Do You Dress for the Corner Office or the Mail Room?

Note to self: When interviewing with Diane Danielson, showing up in torn denim attire is a no-no.

Now the CEO of, a networking site for female professionals, Danielson describes how one job candidate learned this lesson the hard way: "I worked at a 125-year-old conservative Boston commercial real estate firm. I still remember one job candidate for a graphic design position who I didn't even let open her mouth as I sent her packing for wearing a ripped denim miniskirt. Clearly she didn't do her homework or research on the firm."

Sound harsh? Sandy Dumont, an image consultant for the Virginia-based consulting firm The Image Architect, would beg to differ. "The way you look and dress announces the outcome other people can expect from you. It also announces how you feel about yourself," she says. After all, it is this philosophy that is the reason businesses like The Career Wardrobe, Wings for Success and MenzFit exist. These non-profit organizations provide free professional clothing to low-income men and women with the aim of helping them advance into the workforce with a refined appearance and renewed confidence.

Although qualifications and experience are still vital, employers may be right to consider professional appearance when hiring employees. University studies indicate that people are more productive when they are dressed professionally. For Renay Picard, vice president of marketing for Basho Strategies, appearance is critical to a person's chance of getting hired. "How a person chooses to present himself/herself...speaks volumes about who they will be as an employee in my organization," she says. "A professional appearance tells your interviewer(s) that you are an individual who cares about who you are, what you can produce and that you pay attention to the details."

Another thing to remember is that as an employee, the way you dress reflects not just you, but your company as well. Danielson admits that appearance plays a big factor when considering who she asks to accompany her to client meetings. With all other things being equal, she says, it often comes down to choosing which employee is dressed the most appropriately.

Although it can be argued that appearance should be a non-issue and workers should be evaluated solely on performance, Dumont defends the idea behind keeping business attire professional. "Employees grumble that they don't want to be bothered with wearing ties or nylons again, but employees are hired for the 'comfort' of customers, not for their own comfort," Dumont says.

Danielson has one rule on wardrobe: "Dress for the position you want, not the position you have." Despite this popular belief, however, building a professional work wardrobe doesn't have to be complicated or cost a fortune. Simply stick to classic pieces that won't go out of style and gradually add separates to build around these pieces.* Start with the following basics:


Every professional man or woman needs at least one traditional, well-tailored suit in a classic color. Women who choose a skirt suit should also have a pair of pants as a coordinating piece.

Button-down shirts

Classic white is a must because it looks good with anything, but buy a few in different colors that match your suit.


Women should invest in black leather pumps and walking shoes, such as a good, comfortable pair of loafers or ballet flats in leather. Men should have at least one pair of black leather shoes and a black leather belt to wear with them.


Women should accessorize with a few pieces of jewelry and a good leather tote bag, and men should wear a watch and have either a black or brown leather wallet.

Next: Work Wear Do's and Don'ts >>

*Style advice and fashion experts

Copyright 2007

Read Full Story