nikes.
Real estate agent: Nothing matches a cheesy sales script quite like a flashy pinstriped suit. If you’re old school, and have been working in the business for quite a while, you will want to pair that suit with a couple of open top buttons and some chains. Nice.
Freelance/work from home employee: Let’s be honest, if it weren’t for the occasional Skype interview you would never change out of track pants. For you, jeans are considered the height of sophistication.