Kate e-mailed me with this question:
In about three weeks, I’ll be starting a new job, and while my brain is busy getting ready for the new challenges that go along with it, one little part of my brain is wondering “What am I going to wear?” I ask because I’ve been in my current job for about four years. When I started, I was in my mid-20s, straight out of grad school and I dressed quite conservatively: mostly suit separates with button downs and sweaters and blazers, in an attempt to look a little older and wiser amongst my older coworkers. As I started getting more comfortable and confident in my job and my work, I started to dress more to show my personality. I’m by no means outlandish and I still dress within the business casual dress code but now I find myself wearing more brightly colored clothing and I take a few more fashion risks.
However, I’m wondering if I should dial it back down again when I start this new job? I’ll be supervising people and definitely taking on more responsibility. Should I put the fun dresses and the colorful belts away and go back to the pants and the more conservative blazers, just for a while? I should note that I’m currently a children’s librarian and my new job is as the head of the children’s department.
Well! I firmly believe that it’s best to play it safe and conservative when entering a new work environment, just as I believe you should dial down your sartorial sass for interviews. I know some would disagree and say that you should express your creativity at all times and showcase your style from the start, and that’s certainly one approach. But your first few weeks in a new job will set the tone for your tenure, and I’m in favor of easing in as opposed to making a splash.
When you’re entering a new environment, you want to minimize disruptions as much as possible. People fear change and need time to adjust to the presence and work style of a new coworker. People need even MORE time to adjust to the presence and work style of a new boss. And in my experience, the new employees who adjust best and are most quickly accepted and trusted in established workplaces are the ones who listen, observe, absorb, and discuss for the learning curve period. Dressing in a relatively conservative manner during that period will help your new coworkers focus on your personality, abilities, and goals as you learn more about them and the work you’ll be doing together.
Dressing like a completely different woman isn’t a good plan, either, though. I’d never advise you to wear nothing but neutrals, avoid all skirts, and go jewelry-free for the first month of employment, especially if that’s the polar opposite of your preferred personal style. But I’d certainly advise you to trust your gut. If you throw on a bright printed dress and feel like it might be too much, it probably IS too much and you should go with something else. If a big statement necklace seems too flashy, either swap in something smaller or tone it down with a blazer. Any item that feels distracting to you will likely be distracting to your new coworkers/clients, so be aware of balance. Feel free to incorporate fun pieces, color, and texture, but consider doing one eye-catching piece per outfit for the first little while. Then, once you feel acclimated, start getting more creative with your ensembles.
Now, of course, this will vary depending on the situation. If you’re taking on a new job at a trendy hair salon, art gallery, or graphic design studio, you might want to go creative, funky, even flashy. But for most office, teaching, and executive jobs, dressing quietly for the first few weeks generally ensures an easier transition.
Image courtesy J.Crew