October 18, 2013
How to step up your style in Seattle's casual workplaces
Seattleites have a default style: super-casual. And that laid-back look extends to the workplace, where coders at tech companies show up in sweatpants and hardly anyone wears a tie.
But just because you can wear your jammies to work doesn’t mean that you should, says Lauren Rothman, a Washington, D.C.-based style expert.
“There’s been a dress-down trend, and as a result, we’re seeing a sloppiness at work that we didn’t use to see,” says Rothman, author of the new book “Style Bible: What To Wear To Work.” Jeans and trade-show T-shirts may be the company uniform, but your career will benefit if you take more care with your attire and appearance, she says.
That’s true -- to a point, says Jackie Haggerty, director of human resources at Seattle-based Sesame Communications. If you’re in financial services or some other customer-facing profession, you’re dressing more formally, even in laid-back Seattle.
“But if you’re a coder who works for a high-tech company who prefers to come to work in sweats, you’re getting recruited and your manager will do anything to keep you,” she says.
Sweatpants or not -- and Rothman is firmly in the no-sweatpants camp -- “Style Bible” has some good tips on how to fine-tune your workplace image, especially if you have career aspirations. “You don’t have to be the best-dressed person in the room; just don’t be the worst,” says Rothman. “First impressions count, and they happen daily.”
Most important, mind your grooming. Showing up to work in stained, wrinkled clothing shows a lack of judgment, says Haggerty. “The perception is that lack of judgment would translate to work decisions.” Speaking of lack of judgment, keep your shoes on. Bare feet are for the beach, not the office.
Rothman suggests in her book that men wear undershirts underneath their button-downs: “Other men don’t want to see your hairy chest at work, and neither do women.”
While we’re on the topic of hair, Rothman uses all caps in her book to emphasize that fuzz-free legs are a must when wearing skirts and dresses. And guys, if you cut yourself shaving, don’t come to the office with tissue on your face.
Wearing things that are too short or too sheer, or that bare your midriff, is not appropriate at the workplace, says Rothman. Haggerty agrees: “If you’re in a work environment that allows jeans, the expectation is that your jeans are clean and your skin isn’t showing. The workplace just does not want to see skin.” While you’re at it, tuck in those stray bra straps, too.
To pull a look together, Rothman recommends that women choose a “third piece” for their outfit every day. This finishing touch can be a blazer or cardigan, a V-neck sweater over a tank, a scarf or a piece of statement jewelry.
Most workplaces in Seattle are denim-friendly. Rothman suggests dark jeans to amp up your look. “There aren’t that many items that work across ages and genders and body types, but dark jeans are one of them,” she says. You can find dark denim at all price ranges, from budget to designer brands.
If you’re going in for an interview, it’s best to dress a little nicer than the employees. In casual Seattle, that means slacks and a button-up shirt for men, and nice pants or a skirt for women. “When you’re interviewing, you’re putting your best foot forward, and it’s expected that you’ll be dressed more formally,” says Haggerty.
Finally, tech accessories are a great way to continue your style statement, says Rothman. Look for tablet or cellphone cases with interesting details or in bright colors that reflect your personality. “Don’t underestimate the power of that accessory,” she says. “We’re an outerwear culture.”
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