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Admin Pro Forum

How much do you believe in dressing for success?

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Question: "I sat down and estimated how much I spend each year just on work clothes, and I came away pretty depressed! Trying to 'dress for the job you want, not the one you have' is expensive. I'd like to know how many admins simply refuse to chase that notion because of the expense, or because they're not particularly comfortable in clothing more formal than they wear outside the office. Personally, I'm dialing way back, and people here can think what they want to think!" - Melanie, New Bedford, Conn.

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Stephanie September 13, 2017 at 4:11 pm

My mom taught us there are clothes for every environment. I have taken that to heart and always dress very professionally. It gets me noticed, I feel more confident and I believe I represent myself and my company well. In fact, in the 1 – 2 times I’ve worn casual clothes as I was just coming in to grab papers people have to stop and look twice! They say things like wow didn’t realize you had regular clothes. Again goes back to my mom’s teaching, another tip from her shopping consignment and clearance. People think I spend a fortune when it’s really only a few dollars. I also love places like Ross where I can find dresses for less than $15. I check out clearance at shoe outlets, Amazon and even Payless. You can look great and spend less. I encourage you to project who you are and clothes speak before anything else does.


Lori Kensington September 13, 2017 at 10:48 am

I am an Administrative Assistant with an Enforcement office. I am in one Division of a State Department. For many years, I have not have the finances to dress as professionally as I would like to. It is quite depressing to dress as well as you are able, and not be taken seriously because of it. Now, I am able to put forth a little extra towards how I look, and it has paid off!! Many people have commented and complimented me, and I seem to have the ear of more people when I discus things. How you look is not just a surface thing. It can affect how people see you, and while usually that kind of generalization is incorrect, it makes the job that much easier. I also feel more confident, which also helps!


Becky September 11, 2017 at 4:59 pm

I have been an Executive Assistant for way too long, (43 years) and I have always dressed up for work. Most of my positions placed me in a very visible area, and I felt as the first person someone coming into the company would see, it was very important to look and be dressed professionally. I still believe that today. I work in the Finance and Administration office, and am the first person anyone entering the department sees and I believe first impressions are everything. I want to be sure that I represent our company well. I keep the cost down by shopping at thrift stores. I am lucky that there are several in our area, and I shop them regularly for name brands. I have a vast array of high end name brand clothes that cost me next to nothing. It does mean that you may have to shop several times to find what you are looking for, but if you frequent the stores and purchase basic colors and timeless styles you can build a very nice mix and match wardrobe at minimal cost. I receive compliments frequently on how I am dressed, so I must be doing something right.


Lori Kensington September 13, 2017 at 10:56 am

I also shop ‘thrifty’! We have a Clothes Mentor here. It has saved me a LOT of money, and I look great! (Not being conceited, they just have that great of clothing!) I found altering my appearance just a bit reflects how people ‘see’ me. Finding a balance of what is comfortable and professional is important. I want people to see I am friendly, I take my job seriously, and I am here to help. My outwardly appearance has to reflect that.


Raelene Wundrow September 11, 2017 at 12:33 pm

I have been an Executive Assistant for 11 years. I have ruined more clothes doing things that need to get done. Clearing store rooms, moving boxes etc. I finally decided to dress down but always looking nice. I dressed up when I knew we were having a meeting or a customer coming in. Make sense.


Rosemarie September 11, 2017 at 8:53 am

I wear suits to work – skirt suits, dresses with a suit jacket, pant suits, and on dress down Fridays, its good slacks and a nice top/sweater/cardigan. I purchase classic pieces that are timeless and of a good quality, and I add a few trendy pieces twice a year. I DO NOT spend a great deal of money on my clothes. I have never paid more than $25 for a brand name (Talbot petites, Jones New York, etc) suit jacket? Why? I shop for the classic pieces at the end of the season when they are on clearance, and I shop consignment shops. Rarely do I pay full price. You can dress for success and not spend a lot of money. If you have a job, it may not matter, but if you have a career, it does.


Julia September 11, 2017 at 4:54 am

I am on the kind of office uniform way: mostly black/grey skirts with nice tops and blazers. The problem is that over the last years I’m putting on some weight, and I must renew the clothes more often than I wanted, and I don’t always find outfits that are appropriate for the formal code at our office. Am I the only one? I cannot spend a lot on something I will not be able to wear for more than two seasons :(

Though it is not easy to find simple black slacks/skirts in extra sizes without spending much, I kind of manage.


Lisa September 11, 2017 at 5:45 pm

Thrift stores? Discount stores (like Ross, Marshalls, etc.)? I rarely, if ever, pay full price for things. You have to go pretty often, but can often score bargains.


Kerri September 21, 2017 at 5:49 pm

I wish I could find something in the thrift stores! Trust me, I have tried. I too have gained some weight and finding something in my size at a Thrift shop just seems impossible. It is hard to find well fitting things in larger sizes. I do however find a few gems at Marshall’s and Ross. It always seems like it fall and winter items though.


Judith October 2, 2017 at 6:13 pm

I have been shopping online and have found clothes that fit my larger than usual body for very little money. Also sign up for Groupon.com and Retailmenot.com which offer discounts on clothes from department stores – not huge brand names but you still can dress well. Because of one of these sites I picked up a name brand jacket, pants and skirt for $25 – a savings of over $175 from the retail price. They may be last year’s model, but they are a classic cut and that doesn’t change much.


Erica September 8, 2017 at 4:11 pm

I belief dressing up for work. Like many others I wear black slacks and dressy tops. I enjoy clearance racks and thrift stores. Very picky in the thrift stores. Often, I’ll head to wealthier communities, as their shops tend to have a larger business attire selection.


Lisa September 8, 2017 at 1:06 pm

I’m so glad to hear of so many others who 1) have a “uniform” of sorts, and 2) shop at thrift stores! Sometimes I feel a little funny that I adhere to the same types of clothes every day, but as long as you mix it up a little with pretty, colorful tops, that’s fine! For me, it’s “dark slacks/patterned top” wardrobe in the fall, winter and spring, and in the summer, “dark dressy capris or skit/patterned top.”

I also embraced thrift store shopping about ten years ago. As long as the clothing is in good condition and is washable, I’ll go for it. I also make sure to pay attention to sale days at my thrift store. On most of the major holidays, they offer 50% discounts on their already low prices. I can buy a bunch of tops at $3 or $4 each – score!

I never worry about being fashionable; I figure that as long as I wear professional, tailored slacks and tops, I’m ahead of the game compared to many of my colleagues, who often wear “leggings as pants” to work. Leggings aren’t pants, people!


Lori Kensington September 13, 2017 at 11:04 am

I agree!! Too many people are dressing in clothing not fitting to their position! We have people here who dress in jeans, leggings, sweatshirts. One of them actually made a comment about me wearing a sleeveless top. This person is a manager who wears sparkly jeans, flip flops and sweatshirts to work!! I asked my supervisor about my sleeveless tops, and was told not to worry about it. I even received a compliment from our boss about how I have been dressing lately! On my worst days, I am usually dressed more professionally than the manager who commented on my sleeveless shirt.


Renee September 8, 2017 at 9:21 am

I always wear black slacks but pair them with different blouses. I ususally shop at thrift stores or discount stores such as Ross. Many thrift stores carry nice jewelry and purses as well. Often you can find items with the original price tags still on them. While I want to look good for my job, I am the major bread winner in my household and my salary just won’t stretch far enough to justify the cost. I read an article a while back, from a woman who said that she noticed that the men in her company always wore black slacks with white shirts. She decided that they probably didn’t worry over what to wear each morning as it was always the same and yet they looked professional. . She decided to try that. She bought several pairs of blacks slacks and then paired them with white blouses in different styles. This way she just picks a blouse and she’s ready to go. No more standing in the closet trying to decide what to wear. Trying to decide what to wear in the morning is always difficult for me, so I am thinking about doing the same thing. You can always throw on a black blazer when you need to look more professional.


Tesstarosa September 8, 2017 at 12:59 am

I don’t think you have to go broke to dress professionally and for the “job you want.” Buy quality items that can be combined with other items and you are good to go. Clothing is not an investment — so don’t throw a lot of money at it. But don’t go cheap, either.


Bree September 7, 2017 at 7:09 pm

It doesn’t have to be expensive at all! Resales stores have great business clothes! You just have to check out all of the shops in your area and find which ones tend to have designer names/nicer stock. I consider it treasure hunting. There’s nothing better than getting a $240 blouse for $7. :-) Consignment stores are an option too, but they tend to be more pricey. Even better with resale stores -many support charities so it’s a win/win. To those that say “Ew! Used clothes!?” I point out that if you when you go to a hotel, you sleep on sheets that have been used by other people… what’s the difference?


Liza September 7, 2017 at 5:12 pm

After searching capsule wardrobes on Pinterest, I’ve stuck to a pretty basic wardrobe formula… solid bottom, patterned top, coordinating cardigan/blazer. I do have several solid color tops as well, but the patterned tops extend my wardrobe the most. I don’t buy anything that doesn’t coordinate with a minimum of at least 3 different blazers/cardigans.


Tesstarosa September 8, 2017 at 1:00 am

Excellent advice. Buy quality bottoms that will stand up over time and go for fun in the tops.


Melissa Hunter September 7, 2017 at 4:35 pm

I believe in dressing well, but not expensively. I work on an executive floor, support a senior executive, so I need to dress appropriately. As someone else noted, I frequent several used clothing stores. you have to be persistent, but I have found some nice suits for small bucks. I also have several online and local stores that I watch for sales. I know what I have in my closet, I know what I am looking for, and I am disciplined with not purchasing things that don’t work just because they are cheap.

One thing to consider with your wardrobe is to have a wardrobe plan, try googling “working wardrobe” for information. In the past two years, I have been working to reduce my wardrobe to two/three classic base colours (black, grey, purple) for pants/jackets and then adding other colours in with cheaper items and accessories. I stopped buying skirt suits because I just don’t wear skirts. I made tough decisions to get rid of some things that I really liked but that did not fit into my plan. Not only do I not need as many clothes, it is also a lot easier and quicker to get dressed in the morning, and my clothes are a lot more versatile because they all work together. Plus I don’t need as many shoes, since I can get away with black for any outfit.


Barbara September 7, 2017 at 4:32 pm

I was a fashion plate in my youth. My mother was a fantastic seamstress and made all our clothes, My wardrobe was full of very fashionable one-of-kind pieces (Mom being my personal designer). Then when I started work, I kept up the forward fashion style to the detriment of my bank account. Then I met a senior Executive Assistant who always wore black. She was very stylish and always looked professional and appropriate, but she maintained a black, white, grey colour palette. I finally asked her why after I had several opportunities to engage with her outside of the office. Then she was more of a peacock!
She said it was to save money. No one remembers details of black outfits. Think Little Black Dress here. She had several good quality black pants, skirts, jackets, tops along with white, grey blouses and tops. Most pieces lasted her a long time, and no one commented on the fact that she wore the same thing over and over again (because they never noticed). And she didn’t have to worry about planning out her outfits every day because everything went with everything else.
The other advantage according to her – when people dealt with her, they were not distracted by her clothes and paid more attention to what she was saying and doing.
I thought she was brilliant! Saved myself a lot of money as well.


Sharon September 7, 2017 at 4:14 pm

As the Executive Assistant at my company, I try to dress appropriately every day. You never know who is going to pop in and i always want to look put together. That being said, I buy most of my clothes second hand so i don’t spend a ton. I also have a couple of pair of spare shoes under my desk in case I have to do errands etc. I do feel that you are treated differently if you are dressed appropriately for your job. Also I feel that the other Administrative Assistants look up to me in the more senior role and I think it is only fair to be dressed nicely.


Julia September 11, 2017 at 11:22 am

” I do feel that you are treated differently if you are dressed appropriately for your job.”
I completely agree. At least that is what I’ve experienced so far.


Lori Kensington September 13, 2017 at 12:07 pm

I LOVE the idea of a couple spare pair of shoes for running errands! I have been caught ‘dressed down’ a couple of times when someone important came to visit unexpectedly. I felt very unprepared, and in our position, that is not good!


Marie Titus September 7, 2017 at 1:41 pm

I think a lot can depend on the company’s culture. I am fortunate to work for a company that looks more to the quality of work than to the quality of the clothes you wear. I have reached a position on the Executive Management team based on my work and work ethics and not because of what I wear each day. I usually wear business casual most days, we do have a casual Friday policy that will allow us to dress down. However I will dress more formally for special events and board meetings.


Tricia September 7, 2017 at 1:32 pm

I’m the same as Kerri. I used to spend $200 per suit for work clothes and hose and shoes…can you imagine? I remember during the recession I opted to only purchase pant suits to save on daily hose ($6/pair), trading for slacks, jacket and blouse. Then it went to slacks and blouse…now it’s mostly dresses and sandals in summer, and only a few suits to swap btw important business meeting days. I do worry though being in a leadership role am I setting the right example. However, my day can call for a million different things and I have to be functional. I over deliver on every task and project, so I think this is okay.


Kerri September 7, 2017 at 1:09 pm

I thought it was just me! I tried to “dress for success” during my first year or so in my Admin position and realized that I couldn’t afford to dress the way some of my fellow admins did. I was replacing clothes when I would get a snag from a meeting table or a notebook or when they were found to be too uncomfortable when sitting for hours at a computer. My credit cards were tracking this shenanigans and it was not going to continue. I don’t think that I dress poorly for work and when I have meetings with certain groups I will dress more formally. I have to say though that many of my clothes are for comfort (forgiving waistlines for computer days, no jackets with restrictive sleeves, etc.) and I do not over spend. I would rather be able to provide financial comfort for my family than buy clothes. I’ve noticed that this is becoming the norm for most admins at our facility. I’ve earned a name for myself in my position by producing on-time, quality work. I didn’t want to be the trophy receptionist doing her nails between answering phone calls….


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