Put the jeggings away - the working wardrobe and what's appropriate

The first day of work is rapidly approaching and you literally have nothing to wear unless boyfriend jeans are appropriate.

And of course you’ve only just retired the pauper’s life of a student so spare cash to go out and suit up is rather light.

Read on for a host of hints and tips on what’s appropriate office attire, how to build yourself a basics wardrobe and stretch that first paycheck as far as possible.

The dress code.

New Zealand workplaces are increasingly diverse; the right outfit for a law firm would be completely out of place in an advertising agency, and you’ll also find companies within the same industry will often exhibit varying interpretations of dress codes. In short, it’s a minefield.

There are a few hard and fast rules that should apply in almost every office environment.

  • When in doubt, don't do denim. It’s safer to hold off for a few weeks and get the lay of the land – if your manager wears jeans then it’s more than likely okay for you to do so.
  • Heels are not compulsory. You may think it looks more professional but it certainly doesn’t if you can’t walk properly in them.
  • It’s not Saturday night. Put anything too low-cut, short, sheer or sparkly back in the wardrobe and save it for the weekend.
  • Cleanliness really is next to godliness. We’re talking ironed shirts, polished shoes, tidy hair, guys – a shave wouldn’t go amiss, don’t you think?

The basics.

Even if you are flush with cash (and you’re probably not), it’s a good idea to take a gentle approach to building your working wardrobe. Then, while you’re finding your feet, you can get a sense of what the office is like and what the right thing is to wear in that environment. This way, instead of a closet full of suits that never see the light of day, you’ll end up with one full of clothes that reflect your personal style and are appropriate for your new workplace.

But before you can get there, you’ll need a few staples to get you through at least the first month. Make the building blocks of your wardrobe classic in style and neutral in colour, allowing you to mix and match pieces, changing up accessories to create different looks and get more wear out of the individual pieces.

The key pieces:

  • A tailored jacket – black or navy, this goes for men and women
  • A nice black pencil skirt for the ladies
  • A couple of pairs of dark coloured dress pants for the guys
  • One or two pairs of black / brown / neutral coloured dress shoes
  • A couple of simple, block coloured dresses
  • Five or so shirts / blouses in different colours

It may seem a bit conservative at first but once you get more comfortable in your role you can branch out and introduce more personality pieces in bolder colours and patterns, or begin to dress a little more casually – the key is to make sure it remains appropriate for your environment.

Don’t max out the credit card.

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to look the part. Buying cheaper basics and having them tailored to fit (in-mall alteration specialists or dry cleaners can usually do this fairly inexpensively) will make any outfit slicker.

Alternatively, embrace your inner-bargain hunter. Buy on sale and frequent outlet stores, or scout online and second hand stores for preloved steals. Many designers hold factory clearance sales once or twice a year; typically past season or sample items can be snapped up for a fraction of their retail price. You can be among the first to know about these by signing up to designers’ email updates.

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