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Clothes in an office environment

Written by admin, Saturday, September 10th, 2011 in Q&As

I am starting my first serious post-college job next week. I am an administrative assistant in the Provost’s Office at a major NYC university. I spent my undergrad years as a major in one of the performing arts and as such I don’t really know the whole “vibe” of an office environment. Any tips? The office I am in is one of the more “corporate” environments in a university without being as “business” as a law firm.

The unquestionable rule of dressing for work is that you should dress for the job you want, not the job you have. In translation, this means that you should generally err on the side of stylish professionalism and not fall into the deadly trap of dressing like most lazy been-there-since-the-70s administrative assistants do (old jeans, worn out untucked oxford shirts, etc).

If you’re at a university, you can really get away with about anything that isn’t pajamas, so I’d exploit the opportunity and overdress. Suits are, of course, the gold standard for this sort of thing, if you can afford decent tailored ones. Outside the suit realm, a combination of a good blazer and a good pair of pants always works well, pending you have a good shirt and tie to match. If the weather is too hot, forego the blazer, but still wear the tie — you’ll be respected for it, and it’s totally an east coast thing to do. If you feel like wearing something comparatively comfortable, jeans are appropriate only if they are (1) dark and (2) worn with otherwise dressy clothing like button-down shirts and the like. Don’t feel like you have to be hyper-conservative like a lot of the law kiddies will be (that is to say, feel free to wear shirts that aren’t white), so have fun — experiment with colors and patterns wildly and make a statement.

You may be slightly made fun of for dressing well, but trust me: doing so sets you apart in a way that will be absolutely invaluable for your career.

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