What to Wear at Work

Unless we specifically tell you otherwise, you can expect that you should wear Business Casual clothing at the client site. Interviews generally require somewhat more formal attire.

While it may not seem fair or just, the fact is that what you wear and how you're groomed are the most important nonverbal messages that you send about yourself. As a consultant you should present yourself as a professional - and dress that way - regardless of how your client's employees may dress.

The following table provides some general guidelines regarding different levels of attire:

Professional Good dress slacks (not khakis)
White or light color dress shirt
Plain or small design dark tie
Dark, plain, long socks
Well-shined dress shoes
Your recruiter will let you know if a jacket is also required
If a suit is required, keep it dark and conservative
Pant suit or skirt suit
White, color or small patterned blouse
Stockings and close-toe shoes
Carry a classic handbag; nothing flashy
Business Casual Slacks or khakis
Collared dress shirt or sport shirt
Polo shirts may be fine for more casual environments
Slacks or skirt and blouse
Dress as long as it's not too casual
Open-toe shoes or sandals may be fine in warm areas, especially in summer
Casual Jeans may be acceptable, but check before wearing them
No shorts or torn clothing - even if you bought it that way
No clothing with inappropriate graphics
Running shoes may be acceptable, but check first
Jeans may be acceptable, but check before wearing them
No shorts or torn clothing - even if you bought it that way
No clothing with inappropriate graphics
No bare midriffs or revealing clothing
Open shoes, sandals or running shoes should be acceptable
Some specific suggestions

It never hurts to slightly overdress, especially on your first days.

Consultants hired for their special skills - whether technical or management - should keep the above advice in mind. The client is paying a substantial rate for your services primarily because you can provide expertise that is not available within their organization. Dressing as a professional - especially for the first several days or weeks - helps to reassure the client that they're getting the highly skilled professional they paid for.

If the work environment is essentially casual, but there's some possibility that you would need somewhat more formal clothes at some point, consider keeping a change of clothing either on site or in your car. That way if you have to meet with a vendor, client partner or other professionals, you'll have the option of dressing up a bit.

The above tip comes with an added benefit: You'll always have a backup for those times when someone spills mustard on you.

Finally: Regardless of your area of specialization, if you're going to come in contact with the public, make it a point to look your best. The client will appreciate it, and you'll be glad you made that extra effort.

For Interview Attire

You'll find some guidelines in our Interview Tips section. In general, though, you will never lose points by dressing up for an interview. Taking care of your appearance communicates your respect for the interviewer and your seriousness about the position.

What not to do
  • Avoid or at least minimize your wearing of pink, baby blue and other pastels
  • Don't wear skirts that are more than about three inches above the knee
  • Slips should not be visible through any slit in the skirt
  • Don't wear anything sheer, low-cut or suggestive
  • Avoid very high heels and platforms
  • Stay away from stockings with seams, lace or obvious patterns
  • Minimize your use of large and/or dangling jewelry
  • Stay away from dark shirts, and be sure that patterned shirts will fit the environment
  • Generally speaking, avoid light ties, especially with darker shirts
  • Ties should stop right about at the waist: Neither much above or below your belt
  • Avoid alligator shoes or other eye-catching footwear
  • With your conservative shoes, don't wear white or brightly colored or patterned socks
  • Don't try to get by with wrinkled or un-pressed clothing
  • Avoid clothes that are too tight or too baggy. Go for classic, not trendy
  • Avoid extremes in colors or style, especially in conservative environments
  • If you wear a watch, be sure it's conservative
  • Avoid strong after-shave, perfume or scents
  • Don't smell like smoke!
  • Men should keep any facial hair very carefully groomed
  • Men should consider removing earrings, at least at first
  • Women should keep makeup simple and natural looking.
  • Keep nails clean and relatively short.
  • Women, avoid flashy nail designs and colors
Want to Fit in? Here's How

If the organization where you'll be working has an annual report, find it and take a look at the pictures. These represent the image the organization seeks to present. Management professionals can fit in right from the start by dressing like the people shown in the report. Technical specialists won't need to worry quite so much about this, but the more you know about your new work environment (and what they expect from people), the better.

No annual report? Look for articles and other information on the internet that might be accompanied by photos. The text of articles can be helpful, too. If a company is described as laid back and informal, you've got a good clue about how the employees dress.

A Final Thought

Every day you get a chance to make a visual statement about your value to the client, through your choice of clothes. What message do you want to communicate?