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It's the most stressful part of the interview process for any normal, breathing woman. No, not the questions they'll ask or the salary they'll offer: deciding what you're going to wear. Ahhhh! When it comes to heading to your professional job or going to an important interview, professional attire seems like a no-brainer. But come casual Fridays, or if you work in a field where your boss isn't in a suit, you can wear "business casual" clothes. For all of the those tricky middle-ground situations, learn the difference between these two categories and when you should wear what.
When it comes to professional attire, think equivalent of men's power suits. Picture a successful, powerful CEO and imagine yourself next to him: Would your outfit match up? For women's professional attire, go for a suit, either pants or skirt, in a solid, neutral color such as black, navy, brown or tan. In a slightly more relaxed setting, you can wear a pencil skirt with a blazer. Always pair it with tights, as opposed to going out bare-legged, and a pair of heels to look polished and businesslike. Jewelry should be subtle and simple, and hair should be brushed and neat.
Business casual, as the name implies, can be a little more relaxed than truly professional wear. Try chic pencil skirts with a blazer or sweater, fancy blouses, neutral-toned dress pants with a tucked-in top, and stylish wrap dresses. Heels work for business casual, too, as do tights, but you can also choose funkier boots, wedges or platform shoes. Bright colors and patterns are acceptable in business casual attire, as long as they're not too outlandish. With professional attire, avoid them.
When to Wear Which
Depending on your line of work, you might have to wear professional attire everyday. If you're a paralegal, school principal or company boss, or if you work in a very formal office or hold a power position, you should opt for professional wear all the time. This maintains your powerful image if you are in charge, or shows your boss that you're a serious worker if you're not in charge. Business casual works for a more relaxed work setting, such as a teacher, waitress, fashion magazine employee or job in a comparable workplace. It's also the expected attire for career fairs, employee information sessions and job orientation processes.
When in Doubt
If you totally have no idea what's expected of you in the office dress department or you can't get a handle on how formal your new workplace is going to be, err on the side of professional. Better to have your boss tell you that you can relax your standards than have him tell you to shape up. Of course, you could always swallow your pride and just ask what's expected of you. Choose a colleague that seems to have it together and ask her what kind of dress you should wear -- or just observe the way she dresses for a few days and copy her style!