Dress to Impress: Practical Tips for Building a Professional Wardrobe

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Preparing for the semester doesn’t just involve creating captivating lectures and activities. It also involves preparing yourself – to look professional. A mentor use to tell me, don’t dress for the job you have, dress for the job you want. Her advice was to always look professional.

Many readers may be adjuncts who hope to one day become a full time faculty member. Therefore, you should be concerned with making a good first impression as well as a continued professional impression.

Audience Awareness:
Be aware of your audience. Your attire should be stylish but modest. Shirt should not be low cut, and skirts should not be too short. Clothing should be form fitting but not too tight. Make sure pants are hemmed to an appropriate length, and that they are ironed or pressed. Avoid clothing with holes. Even if the school allows more casual attire, jeans should be free from holes. Darker fabric is preferred as this looks more professional. It is best to avoid wearing stone washed or lighter colored jean fabric in slacks. Save your more casual attire for the weekends when you are preparing your lectures – not for the week days when you are presenting them.

Before You Go Shopping:
With that being said, many of you may be considering your own personal wardrobe. You may be ecstatic about an excuse to go shopping or you may be dreading it. Some of you may be thinking, this sounds expensive! You may not have the money to spend on a new wardrobe. While you may need to do some back to school shopping, clothing – stylish clothing – does not have to break the bank.

Practical Tip: Before you hit the stores, I encourage you to go through your closet and determine what items you own that can be worn in a professional environment. As you go through your closet, make a list of what you have. This will help you focus as you shop and will ensure you buy items that will complement what you already have. In addition, you can also look for some items that are versatile and practical to add to your current clothing collection. Below is a list of some things that I recommend that you have in your wardrobe.

Closet Staples:IMG_3545IMG_0786 4

  • 2 – 3 dress pants
  • 1 Blazer
  • 2 skirts or dresses
  • 2 pairs of dress shoes

Versatile Style:
I recommend buying dress pants or skirts in neutral colors. (My favorite dress pants are Express Editor Pants – I wear the classic cut and ankle length. I also love wearing Simply Vera Vera Wang pants from Kohls.) Black, grey, dark blue, and tan or light brown work well, because they can be worn with a variety of tops. Select a variety tops, short sleeves, long sleeves, fitted, flowing, solid colors, prints. You can tailor your selection to your personal style. I recommend purchasing a blazer or suit jacket that can be worn to class or to meetings, interviews, speaking events, or professional conferences. This can be paired with a pair of dress pants or a nice skirt or dress. Select a blazer in a color that can be worn with a variety of items in your wardrobe.

Shoes!
Finally, let’s talk about comfortable shoes. Remember, you may be walking a rather far distance to the classroom where you will be teaching. While heels may look cute, they may not be the best option. I recommend a few pairs of flat shoes or low wedges in neutral colors. I also like a few pairs of dressy boots for colder days – which are few and far between in Phoenix, AZ. Depending upon where you live, you may get more use of these than I do.

Practical Advice: I like to wear heels. However, I also have to walk across campus to my classroom or for meetings. So, I carry ballet flats in my work bag. I can slip these on if I need to walk across campus. Then I just change into my heels when I get to my meeting or classroom.

Places to Shop:
Two of my go-to stores are Kohls and Target. I can find just about any type of clothing that I am looking for at Kohls. From seasonal options to shoes, from professional clothing to casual clothing, Kohls carries everything. They also have great sales and coupons! Target is not necessarily a store that I go to in search of clothing, I usually go in for other items and end up in the clothing section, eventually during my visit. I always start my search on the sale racks! I have purchased practical flats and boots, cardigans and light jackets, and shirts for work.

Consignment shops can also be great for updating your wardrobe. However, they tend to be more of a hit or miss in terms of what you find. You may find killer deals or you may walk out empty handed. However, if you have time to scour the racks, then this can be a great option. I have been known to find cute shirts, pants, or even a nice blazer in my searches.

I also like to shop at stores like TJ Max or Ross, but again, these are hit or miss. However, if you need to update your wardrobe with some shirts for the season, you can do so pretty easily and cheaply in these stores.

While I am willing to wear a shirt from just about anywhere as long as it is cute and comfortable, pants are a different story. I buy the majority of my dress pants from the Express. I have been wearing Editor Dress pants from Express for fifteen years. I actually have two pairs that are at least 10 years old. They are great quality, and they fit very well. I can generally find a sale or coupon to use. Sometimes, Express runs a buy one get one half off sale. I also shop at the Express outlet or online for deals. Once you know the style and size that you like, you can easily shop online too which makes finding sales and deals even easier. I definitely prefer shopping online!

Accessorize:IMG_2737
Accessorizing can change the entire look of an outfit. I love scarfs! I buy them at the end of seasons when they are on sale. I tend to buy most of my scarfs from Charming Charlie’s for about $5 each; rarely do I pay more. Earrings also can dress up an outfit. One of my girlfriend’s sells Premier Designs Jewelry. This company is a direct sales company so you will need to find a jeweler if you wish to purchase the products. The quality of the jewelry as well as the return policy if something breaks has guaranteed my business for the last ten years. I try to host a party once a year. By hosting a party, I get my girlfriends together for a fun afternoon or evening out, and I earn FREE jewelry. Not bad if you are on a budget!

Sale Tips:
I LOVE a good sale! I try my very best to only shop sales. One great way to do this is to buy at the end of a season. I have found some great deals doing this. You may also have the opportunity to combine sale prices with coupons or other deals. Finally, I highly recommend asking if the stores where you shop offer discounts to teachers. There are numerous retailers who offer teacher discounts.

Dress to impress! You make an impression every time you step foot on campus. You never know who may pop into your classroom or see you walking from across campus. Make sure that every day, you are making the right impression – a good impression!

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26 thoughts on “Dress to Impress: Practical Tips for Building a Professional Wardrobe

  1. Such great tips. I’m about to get back into the work force after being a stay at home mom for some years. This is very helpful. Thank you

  2. I definitely need to step up my work wardrobe. I had forgotten all about Kohls. Thanks for the reminder!

  3. It’s always important to dress to impress. More people will take you seriously. I get a lot of my work attire from the clearance rack. Really nice post that a lot of young up and coming professionals need to see.

    • Dress for the job you want….not the one you have :-). First impressions start with the way we appear. So looking professional is really important if we want to be treated like professionals. Thank you for your response!

  4. I’m not very enthusiastic when it comes to shopping and dress to impress. These are some well written tips for a person of that nature. My wife is more likely to appreciate this post than I. I will surely pass this along to her.

    Cheers

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