Smart or casual? The worker's dilemma
What to wear at work is a puzzler for those who want to show their personality and stay stylish, writes ROSEMARY Mac CABE
THEY SAY THAT practice makes perfect – the very act of doing something will improve one’s skill at said something. But when it comes to dressing for work – you know, the place many of us spend most of our time in – it would seem that we are still struggling to find a balance between chic and unique, respectable and boring.
What to wear to work is the single most pressing concern (sartorially speaking) on people’s minds, judging by the reader queries that flood in to this column weekly.
And if you examine the amount of time we spend in our offices – an eight-hour day, working from the age of 19 to 65, will leave us working a little under 11 years in a life – it makes sense. For almost 11 years, we will have to dress every morning according to a dress code that seldom leaves room for our personal style.
Not that there is a definitive working style guide; type “what to wear to work” into a search engine and you’re faced with more than 250,000,000 results, recommending skirt suits and fitted blazers and work-appropriate perfumes.
That’s because a set formula just doesn’t exist, says Lorraine Fretwell, head of recruitment at Dublin-based recruitment firm, Prosperity.
“People don’t do enough research on the company and their brands,” she says. “It’s about knowing where you’re going and dressing appropriately for that. We once sent someone away to get a new set of clothes before they went for an interview because we knew they wouldn’t be taken seriously – they were too corporate, they needed to go and get some trendier clothes. And it worked – she got the job.”
Fretwell says that dressing well for work needn’t mean spending the earth. “You can look good no matter where you bought your outfit,” she says. “You’re representing how you work – so you should be tidy, neat . . . and scruffy hair, absolutely, is a no-no.”
Ingrid Hoey is a personal stylist ( butterflystyle.ie) who deals a lot with people who, as she says, “work almost old-school jobs – banking, solicitors – where I think they feel that women have to dress hugely conservatively: think early 1990s”.
Pant suits and men’s shirts paired with stilettoes are the norm, and many of Hoey’s clients feel stuck and unable to experiment with their working wardrobe in a way they might like to. But Hoey says the high street is a great option for those wanting to make slight moves away from a conservative look.