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Building a Business Wardrobe: Aim for Quality and Versatility

By Aldene Fredenburg

You've just gotten your business degree, and now you're looking for that new job, the one that will allow you to show your stuff.

Whether you're aiming for a Fortune 500 firm or a laid-back dot-com company, the first clothing investment you should make is one or two really great suits. A couple sharply tailored suit coats in neutral "power" colors like black, navy blue, or gray, along with matching dress slacks, will see you through the interview process. Even if you're applying for a job with a firm whose employees look like every day is casual Friday, you need to walk into your first interview like you're a CEO on Wall Street. Wherever you work, you're still going to need traditional business attire for meetings with clients, so don't worry that you're wasting your money on the interview clothes.

Before, during, and after your job interviews, pay attention to how employees are dressed. Do they all wear formal business attire? Or are they dressed casually in pullover jerseys and cargo pants? Are they wearing dress shoes, business loafers, or Air Jordans?

There's a saying in business: dress for the job you want, not the job you have. Once you've got the job, pay attention to what upper level management is wearing, and aim for a wardrobe that mirrors that. If your new coworkers are a pullover and cargo pants lot, you'll still probably notice a pecking order reflected in the clothing choices among the staff. If you decide to go casual, go high quality casual, using natural fibers, solid construction, and a neat, put-together look.

Once you have the job, add clothing, both traditional and casual, in warmer neutrals like tans and browns, to your power suits. Try to build a day to day wardrobe that will see you through at least a week and a half of work without repeating any clothing items; that way, you'll have time for a weekly trip to the dry cleaners or Laundromat before you run out of clean clothes.

Your business accessories should also reflect your professionalism. A sturdy, attractive briefcase is a must; a coordinating wallet and business card holder also makes a good impression.

And finally, don't forget the after hours environment of the office. Does the management team play golf or handball? Does the company offer a gym membership, or possibly have its own gym? You'll want a high quality, well maintained sports wardrobe appropriate for whatever activities are prevalent at the office, including whatever equipment and accessories are necessary for pursuing the activity.

Getting your business wardrobe together may sound expensive, but if you do a little planning and set yourself a budget, over time you'll find that you can make careful choices that quickly get you wear you need to be. For some, those choices may include a specialty store for big and tall sizing. You'll want to be able to participate fully in the corporate culture, both in and out of the office. A well chosen, versatile wardrobe will allow you to do that and make a favorable impression on your colleagues in the process.

About The Author

Aldene Fredenburg is a freelance writer living in southwestern New Hampshire and frequently contributes to Tips and Topics. She has published numerous articles in local and regional publications on a wide range of topics, including business, education, the arts, and local events. Her feature articles include an interview with independent documentary filmmaker Ken Burns and a feature on prisoners at the New Hampshire State Prison in Concord. She may be reached at


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