Dress to Win at Work

How to dress to look and feel like a winner for every work occasion

Issue: Jul 2015

According to studies, your wardrobe can help you think like a winner, act like a winner, and be seen as a winner
According to studies, your wardrobe can help you think like a winner, act like a winner, and be seen as a winner

You’ve heard the saying - clothes make the man. Despite being told not to judge a book by its cover, we still assess people by how they look and dress. Researchers at the National Research Council of Canada found that a person’s appearance strongly influences how people perceive his/her financial success, authority, intelligence, trustworthiness, and even suitability for a job or promotion.

But your dressing also affects how you see yourself. Yes, your clothes don’t just say something about you; they say things to you as well. Professor Karen Pine from the University of Hertfordshire conducted a series of social experiments and discovered that when dressed in a superhero t-shirt, people became more confident than when they donned plain t-shirts. Women who wore swimsuits while taking a math test performed poorer than those who wore sweaters. Participants given white coats to wear showed increased mental agility. What they wore affected how they thought of themselves which affected their performance.

If you want a winning formula at work, start by taking a peek inside your wardrobe

1. Interview Essentials

For him: pair this deep blue shirt with the Basic Blazer which comes in grey, navy or black to create a snazzy first impression at your interview
(Left) For him: pair this deep blue shirt (S$69.90) with (right) the Basic Blazer which comes in grey, navy or black (S$109) to create a snazzy first impression at your interview
Photo credit: ZARA
For her: a skirt with a structured weave made of 100% Italian wool fabric in a straight cut
(Left) For her: a skirt with a structured weave made of 100% Italian wool fabric in a straight cut (S$145) can be topped with a blazer or (right) go with a Trouser Suit (S$165) in patterned-weave also of 100% Italian wool in a straight executive-style cut to impress your interviewers
Photo credit: Massimo Dutti

Know the corporate culture of the company you are interviewing with. Then, dress to suit the culture. If you look like you fit in, you are more likely to be welcomed into the fold because you are subtly sending the message that you understand the heartbeat of the company.

For the interview, it is always advisable to dress a little more formally than what is expected daily at work. So, men, throw on a blazer; and women, pull on a pant suit, skirt suit or a blazer over that dress.

If you want some pattern to keep your office wardrobe interesting, go for fine ones like this Printed Shirt that adds subtle details to the regular office shirt
If you want some pattern to keep your office wardrobe interesting, go for fine ones like this Printed Shirt (S$49.90) that adds subtle details to the regular office shirt
Photo credit: ZARA

If you want some patterns, go for small prints or fine checks. Eschew bold (read: loud) prints and florals in bright colours, especially for more traditional industries.

airy weave Patterned Scarf (S$19.90) ; (right) the Printed Shirt (S$69.90) with a contrasting collar and trimmings on the pocket
(Left) Put on this airy weave Patterned Scarf (S$19.90) for a splash of colour; or (right) the Printed Shirt (S$69.90) with a contrasting collar and trimmings on the pocket to add a personal touch to the corporate look
Photo credit: H&M & ZARA

In creative industries like design, media, retail, technology and advertising, some measure of personal style may be appreciated. You might add a splash of colour with a scarf, a touch of the quirky with an unusual accessory, or fine details for a little distinction. Moderation, however, is still the key. Avoid casual tops and jeans, even if it may be acceptable in the industry. Don’t dress as if you have already gotten the job when you haven’t.

2. First-day Fashion

Take this structured Green Knit Blazer in 100% cotton with a classic collar with you on your first day in case the office dress code requires a more formal look
Take this structured Green Knit Blazer (S$175) in 100% cotton with a classic collar with you on your first day in case the office dress code requires a more formal look
Photo credit: Massimo Dutti

On your first day (and probably first week), you will be introduced to many people, both colleagues and bosses. You will want to make a good first impression. Research shows that all it takes is seven seconds to make that first impression. Whatever style you picked for the interview, continue with it. It obviously worked. As a safeguard, bring along a tie and blazer (for him) and a blazer (for her) in case you are called to meetings that require you to dress a little more formally.

3. Daily Wear Dos

Business casual for men usually means a long-sleeve shirt like this Double Collar Structured shirt (S$59.90) and dress pants
Business casual for men usually means a long-sleeve shirt like this Double Collar Structured shirt (S$59.90) and dress pants
Photo credit: ZARA

Most offices adopt what in fashion circles is termed a ‘business casual’ dress code (what we commonly call ‘office wear’). But this is a notoriously difficult look to define. For men, this often means dress pants and long-sleeve business shirts; for women, skirts or well-cut pants with shirts or blouses, skirt suits and pant suits, and shift dresses. The silhouette, whatever the choice, is tailored not flowy or flouncy.

Pair this Penny Cut-in Dress (S$59.90) with the (right) Short Blazer with Shoulder Pleat (S$109) to complete your 'business casual' look
(Left) Pair this Penny Cut-in Dress (S$59.90) with the (right) Short Blazer with Shoulder Pleat (S$109) to complete your ‘business casual’ look
Photo credit: Yacht 21 (left) & ZARA (right)

The preferred colours are black, grey, blue, and earth tones though for women, the colour spectrum can be wider and jewel tones or even pastels in moderation are acceptable.

Throw a blazer over this Mao Collar Shirt to bypass the debate of 'tie versus no tie' or don this Cotton Blazer sans tie to achieve the 'business casual' look
(Left) Throw a blazer over this Mao Collar Shirt (S$55.90) that requires no tie to bypass the debate of ‘tie versus no tie’ or don this Cotton Blazer (S$219) sans tie to achieve the ‘business casual’ look
Photo credit: ZARA

There is, however, some debate about the necessity of a tie or blazer. In some circles, having either is fine but wearing both will up the formality level to ‘business wear’.

4. Business Meeting Style

(Left) For him, look dapper for your meeting in this Slim Fit Italian Wool Suit (S$465)
(Left) For him, look dapper for your meeting in this Slim Fit Italian Wool Suit (S$465)
Photo credit: Massimo Dutti
For a feminine touch at business meetings, the Mitchell Mod Top with Victoria Mod Skirt set will work well
For a feminine touch at business meetings, the Mitchell Mod Top with Victoria Mod Skirt set will work well (S$465)
Photo credit: Yacht 21

For business meetings, especially if you are meeting people outside of your organisation, you may want to take it up a notch. Business professional is the look you want. Dark-coloured suits in navy or grey with a tie for men; pants or skirt suits for women in muted tones. Whatever the choice, make sure the fit is right and it allows you to both sit comfortably or stand and move around for your presentation.

(Left) Blue evokes trust and credibility so try this Slim Fit False Plain Shirt (S$125) for a win at the negotiation table
(Left) Blue evokes trust and credibility so try this Slim Fit False Plain Shirt (S$125) for a win at the negotiation table
Photo credit: Massimo Dutti

Heading to the negotiation table or trying to secure a deal at the meeting? It might be useful to take note of colour psychology – how colours can influence moods and behaviours. To establish trust and credibility, blue is the best colour. It is universally liked by both genders so you have a higher chance of pleasing everyone. Dark blue, navy, and dark grey are power colours that convey authority and professionalism.

A touch of red like the Crystal Brooch (S$26) and Gala Earring (S$16) can help you assert yourself
A touch of red like the Crystal Brooch (S$26) and Gala Earring (S$16) can help you assert yourself
Photo credit: Chomel

A touch of red (either a tie or accessory) helps to establish assertiveness. Be sure it is just a hint because too much red can be threatening and come across as aggressive. To appear friendly and approachable, lighter colours are preferred – lighter blues and greens, creams, and beige.

5. Casual Friday Confidential

Try the Short-sleeved Cotton Shirt (S$19.90) with Twill Trousers Slim Fit (S$39.90) to dress down in style
Try the Short-sleeved Cotton Shirt (S$19.90) with Twill Trousers Slim Fit (S$39.90) to dress down in style
Photo credit: H&M

In some companies where the business casual and business professional dress codes are fiercely adhered to, Dress Down Friday is a welcomed policy. But remember, it is still a professional environment. For men, safe bets include dark jeans, khakis, casual slacks, cargo pants, short-sleeve shirts, collared t-shirts, and loafers.

try this orange Dress with Butterfly Sleeves in an airy weave or pair dark Superstretch Trousers with relaxed rolled-up sleeves
(Left to right) You can afford to relax your silhouette with more flowy pieces or opt for more vibrant colours for Casual Fridays so try this orange Dress with Butterfly Sleeves (S$59.90) in an airy weave or pair dark Superstretch Trousers (S$39.90) with relaxed rolled-up sleeves
Photo credit: H&M

For women, dark jeans, capris, a blouse with nice details like lace or sequins, slightly more flowy sundresses (but no spaghetti straps) and open-toed footwear are acceptable. Colours can be brighter and the silhouette more relaxed.

The idea is to show your individual style and fun side while still looking smart and sharp. So, keep those shorts, cut-offs, raggy jeans, t-shirts with cutesy slogans or cartoons, revealing tops (transparent, too tight, too short, too sexy) and flip flops for the weekends!

6. Corporate Dinner Directives

For corporate dinners, dresses that can take you from day to night are practical options like this Figure-fitting Glittery Dress that adds a touch of luxe
For corporate dinners, dresses that can take you from day to night are practical options like this Figure-fitting Glittery Dress (S$79.90) that adds a touch of luxe
Photo credit: H&M

Business dinners run the gamut of formality. Read the dress code carefully. If it is an after-work business dinner or cocktail with clients or business associates, business professional (what you would wear for a business meeting) would suffice. For women, a well-cut, structured shift dress or an elegant wrap dress will work.

For formal corporate dinners, impress with this Navy Three-piece Suit comprising slim fitted suit jacket and matching trousers and waistcoat
For formal corporate dinners, impress with this Navy Three-piece Suit (S$585) comprising slim fitted suit jacket and matching trousers and waistcoat
Photo credit: Topman

If it is a more formal corporate event like an award ceremony, then a lounge suit is preferred. The lounge suit is one rung down in formality from the cocktail suit. For men, that means a three-piece suit in blues or greys with a tie.

For more formal corporate dinners like award ceremonies: the Cailean Lace Maxi Dress; Ivonka Cutout Shoulder Halter Maxi Dress; Meghen Halter-neck Pleated Gown
For more formal corporate dinners like award ceremonies: (from left) the Cailean Lace Maxi Dress (S$669); Ivonka Cutout Shoulder Halter Maxi Dress (S$569); and Meghen Halter-neck Pleated Gown (S$539)
Photo credit: BCBGMaxazria

For women, a dress that falls below the knee or one that ends at the ankle will do nicely. Avoid anything too revealing but feel free to accessorise with tasteful, accent-piece jewellery. After all, this is still a formal professional event.

Dressing appropriately can impress people and open doors. Work your wardrobe well and you will be on your way to being a winner in the workplace.

Where to shop:

BCBG Max Azria
252 North Bridge Road
Raffles City Singapore
#02-32/33
Singapore 179103
Tel: (65) 6336 3836
www.bcbg.com
BCGC Max Azria
2 Orchard Turn
ION Orchard
#B1-28
Singapore 238801
Tel: (65) 6238 0958
www.bcbg.com
Chomel
4 Tampines Central 5
Tampines Mall
#01-35/36
Singapore 529510
Tel: (65) 6782 7959
www.chomel.com.sg
Chomel
2 Orchard Turn
ION Orchard
#B2-52
Singapore 238801
Tel: (65) 6509 8460
www.chomel.com.sg
H&M
2 Orchard Turn
ION Orchard
#B2-28
Singapore 238801
Tel: (65)-65098702
www.hm.com/sg
Massimo Dutti
2 Orchard Turn
ION Orchard
#B1-01
Singapore 238801
Tel: (65) 6509 9081
www.massimodutti.com
Topman
2 Orchard Turn
ION Orchard
#B3-02
Singapore 238801
Tel: (65) 6509 8567
sg.topman.com
Topman
252 North Bridge Road
Raffles City Singapore
#02-39
Singapore 179101
Tel: (65) 6339 0117
sg.topman.com
Topman
230 Victoria Street
Bugis Junction
#01-22-29
Singapore 188024
Tel: (65) 6238 7927
sg.topman.com
Yacht 21
200 Victoria Street
Bugis Junction
#02-34
Singapore 188021
Tel: (65) 6336 3640
www.yacht21.com.sg
ZARA
2 Orchard Turn
ION Orchard
#B2-03 #B3-05
Singaore 238801
Tel: (65) 6509 8840
www.zara.com/sg
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