As graduation creeps closer for all of us seniors and summer internships and r?sum? workshops loom on the horizon for Badgers of all ages, the thought of joining the workforce – and dressing accordingly – is a bit intimidating. Considering that I’ve spent a good portion of my college career writing fashion columns that advocate for cut-off shorts, combat boots and quirky hairdos, I’m in no rush to throw on an ill-fitting suit and wipe away any semblance of individuality. If a trip to the career fair, where kids who usually dress in one-of-a-kind ensembles drown themselves in sexless black suits, is any indication of our future, I will not let any of you leave college without a lesson on dressing for the workforce.
Of course, your outfits will depend on your job. An internship at a corporate law office will call for a very different getup than one in the creative department of an advertising agency or in a biology research lab. Take a peek at professionals in your field to gather the “guidelines” on how to dress. Are jeans OK, or is it a suit and tie sort of environment? Once you gauge the balance between casual and professional and you secure your idea of what is appropriate for a given situation, it is time to infuse just the right amount of fun into your outfits.
Get started by looking at the basic pieces that make up any professional outfit: the blazer, the buttoned dress shirt and the trouser. Regardless of your gender, field and personal style, these pieces are necessities for every college graduate. However, stylish details, fits and patterns can take these essentials from forgettable to fabulous. And with the hoards of twenty-somethings flooding the market, you want to be remembered for all the right reasons.
There is nothing more depressing than an ill-fitting trouser. Too tight, flared numbers and baggy, wrinkly khakis tell employers, “I can’t wait for five o’clock so I throw on my real pants.” Instead, take a cue from timeless ladies like the Hepburns – both Audrey and Katharine – who made boys pants look perfectly their own. Audrey, in tight fitting, mid-waist black pants that hit just at the ankle, provides a look that is both playful and polished. And Katharine, wearing high-waisted, looser-fitting pants, shows us how to take a conservative look and make it sexy. The most on-trend look combines both pants for a loose, high-waisted trouser that tapers at the ankles for an undeniably cool charm.
Moving on to shirts, I think it should be cemented in all of your minds that not all dress shirts are created equal. First of all, resist the urge to call them all “button-ups,” as “button-downs” are a distinct style defined by the buttons that hold down the collar. Conventionally, button downs are seen as more conservative and professional, while button-ups can be incorporated into more casual outfits. Next comes the question of fit and tailoring. And the answer: a little tailoring goes a long way. While some tailoring can assist you in finding a shirt that fits and flatters your body type, an overly tailored shirt with blatantly feminine details loses the androgynous appeal that makes button-ups/downs so trendy in the first place. Another important thing to keep in mind when trying on dress shirts: Don’t buy them too small! Shoulder seams should hit right below the slope of your shoulders, and it is absolutely integral that the buttons do not gap. As far as materials go, stiff and starchy cottons should be replaced with softer fabrics, whether they be cotton, chambray or even a funky flannel.
There is no denying that a good blazer is hard to find. Something about a blazer from the conventional two-piece suit is so cold and professional that it eliminates any possibility of being stylish. Instead, trade in your starched, padded and tailored blazer for one with an easier fit and a more casual style. J. Crew’s schoolboy blazer is an example of the perfect blazer: perfectly proportioned for women and bedecked with cool details like brass buttons and easy-to-roll-up sleeves. Layered over everything from easy button-ups to T-shirts and sweatshirts, this versatile piece can be dressed up or dressed down.
Let’s end with everyone’s favorite: shoes. This is the best place to play with femininity and masculinity. Menswear provides the perfect casual shoe with oxfords and loafers, though polished details keep it professional. Or, go lady-like with sophisticated ankle strap flats or delicate kitten heels that provide the perfect counterpart for a stylishly, androgynous outfit.
No matter what you do, make sure to put your own personal twist on it!