From Campus to the Office: How to Transition Your Wardrobe

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As you move through your academic career, you will soon find yourself aspiring to get your first industry job or internship, putting the skills you’ve learned in class to use in the real world. You’re ready to go out and start your professional life, but is your wardrobe?

After spending so much time on campus, you have probably acquired clothing that is fit for the classroom and regular outings with friends; jeans, hoodies, and maybe the odd button down are all staples in your closet. When you start your first job, however, it is time to prepare yourself for your new role, and the first step is the proper attire.

Initially, it is easy to assume that all jobs require full business attire, but buying a whole new business-formal wardrobe is an expensive prospect for a new graduate. It might also be unnecessary: there are many aspects to consider prior to making your purchases. Make sure you keep the following tips in mind before swiping your debit card!

Determine your new dress code

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Your office dress code will differ depending on your field, the company you work for, and role you are in. Primarily, when you attend interviews you should always play it safe and wear business attire unless otherwise stated. You want to make a good first impression, so make sure you dress the part. Once you have accepted the job, however, think about your role. If you are going to be in a client-facing position (such as a role in Sales), you may need to consistently dress in business attire. If you are working on-site in a technical role, there may be a specific uniform or dress code requirements (such as working in hospitals), and if you work in an independent department, such as IT, you may be able to wear what you feel most comfortable in. It all depends on your role, so give it some thought.

Secondly, during your interview process and first week on the job, pay close attention to what your co-workers are wearing. This will help you determine what is acceptable for your workplace and role. It is also beneficial to help you fit in with the overall company culture while still representing yourself as a professional.

Lastly, if you are ever in doubt, you can ask your co-workers what you should be wearing while you’re on lunch or visit your HR department or supervisor.

Invest in the pieces you need

Once you have established the dress code, take stock of the items you already own.
Forbes mentions that even if your role requires you to dress up, there may be occasions where you can dress more casually – such as meeting with a long term client for coffee versus pitching an idea to a potential new client. You may not need to wear a suit every day. That being said, consider what you’ll mostly be doing on a daily basis. If you will be working in a casual environment, then some items you already own may be ideal. Other items such as dress pants, dress shirts, sweaters, blazers, button downs, tasteful dresses or skirts and cardigans will be best foundation to build upon.

Once you’ve assessed how work-appropriate the clothing you already own is, it is time to plan what you may need. Considering your student budget, target some of the affordable retailers in the industry. Remember, even discount stores and chains sell inexpensive businesswear! A second piece of advice: invest in articles of clothing that are solidly made and basic in colour (such as dark denim or black pants). Items that are plain and well made are ideal because they can be worn regularly and to a range of events. Black trousers are great for a client meeting if they’re paired with a jacket and shirt, but they can also work for a casual day when paired with a sweater or button down.

Buying new clothes without breaking the bank

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The planning stage will help you budget accordingly; simply being aware of what you already have can save you money, since you’re not buying the same thing twice. An additional Forbes article also suggests determining what your priority items are, and where you can splurge and where you should cut back. For example, it’s probably a good idea to invest in a nice suit jacket, blazer, or pair of dress shoes, since these items will last for a long time, whereas you can find inexpensive dress shirts at a number of discount retailers. Think about the items you’ll wear every day, as these are worth spending a bit more. Finally, do a little research online to get a sense of what items you can get more cheaply, such as dress shirts or sweaters, and what stores have clothing priced within your budget.

It is also a good idea to take advantage of student discounts, in-store loyalty programs and weekly promotions (check all those e-mails you delete for promo codes!). Most retailers are keen on providing their customers with value to keep them coming back, and these are all great approaches to help you acquire additional savings.

Most importantly, determine a final budget for your new work wardrobe and how much you should be spending on each item. While you want to look sharp on the job, you don’t want to spend too much. Determine the items you absolutely need, which ones you can save on, and whether you can take advantage of any discounts. Finally, don’t buy everything at once; while you will need to get some basics, you will also buy new clothes gradually as you start making more money. Ask yourself what items you can wait on to purchase.

Dressing appropriately is just a small part of getting ready for your new job, but it can help you feel comfortable and put-together in an unfamiliar role. Regardless of how you prepare for your career, you are about to embark on a journey full of learning experiences that will dictate your future, so might as well look your best!

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