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How To Dress for the First Day of a New Job

July 05, 2019 | Filed in: Your Closet

When it comes to the pursuit of our professional goals, there is no sweeter phrase at the end of a long interview process than “you’re hired.” After the contracts are signed and your start-date is established, though, another question crops up: “What am I going to wear?” The answer can be harder for some people than others. That’s especially true these days because dress codes aren’t always so clear.

I’ll admit that choosing what to wear on the first day of work is one of my favorite aspects of starting a new job. Day one in the office is a little like day one at a new school, minus the lunchroom bullies: an opportunity to make a carefully articulated impression on a new set of people. I’ve been known to plot my outfits a full week in advance. (The bigger confession is that I always lay out my entire ensemble, down to the shoes, the night before. Some middle school tics never change.)

Of course, calculating what to wear to the first day at a new gig requires a different arithmetic than school did. You want to fit in with the office culture while also communicating who your personality to your new colleagues; on top of that, you want to look like a professional while the idea of “professional” dress varies widely across offices and industries. In short, these early wardrobe decisions can carry substantial weight, and the pressure that comes with it—the last thing anyone wants on the first day of a new job. 

Here are four tips for the morning of your very first day.

Take a cue from the interview.

Today, a relaxed dress code that gives employees the freedom to wear comfortable clothes and express themselves is often a recruitment tool. You can then rest easy that whatever you wore to your job interview made a good enough impression that it’s a look worth sticking with, especially in the early days. Observe and remember the way people were dressed on the day you interviewed and take a cue. If no one in the office was wearing a suit, then you can leave yours at home, too. But keep hierarchy in mind: If you’re coming into a senior role, it’s important to project authority. Depending on the position and the company, that could mean a lot of things. But a good rule of thumb is to select timeless, well-tailored pieces in nice fabrics. 

“Really, there are no rules,” explains Annette Y. Harris, a personal brand consultant who works mainly in the D.C. area. “It’s not black and white.” If you’re still feeling out the office vibe, you can’t go wrong with a polished ensemble like the Sarah dress, a blazer, and the Lillian pump. “The key is to research your position,” she advises, “because you’re going to look out of place if you don’t do your homework.” As for how to accomplish that, check out the advice in the sections below. 

Play it safe at first.

Maybe you’re headed into a startup where every other employee is in jeans, or you’ve arrived at a law firm where Casual Friday often means athleisure. As a newbie, though, you’re better off being slightly overdressed than underdressed. This doesn’t necessarily mean suiting up as if every day were a board meeting day. A professional environment might call for something like this: the wide-leg Zhou culotte and a chic top, like the Ronda. If you’re concerned you don’t understand the overall office dress code vibe, you can always reach out to the human resources department at your new company, too, to check on guidelines. While, in the past, office dress codes might have been defined in a company manual, the photos in your office’s human resources handbook might be your best guide.  

Give corporate attire a twist.

If you work in an industry where suits are still the status quo, you’ve got an opportunity to get on trend, says Harris. “Suits have more personality now than they used to, and there are ways to make them look more relaxed,” she says. Depending on the environment’s level of formality, Harris advocates for bold prints, fun accessories, and strategic dashes of color—it’s incredible what a little red lipstick can do to a basic ensemble. You don’t have to confine yourself to a standard silhouette either. Classic wardrobe staples can be reinvigorated with a unique cut, like the Tamar blazer. Simple trousers like the Elliott can easily transition to evening when paired with an untucked Cristeta top and suede Lillian pumps in vermillion. 

Wait to invest in a whole new wardrobe.

The Blake shirt in brushstroke.

If you’re anything like me, then perhaps you see a new job as an excuse to splurge on a flashy new bag or the pair of pants you’ve been coveting. From both personal experience and expert testimony, I can tell you to wait a beat. Once you begin to get comfortable in your new environment, you may realize that the dress code vibes you thought you were feeling weren’t quite what you thought. Shop your own closet first. But, if you can’t let yourself start a new job without wearing something new (guilty!), a well-tailored top like the Blake shirt in brushstroke is the perfect way to a good first day.  

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Elizabeth Kiefer is a writer and editor based in Brooklyn Read more of Elizabeth's posts.

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