Though outfits are rarely the focus of a boss lady’s workday, it’s true that appearances/impressions can affect how people perceive you on a professional level. For freelancers, this can get especially tricky because certain jobs require suits/heels while others require jeans/sneakers.
“How do I build a flexible professional wardrobe while staying on budget?”
I’m on my third year out of college and have been working in the entertainment industry since graduation. Due to the nature of the film and television world, I’ve had a wide range of jobs from freelance to permalance to full time staff. One major question I can’t seem to crack is: “How do I build a wardrobe that fits a range of professional environments without breaking the bank?”
When you first graduate, your budget and apartment size don’t often allow for five complete wardrobes to cover every job you may take. For example, I’ve have positions where sheath dresses and flats were the norm. On the other end, I’ve had production/technical jobs where hoodies and sneakers were seen as more professional. If I showed up to a physically intense production job in a dress, it would seem like I didn’t understand the requirements of the position.
So here I sit… writing this article five feet from a closet that won’t fully close because it’s stuffed with sales rack items from cocktail dresses to sweatshirts – a sight all too familiar to the freelancer.
So what do we do, ladies???
I don’t actually know the answer…
Hopefully, as a community, we can piece together advice so that our wardrobes become as efficient and professional as possible. For me, the goal is to have my closet so functional that I don’t have to waste time sorting my outfits from scratch each morning. Once a uniform girl, always a uniform girl. If I’m able to get my clothes to a uniform level of ease, I’ll be thrilled. I don’t have the perfect answer, but I can proudly say that, after years of college internships and post-grad jobs, I think I have my closet about 70% there.
Here are a few tidbits I’ve gathered over the years.
Networking Functions, Work Celebrations, & Alumni Events
In my opinion, it’s better to be slightly overdressed than to be underdressed. Obviously, don’t show up at company bowling night in a gown but, you get the picture.
Items I Now Keep:
2 Event Dresses
I like to keep one nice evening dress for higher-end functions. They’re rare but, when they do come up, it’s good to have a go-to outfit. I also keep a slightly more casual dress for less formal networking events.
Job Interviews & Informational Interviews
I hold the same thoughts for interviews as for events. Dress for the job you want, but play it safe in terms of “fanciness”. If you’re interviewing for a creative position but are meeting the interviewers at their corporate office, dress up a little more than the job entails so you don’t look out of place compared to the corporate employees. In an interview, you want to be yourself while showing that you’ve put in the effort. This sentiment applies to more than just appearance. You want to present your best self through your wardrobe, resume, and intellectual preparation.
Items I Now Keep:
2 Interview Dresses
These can overlap with your more casual event dress – save that closet space!
1 Interview Pants/Blouse Combo
If you’re going to a more relaxed interview, slacks and a blouse can do the trick. It’s a good compromise when interviewing for a job that you know will eventually turn into a jeans and sneakers positions. Dressing a bit nicer than the job itself can make a professional impression, helping you stand out. Again, don’t go too overboard — you want your potential employer to know you understand the scope of the position.
The Variety Package
Day-to-Day Office Attire
The day-to-day outfits are where my closet starts overflowing with clothes I rarely wear but feel the need to keep around for that one day when I take that one week-long project that requires me to wear that one pair of khakis that I’ve only used for that one other random job. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far. It’s not a complete list, but I’m modifying it with each new job I add to my resume.
Items I Now Keep:
Multiple Sheath Dresses
Again, keep closet space and budget in mind. Don’t go crazy! Your interview dresses can definitely overlap with dresses for a day-to-day corporate environment.
Multiple Pairs of Dark Jeans
I’ve found these work well for casual creative environments, especially ones that can be labor-intensive. Chances are you wear these in your social life as well – another budget-friendly perk!
Multiple Work Slacks
These are slightly nicer than jeans and can be dressed up or down depending on the shirt/blouse worn.
1-2 Pairs of Flats
These are great for corporate environments if heels are not required*. They’re also a good choice if you walk to work in sneakers and want an “easy to carry” shoe for the office place.
* I have yet to work an entertainment industry job that requires true high-heels, but bless those ladies out there who do have to walk around in heels all day. You deserve a medal.
1 Pair of Boots and/or Bootie Heels
It’s nice to have this fashionable option for more creative environments, especially on days when you have clients/staff meetings.
I’m sneakers all the way. If there’s any chance my job could have me running around NYC, I wear comfortable shoes. I keep a clear separation between nice work sneakers and gross workout sneakers. Though sneakers can be an extremely casual choice for the office, I only wear pairs that are still “work appropriate” for more casual jobs (ie. black Nikes, Converse etc.). If you’d asked me last year, I would have suggested wearing flats whenever possible. But for on-your-feet jobs, I’ve recently realized how wearing sneakers can make a world of difference.
1 Pair of Work Jeans
For those day-play gigs where you know you’ll be getting your hands dirty, it’s not a bad idea to have a pair of jeans that you’re okay ruining (ie. covering in paint, etc.).
The blouse/shirt/sweater combo is where I start to lose control. I have so many “work shirts”, but only a few for each type of work environment. Yes, I’m one of those people who constantly wears the same shirt/pants combo, throws a new scarf on, and calls it a different outfit. Maybe there’s some validity to that…? I’m not sure. Like I said earlier, I don’t have it all figured out.
Calling All Boss Girls: Any Other Ideas?
If you have any tips for myself and the rest of the boss girl community, please leave a comment telling us your wardrobe hacks!
And remember, appearances are definitely not everything. For me, it’s about making the most of my wardrobe with the budget and the space that I have. To truly succeed as a freelancer, hard work, talent, collaboration, and networking soar about what style shirt you decide to wear to the job. But, if you can, why not go the extra mile to dress for success too?
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