Tell me about "dressing for the job you want, not the job you have"? (Female.)

Okay, first of all I dress pretty well at work. Some on my level do it better, most do it worse. Some do it a LOT worse. Thing is, “my level” isn’t really where I want to be forever - I’m a librarian at a major downtown branch, and I keep applying for jobs at different locations, especially in branch management, because I’d like more autonomy and more responsibility and more room to “practice my craft”, as it were. And I haven’t gotten an interview in YEARS. I used to get interviews and then rejections, but now I don’t even get that.

Also, we’ve got some, let’s say, internal problems, and I thought, maybe I’d be taken more seriously when I bring concerns to the table if I dress more like the big guys? The library director, the head of my branch, all those people are very put-together. Accessories, all that sort of thing. All very age-appropriate but very chic.

I’ve been trying to dress well for a while, but didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a size I might slim out of. I get a lot of compliments on my clothes, but I think maybe I’m dressing a little young? I just turned 31, I wear a lot of cute little consignment store skirts and little sweaters and such, unless I’m wearing pants in which case I kind of dress like a shelver. (Must get nice pants!)

So anyway, I got a coupon from White House Black Market (worst named store in the world, by the way, but damn do they have some cute stuff) and wandered in TO MY DOOM, because they might have the worst name but they have the best salespeople. Seriously. They’re all hustling around making up outfits for me (I did try on a lot of combinations beyond my regular comfort zone) and picking out jewelry and making me try stuff on with shoes… long and the short of it is I walked out with a damned wardrobe. Spent a fortune (although those wonderful salespeople did also make magic with coupons and discounts) but I got some fantastic versatile pieces.

So now I’m wearing them to work and combining them and such and realizing, shit, I kind of have to wear heels if I really want this to look as sharp as it did in the store, but hell if I’m wearing makeup. Unless it will get me a branch manager job and then I guess I’ll wear some stupid makeup.

So questions: do people notice if you wear, like, the same three things in different combinations all the time? I need to spend, like, an afternoon looking at my previous wardrobe and combining it with the stuff I just bought and coming up with outfits. I wish I could import those little salesgirls to do it for me! Should I worry too much about being “the girl with the blue sweater”?

Also: what if you feel you’ve gone TOO formal? I bought a cool jacket I was going to wear with a pencil skirt today but put it on and thought “people are going to think I have a job interview”. (Not that those are secret around here, but you know.) Last time I wore something really, really nice to work I spent the whole day explaining I had a funeral to go to. Just go for it, or dial it down?

Is all this for nothing, or does it actually work on people? I’m kind of thinking maybe this will be the year I turn it around - I’ve been accepted into this leadership class thing they do here, and selected as a delegate for ALA this year. What else should I be doing to project the proper image?

I asked my boyfriend what he thought about one of these outfits or another and he said “I think it looks a little matronly… WAIT WAIT DON’T KILL ME I mean in a good way, like, more mature. You ARE in your thirties, you know.” (Considered beating him to death with a kitten heel anyway, just on principle.) I mean, I guess that’s what I’m going for, right? More mature? But jeez, must we use that word?

Anyway, I want specific advice about this career dressing crap and also any experiences you can share.

Also my feet are killing me and I hate these shoes.

Oh, here’s what I bought -

Two jackets:

A dress (the only sheath dress I’ve ever found that I’m comfortable in without some sort of girdle device)

A skirt
A cardigan

Polka dot

A completely ridiculous dress that’s so pretty on me that I’m not sure I can wear to work without feeling kind of silly

I also bought a little skinny blue belt, a long strand of blue glass pearls, and a silly blue flower to clip to my jacket lapel. Goodbye tax refund!

  1. Smack boyfriend!

  2. Dress well and you feel more confident. My SO never notices the clothes, but always notices my attitude when I am wearing new clothes.

  3. If you rotate the same stuff it’s fine. I did the same thing when I was building my wardrobe. I bought decent quality stuff that even I could mix and match and would change it up with accessories and crazy shoes. No one will notice unless they are distinctive pieces. White House Black Market is a great place for jackets, skirts, pants and dresses that are basic and dress up well with different pieces with color. Don’t be too matronly though. It’s a damn fine line–dress like a kid or dress like a boring matron. Stay away from Chico’s (a WHBM sister store), Banana Republic can be good and so can Ann Taylor if you’re careful, but BR runs kind of young and Ann Taylor kind of old.

  4. The weight thing is what it is. Never buy things that only fit when you’re at you’re at your skinniest. Get things tailored when you’re about middle weight (not when you’re PMS bloated or margarita bloated, but also don’t get it done when you’ve just dropped 5 pounds). If you do slim down you might have to buy new stuff, but can likely just get it tailored. Getting larger is more difficult. But, if you’re anything like me you’ll find that the same 10 pounds comes and goes over the years and even though that’s a whole size difference if you dress for mid-range you’ll be fine.

Good luck and have fun playing Barbie for a while. It can be fun!

All that stuff is certainly darling and I don’t think it’s too dressy at all. Wear the image you want to project is a great idea. Once you start shifting your wardrobe, you’ll probably get less comment from the peanut gallery.

I often think I dress way differently than if I’d become a lawyer, which I considered for while. But then again, with what I do I don’t have to appear in court. I often wear shorts to work, so I’m really no guide. (Dress bermuda shorts not gym shorts or something.) But then, I work in TV and in a quasi-hippie -hangover atmosphere, so my eclectic tastes are no problem. (For example today I have on a long belted shawl, straight black jeans and Frye boots and was just told I looked like Che Guevara.)

The salesgirls kept wanting me to go down a size in skirts and pants, but I held firm - “Look, I have not had lunch today! And I have to wear these clothes all day! And also breathe!” I could have gone a size down on the dress, but then I’d have to wear a goddamned girdle. Every day!

If I lose the weight, I can have things taken in.

And yes, several sizes skinnier I entered the Chico’s Trap. Whoops.

ETA - the “suit” I didn’t wear today was the black jacket and the skirt with either blouse - it felt very… aggressive.

I think I also need a gray skirt, and black pants at the least.

Regarding the girdle and if you do gain a bit, Spanx can be your friend. I lived in mine post second baby.

ETA: I looked at what you bought–cute stuff! I love that blue color.

Urrrgh, I just hate the idea of having to put that stuff on every day and then struggle with it when I have to pee. And then it rolls down to the waist and all… I got a very nice shapewear half slip thing recently and wore it all day to a funeral and the aftermath and by the end of it I was ready to burn that bastard.

I guess “aggressive” is what I’m a little worried about - constructed shoulders, jackets rather than sweaters, etc. Which is exactly the “more mature” look I’m kind of going for… but it feels weird.

Go ahead and dress well. I don’t think any of that is aggressively dressy, just professional looking. Then again, I work at a conservative law firm, so my view may be a little different. All I know is that in 2009, when they laid a secretary off in my department, the one who was axed was the one who wore a poncho and flip-flops every day to work. And she was a very good secretary, too.

I understand exactly what you’re going through. I’m 32, work in a library job where I can wear jeans all year round if I choose (cataloging, no public contact), and have gradually realized that I still dress like a college student.

I think you’re taking exactly the right steps. I’ve done a similar thing and started buying pieces I can mix and match with at Banana Republic and Ann Taylor Loft (I have a factory outlet mall near me – godsend), wearing good trousers and heels with nice blouses, etc. I too am afraid of going too “aggressive,” but then I tell myself that I don’t have to go in that direction if I don’t feel like it’s “me”. My style is more, uh, “cute” or “soft” than “edgy” or “high-powered businesswoman” so I don’t have to move to sharp blazers if I don’t want to (hmph!). So I would say the same to you – don’t feel that dressing “more maturely” means you have to give up your own style.

I would notice if you wore the same three sets of clothes in rotation, because I always notice women’s clothes (because I’m always on the lookout for new ideas), but I wouldn’t think poorly of you for it – I would assume you had invested in good pieces and were getting proper wear out of them. But don’t be afraid to combine your new clothes with your older ones, or look for cheaper basics that you can pair them with. I’ve been dragged along shopping with my mom in stores I didn’t like enough to know that you can find single items that will suit you in almost any store (e.g., Chico’s, which is not my style, could easily have a simple skirt or cardigan that would fit in with my wardrobe).

That “ridiculous” dress is adorable, btw. I agree that it would be a little out of place at work, but for a night out, perfect!

They sold me on it for work by pairing it with the white jacket, but yeah. :slight_smile:

Actually, Chico’s does have some great dresses - never wrinkle, machine wash, look fantastic on. They also have some jackets that your aunt Kathleen went nuts on with her decoupage. So, you know.

I agree with you.

White House Black Market is a terrible name for a store. We have one in our city as well and I think it’s just ridiculous.

I really have no advice on anything else in this thread.

It’s going to feel weird for a little while as you adjust but it won’t take too long to get both you and all your coworkers accustomed to the new you.

More than at any other time, people will notice what you’re wearing for the first little while so mix some of your existing clothes in at the start.

I recently stopped wearing pants all the time (I finally bought great boots so I can wear skirts again) and it took about 2 weeks for the constant comments to stop. To be fair I went from 5 days a week dress pants to 3 days a week skirts :slight_smile: