By Nadia Karim ‘10, MBA in Global Management
The greatest event of Thunderbird life is upon us! Well, second to ThunderOlympics that is…Career Week! A week of fantastic opportunities to research potential employers, learn about various industries, network with companies, and see our fellow Thunderbirds in their finest business wear. Along with the various things to remember comes a list of things to do and not do when it comes to dressing, and so here are my personal opinions regarding business casual and business professional basics. [This is not CMC sponsored; these are the opinions of a style loving Thunderbird who just wants people to look their best!]
Business Professional (this one is fairly straightforward)
Put simply, this is a suit and tie for men, and a suit for women. Both jacket and bottom must match in color, fabric, and pattern. Hosiery should be appropriate (matching socks for men; sheer stockings for women). Select your shirt underneath carefully, and have it ironed/pressed as appropriate. Select accessories thoughtfully; this is often how a sea of suits are differentiated, and better to be simple and tasteful than overdone and gaudy. Shoes should be clean and shined if applicable.
Men: Have someone check the back of your collar to be sure the tie is not showing. This is the hardest thing to check yourself and the one thing that shows carelessness the most after an unpressed suit. Shoelaces with frayed aglets (the plastic ends) are distracting, and worth the $6 to pick up a new set. If your suit has a pattern, no matter how subtle, please PLEASE do not wear a shirt with a pattern! This can be very distracting, and is extremely hard to match properly.
Women: Belted suit jackets may be trendy, but they’re not business professional for the most part, as is the same with overly trendy prints and flashy colors (red suits and animal prints should probably stay home). The same thing should go for shoes; attention should be directed toward your winning smile and attitude, so closed toe pumps and simple styles that match the suit are the best bet here.
Now this is the difficult territory for dress, since it is impacted (particularly in the United States) by various regions and industries as well as general protocol. The general rule of thumb is that business casual is business professional with the jacket removed (with tie removed as well for men).
Men, I know that polos are sometimes considered business casual, but I strongly feel that this is only the case with solid polos and those made of high quality thicker cottons. Belts are still absolutely necessary, and the matching of socks is still paramount. Again, if the pants have a pattern, please avoid it on the shirt. For the most part, the best business casual outfits for men avoid patterns. This is not because I believe solids are better, but because matching these is often done badly and results in a less polished look than the solid counterpart.
For women, this category can be more unfairly broad, since there are a variety of tops that can be considered acceptable. The most important thing to keep in mind is that trends can be very dangerous here. Stay away from laces, ruches, and corsets; these can cheapen the overall effect of the outfit. Simpler is most often better, with embellishments kept to a single portion of the top and to one or two colors, to minimize the number of things that need to be matched. If the length of the top is to your hip or longer, consider whether it is more appropriate tucked in.
Now, I know that deciding on general principles is very different from deciding upon a specific outfit, so go forth by thinking about what you already know looks good on you, what you are comfortable in, and what has garnered you compliments in the past (in a similar situation)! Always think about the difference between looking good for a party and looking good for a job, and be confident once you decide upon an outfit. Confidence can make or break ANY outfit. If all else fails, I am always happy to give my layperson opinion (o: Enjoy your closets and GOOD LUCK!
(photo of Nan Kempner closet taken from NY Mag article; full text content of article can be read here)