Although there are certainly basic rules associated with business-casual attire, still there is a lot of latitude when it comes to what is technically acceptable. So it’s not uncommon to see workers in a professional environment flirting with that line, or even boldly crossing it when it comes to their work wardrobe. And there are always going to be people who simply don’t seem to understand what is suitable for the office and what isn’t. Unfortunately, these ignorant naifs will find themselves passed up for promotion and potentially even fired if they don’t learn how to dress for their setting. So if you think you might be in this group, or your boss and coworkers have actually told you that your work attire is all wrong, then here are a few dos and don’ts that should give you a guide as to how to dress for success in your job.

  1. DO: Look at what others are wearing. You’ve no doubt noticed that some people in your office always seem to be pulled together, wardrobe-wise, and they are probably enjoying the right kind of attention as a result (i.e. receiving respect from coworkers, not to mention regular promotions from the higher ups). There’s no shame in trying to figure out the secret to their success when it comes to the way they dress. You’ll likely find that they aren’t showing too much skin, that they save the jeans and tees for the weekend, and that wild makeup and jewelry are nowhere to be seen. You’ll also notice that their clothing fits them perfectly. So whether your outfits are too tight or saggy and baggy in all the wrong places, you need to consider the difference that fit makes in every garment you buy, and find yourself a good alterations place in the meantime.
  2. DON’T: Copycat. Dressing appropriately doesn’t have to mean giving up your personal style. While you can certainly mimic your coworkers to some extent if you need a little help, you don’t necessarily have to shop at the same stores and purchase every piece you see them wearing. Within a set of standards you do have some wiggle room to inject your personality. Do you love to wear pink? Instead of buying a suit in eye-searing fuchsia, think about pairing a hot pink, patterned top with a gray suit for a look that is both fun and appropriate. Often getting your outfits right for the office is a simple matter of measure.
  3. DO: Stock up on basics. If you want to build a solid work wardrobe you need to start with a few essentials, including two neutral suits, one dark and one light (say black or navy and tan or light gray), a pair of black slacks, a collared, white, button-down, an LBD (at least knee-length), and some sensible shoes (flats or low-heeled pumps). With these items to start you can add in all kinds of mix-and-match pieces like blouses, skirts, cardigans, camisoles, blazers, and so on to make a complete wardrobe that is easy and work appropriate.
  4. DON’T: Be afraid to toss what doesn’t work. You likely have items in your closet that hold some kind of sentimental value. There’s the dress you wore on your first date, or the suit you donned when you landed your first big job (20 years ago). The thing about good clothing is that it can last a long time, but you should only keep it if it’s timeless and it still fits. As you may have noticed, trends come and go, so hanging on to certain pieces can make you look outdated. Bell-bottoms, for example, are not a good work look these days, especially not if you’ve gained 20 pounds in the meantime. But straight- or wide-leg trousers are always in. If you want to look your best you need to be willing to revamp your wardrobe every so often.
  5. DO: Ask for help. There’s no reason to go it alone when it comes to fashion. You wouldn’t pick out a long evening gown without the help of a hubby or best friend, so why fly solo when it comes to the clothing that could make or break your career? Bring a coworker that seems to know her stuff, talk to store clerks, or watch a few episodes of TLC’s ‘What Not to Wear’ and you’ll see that the more sources you have to help you, the easier shopping for the right attire becomes.