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How to Dress Like a Young Professional (Even If You’re Not a Fashionista)

Hannah Longman

Dressing for the office can be tricky when you’re just joining the workforce for the first time. Do you wear a suit and tie? Jeans and hoodie? Stilettos and tutu? Unfortunately, there’s no single correct answer. Over time, you’ll learn what’s acceptable in your industry and company, but to help you get a head start, we got some pointers from Brooklyn-based Stylist, Personal Shopper, and Image Consultant Hannah Longman (who also works at RED PR, a boutique beauty PR agent in NYC).

How do you assess the dress code in a new office?

I generally ask about dress code beforehand. That way, I’m not surprised by what I find upon arrival. If you’re setting up an interview or you’ve already landed the job or internship, ask your company contact for his/her impression of company dress code.

I always appreciate when an incoming intern asks me what clothes are appropriate—shows she is a planner with forethought into company etiquette and puts thought into her appearance and the huge impact appearance has on people’s impression of us.

If you’ve already started the new role, be aware of what the people around you are wearing. Notice if they dress differently for different occasions. For my work, I’m generally casual for days spent entirely at the office, and much fancier if I have a client or editor meeting. My rule: You can never be overdressed.

What are a few essential items that every young professional should have in his/her wardrobe? What are your go-to stores for office-appropriate wear?

Definitely a blazer and fitted non-jean pants. I have four blazers: a mustard yellow, classic black, red and black tweed, and mauve. Plenty. I like cigarette-leg black cropped pants (ankle length). They can be dressed up or down, look cute with flats, sandals and heels (and can be tucked into boots), and always look polished. Cardigans are also essential. They add structure and formality on one hand (plus a crucial extra layer!) but can also jazz up an outfit if they feature a pattern or a bold color. Sensible heels and a couple blouses are great too and make really easy, cute outfits. Love a dress that takes you from summer to winter, is not too short or low and is sleeveless. GAP, Madewell are good places.  [Editor’s note: Check out our Pinterest board, “Workday Style from Business Casual to Formal Wear” for more wardrobe and accessory ideas for women and men.]

What are some general fashion rules for young professionals who are new to the office environment?

I’ve heard such varying views of what’s appropriate and what’s not. A friend of mine at McKinsey avoids open-toe heels because they’re not professional, and I really don’t understand that so I just don’t know! I guess the basic idea is don’t reveal too much. Nothing too tight, low, or short. Don’t be a bag lady, though, because that also looks unprofessional and sloppy. Buy clothes that fit your body right and give your words the chance to make the first impression, not your long legs or large chest.

What advice do you have about hair and makeup?

Don’t wear a lot of makeup. It’s never good and it’s always obvious and unless you’re a pro, always looks bad. For me at least, it creates a bad impression when someone comes in and is covered in paint. Why do you think you need so much makeup? Stick to the basics and don’t look overdone—it’s an office, not a nightclub. Let the caliber of your work spark your reputation, not your makeup.

I always have some lippy in my purse and keep a mirror at my desk. A little concealer for break out times of the month. Lipstick and gloss really do wonders. Hair is a similar thing—don’t look overdone. Experiment with updos and braids to keep it fun. I meet a lot of people who think curly hair is unprofessional but I couldn’t disagree more. Curls are fabulous. Just don’t be crunchy. I always have bobbies in my bag and desk drawer plus elastics in case my hair is wack and needs to get thrown up into a high bun.

What are some of your favorite products or items to ensure you look good all day?

I love makeup primers. RAMY Beauty Therapy Elixir Skin Conditioning Primer is my jam. I love clear setting powder and eyebrow filler. Again, bobby pins. And I LOVE the Spin Pin! Amazing product! Keeps my super long and thick but fine hair up all day.

How do you choose the best footwear to go with an outfit?

It depends on the occasion. I work in a field that sees a lot of heels. I generally wear heels for events, boots in the winter, flats in the spring or if they look cute with the outfit, and sandals when I can be casual. Besides weather, you need to consider pant length (if appropriate) and occasion.

Homework time! Is your wardrobe work-ready? Are you missing any of the basics that Hannah recommends? Make a list of any fashion/beauty/hair items you need before you start your new job.

Hannah Longman is a Stylist, Personal Shopper, and Image Consultant with Share Some Style.  She lives in Brooklyn.

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