Queen's University — Since 1873
11th March 2011

From classroom to boardroom

In the workforce, first impressions can be everything. Learn how to transition your wardrobe from school to work to leave a positive impression that lasts

Having a nice blazer is a good place to start when building your work wardrobe, image consultant Catherine Bell says.
Having a nice blazer is a good place to start when building your work wardrobe, image consultant Catherine Bell says. (Justin Tang)

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First impressions are important, especially in the workplace.

Studies show that it takes 10 or 11 additional meetings to change someone’s mind about a first impression. That means making that first impression on a future boss is more important than you think.

Justin Lum, ArtSci ’10, said that after graduating from Queen’s last year, he began looking for jobs in the marketing field.

“I don’t think it was necessarily that difficult to transition into work attire, but it was definitely an adjustment,” he said, adding that before entering the workforce he used to dress casually in sweatpants and t-shirts. When he started to look for a job, he began to put in more effort.

Lum said taking a different approach to dressing doesn’t necessarily have to mean a substantial change, but rather taking the effort to care about the little details such as ironing your pants or polishing your shoes.

“Dressing appropriately shows that you care and it gives you a cleaner look overall,” he said.

Such attire can unfortunately take a hit on the wallet, which is why he suggests students try to find pieces with multiple uses.

“Nowadays I don’t buy anything if I can’t use it in more than one context. I try to buy versatile pieces,” he said.

For example, a dress shirt can be dressed up at work and dressed down when going out with friends, making buying clothes more of an investment than a purchase.

Paul Bowman, manager of Career Education and Counseling at Queen’s Career Services, echoed the idea that first impressions are most important when applying for a job, adding that different workplaces might be looking for different things.

“It always depends on the nature of the job or the employer,” he said.

Bowman said even today, Canada is quite a conservative place when it comes to business attire. Therefore, your best bet is to wear business attire if your workplace is a permanent and professional place of work.

Bowman advizes women to dress in skirts, blouses, dress pants and blazers; for men, collared shirts, dress pants, ties and suit jackets are always a good idea.

“Regardless of what you are wearing, either business or casual wear, what’s really important is grooming,” he said.

Bowman added that one of the biggest mistakes interviewees make is having on excessive amounts of perfume or cologne.

Another common mistake made by students is wearing white socks with dark pants.

Bowman suggests incorporating basic pieces such as a blouse with a casual blazer and personalizing the outfit by wearing a unique belt. He said every student should already have pieces such as a basic black pant, a blazer and a dress shirt.

For those without these basic staples, Bowman suggests shopping in second hand stores such as Phase Two or looking through the clearance section of formal wear stores. A handy tip to ensure you’re dressing in accordance to the company’s work attire is to check their website to see how the employees in the pictures dress.

Image consultant Catherine Bell runs the consulting company Prime Impressions. For a professional office work setting such as a law office or a bank, Bell suggests getting tailored clothing that doesn’t hang too

tightly to the body.

“Having a good blazer is important as it could coordinate a lot with many of the pieces you own in your own wardrobe,” she said.

Bell said depending on the type of work, it’s important to recognize whether the company you work with maintains a professional business attire policy or business casual.

Distinguishing the two is important. Business attire always requires being in full professional attire, with men in suits and tailored pants and women in pants and tailored jackets. When the work environment is more casual, you can take the formality of the outfit down a notch by switching up one piece of formal clothing with a work appropriate piece from your everyday wardrobe.

“A top that is quite tight to the body or is knitted would have to be coupled with something else. Pair with another jacket, or get a camisole,” she said, adding that males can choose to leave out one formal piece of attire, like a tie, for a more casual look.

For jobs like daycare work, Bell emphasized the importance of comfort and functionality.

“Make sure that [you] are fully covered, because people will be bending over,” she said. “Sometimes what happens is that pants tend to be low-rise so they tend to show tattoos or underwear.” Bell said creative workplaces, like ad agencies, tend to allow more flexibility when it comes to wardrobe choices.

Comfort is ultimately everything, Bell said, so whether it comes to matching your lightweight t-shirt with a blazer for work or donning a full business suit, you want to make sure that you are relaxed and able to work long hours in it.

“You want to make sure garments aren’t too tight and that you are able to [work] with ease. Choices in clothing always will affect the person’s personal brand.”

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