Why You Don't Have to Lose Your Personality to Professionalism

When you are a child, the world of self-expression is yours for the taking. You can run wild and rampant down the grocery store aisles with two lopsided pigtails, untied bedazzled shoes, and a plaid flannel over rainbow leggings.  No one gives you a second glance, not that you would notice if they did anyway. Although eventually, there comes a time when loving remarks of, “Isn’t her outfit adorable?” transforms into judging, quiet whispers of, “What is she wearing?” Suddenly, self-expression is scrutinized, questioned, and suppressed for yourself and those around you, especially as you come of age and begin to apply for jobs and internships.

Middle school was the first time I was confronted with the sad reality that becoming an adult meant everything except getting the nose ring and tiny flower wrist tattoo I so desperately desired.  Sitting in the principal’s office, I scrunched up my nose in distaste as she told me that I needed to learn to follow the dress code because following one is exactly what I’ll be doing once I’m in the workforce. I angrily listened as she explained that dress codes only get stricter and the “kids running around with tattoos and piercings nowadays” are not at the top of list when it comes to choosing new hires. My 13-year-old fashion-forward heart was shattered, yet I held her gaze and defiantly replied to her spiel with, “I’ll always wear what I want.”

Sadly, this mindset does not apply to most people’s views on workplace wear, and that is where most people get workplace and formal event wear wrong.  When envisioning work wear, most land on boring pleated slacks and fitted blazers in dark or neutral colors as the optimal workplace wear, but “boring” is not an adjective that has to apply to work wear.  For me, my challenge to the principal’s view on how you should dress when employed still stands. After all, why should you sacrifice personality to professionalism when you don’t have to?  Carrie Bradshaw from The Carrie Diaries sure did not.

First things first, accessories are any outfit’s best friend. This is the number one way to subtly bring self-expression back into formal spaces like offices.  The trend of statement earrings and rings has been running rampant lately and with good reason. Stand-out accessories can take any look from level one to 100, boosting the outfit’s uniqueness. A pair of oversized, yet classy geometric gold earrings or a ring with a large, eye-catching stone is the perfect way to say: “I know formal, but I also know fashion.”  Belts and neck scarves are two more ways to personalize a workwear outfit. When it comes to accessories the possibilities are endless.

Along with accessorizing, adding pops of colors to your formal fashion palette is vital.  Items like a bold cerulean blazer, a vibrant lilac bag, a soft pink blouse, or any other colored item that represents you and your style, can make a big impact on your business formal outfit.  It will brighten up the workspace and leave you feeling fresh and more put together than ever.

Just like vibrant colors, prints are not a staple in the work world; however, they are slowly becoming trendier in corporate fashion.  There are hundreds upon hundreds of patterns and prints, so there is no excuse to shy away from them. If you are uncomfortable with wearing anything other than solid colors, start small with a pinstripe pant then work your way up to more adventurous patterns.  Tiny stars on your winter sweater or even a hint of leopard print running its way up the side of your pants are two small, yet noticeable ways to show off your spunky spirit. Prints are perfection when it comes to showcasing personality and do not forget that when at a loss, there is always the classic houndstooth coat to throw on over your basic outfit!

Mixing materials is another fantastic way to add personality to your professional outfit.  A velvet jacket with a silk button-down blouse is sophisticated and can exhibit your taste for professional style. Wear dark denim on days that its possible to do so and pair the jeans with a more formal top for a business chic look. Different fabrics create an interesting and elegant way to bring funk to office wear.

Getting an internship, a new job, or even going to a formal event can be just as nerve-wracking as it is exciting.  Although some see this transition into the “professional” world as closing the door to their self-expression through clothing.  A new door is open on the challenge to figure out ways to spice up your work wardrobe. It can be done. Next time you walk into an office, do it with all the style, personality, and confidence that you carry in your personal life.