Image Building on a Budget

Sharp Dressed ManIt’s recruiting season. That means all across the country, universities are hosting career fairs to link employers with their next round of summer interns or entry-level hires. And whether you’re gearing up for an interview, or you’ve already landed a new position, below are five basic wardrobe requirements every new professional should own.

Essentials for Women

(* = Beware of dry cleaning.)

1.) * Suits: This is one area where you must invest in quality. Buy suits you can mix-and-match so it looks like you own more than you actually do. Also, dark colors are best for interviews but, after you’ve been on the job a few weeks, feel free to break out the red.

2.) Shoes: Start with a couple pairs of black and brown high heels that are attractive enough to be fashionable, but not stylish enough for colleagues to notice you’re wearing them every day. (Note: It’s acceptable to wear open-toed shoes in summer but, unless you’re headed to a cocktail party, strappy shoes are a no-no year round.)

3.) Dresses: Use dresses to add color to your wardrobe but – for the love of Christmas – keep the length at knee-level.

4.) Purses: I’m a fan of (fake) leather purses that are large enough to carry a padfolio. I think they look more professional in a work setting and allow you to lug binders, etc. if needed. For budget shoppers, stick with black, brown, or neutral purses so they go with everything.

5.) Accessories: With accessories it’s better to err on the side of being too conservative than too casual. For an interview setting, I would avoid dangling earrings, exposed tattoos, and any brightly colored or chunky jewelry. Also, when it comes to hose, there are really only three rules: Never wear ‘em with open-toed shoes, forget ‘em in the summer, keep ‘em neutral in the winter.

Essentials for Men:

1.) * Suits: Same rules as above, though I’d skip the red regardless of how long you’ve been on the job.

2.) * Dress shirts: Best to purchase a variety of dress shirts (white or blue for interviews) and, unless you’re interviewing for night manager at the Circle K, long-sleeve only please.

3.) Shoes: Polished leather shoes are s-h-a-r-p. Also, I cannot underestimate how important it is to have a strong distaste for white socks in the office.

4.) Belts and ties: Another area where quality counts. Good rule of thumb: If either of these items are packaged in a box, back away slowly.

5.) * Tailored khaki pants: I don’t mean custom tailored, but fitted pants just look better than their baggy cousins. If you’re one of those guys who wears pants (and shirts for that matter) that are WAY to big….stop. Just stop.

We’ve all heard that your appearance is how people instantly evaluate your potential. In interview settings in particular, these first impressions can be make or break. Remember the post on being polished, professional, and personable? In truth, it all boils down to self-esteem, and when you feel good about how you look, that translates into confidence that will help your career.

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