Tomorrow’s the first day at your cool new creative freelance gig, and you have no idea what to wear.
That might be okay if it weren’t 11pm.
So now you’re panicking.
Fret not, fashionistas, we consulted three agent experts here at Vitamin T—ones who’ve advised many a harried freelancer the day before their new creative jobs—to come to your rescue.
Whether you’re copywriting at an ultra-hip agency or art directing at an inhouse financial firm, our doyens of dress, Monica Bloom, Christie Barkan, and Arielle Julie have tips to help you foil any impending dressing disasters.
1. Research the Company
You can learn a lot about a company’s dress code by visiting their website or Facebook page to see pictures of their current staff—or the stock photography they’ve chosen to represent their staff.
“Find out the company’s dress code well before day one!” advises Christie. “Then you can focus less on your outfit and more on being the expert they expect.”
Monica agrees, “If it’s a highly corporate client, synchronize with that. And if it’s something that’s more agency focused, or startupy (is that a word?), ride that vibe, because an important part of walking in the door is looking like you fit in with the team.”
2. It’s Better to be Overdressed
All agreed that if you have NO idea what the dress code is, it’s better to go conservative.
Monica’s says, “If you haven’t been to the company and you don’t know what they wear, err on the side of being dressed slightly above the dress code. Because you’re the newbie, right? If your first impression is that you’re under-dressed, it could be interpreted that you don’t really care. Conversely, you don’t want to be too overdressed, either. Suits are rarely necessary with creative clients, but If you’re unsure what to wear, bring a jacket and take it off if you feel too dressy.”
3. Wait a Day, then Blend
At the end of the first day you’ve got the perfect fashion opportunity. Now you know what the office dress code really looks like. Use that knowledge to plan your wardrobe for Day Two and beyond.
Arielle says, “Use basic common sense: survey the scene (business attire, business casual, casual creative, fashion face-off) and then imitate the overall vibe (never outshining your Report To, of course). Being a creative freelancer may mean sitting in a completely different environment than the rest of the office, so this can be a tough decision to make, but once again, just use your common sense and dress a little better than you think you should.”
4. Be Pressed For Success.
Whatever you wear, always make sure it’s neat. That isn’t to say you need to iron all of your clothes (Arielle says she knows people in NYC who don't believe in irons), but make sure things aren’t overly wrinkled and rumpled, as that can make you look messy. Not the message you want to throw out in the workplace.
The care you take with your own appearance tells clients you’ll take the same care with their most important creative projects. And that’s a great message to send.
5. Think Seriously Before Wearing Jeans
Arielle told us, “Jeans are tricky. Offices that have policies which allow for jeans still don’t mean ratty, torn or tacky looking jeans. And since acid-washed, colored, cut-off, and ripped jeans are somewhat in style, you could easily end up having someone awkwardly approach you about your attire. As a freelancer, just avoid them until you're 100% sure.”
Monica added, “Never ever wear jeans on your first day. In fact, don’t wear jeans until you see multiple other freelancers and co-workers wearing them (and don’t hear people chatting about it at the watercooler).”
6. Never Wear Anything too Revealing
All agreed that you should never wear anything too short, whether that’s a skirt or shorts. Monica pointed out, “Just because you’re wearing tights doesn’t mean you should wear a really short skirt. The effect is still too revealing.” You never get a second chance to make a first impression and tight clothing or too much exposed skin are guaranteed to make the wrong impression.
Again, your goal is to focus your new team on your amazing creative work, not distract them with your wardrobe.
7. A Rose by any Other Name
Arielle advised giving your clothes a whiff before putting them on and heading out the door. Is that cigarette smoke? Strong perfume? Patchouli oil?
“Odd smells are not only uncomfortable for your coworkers, but they also take major attention away from your skills--which are the main reason you were hired,” Arielle said.
Christie added, “Personal hygiene. I don’t think we even need to go there, but always make sure it’s intact.”
8. Stay Iconic, Not Ironic
Arielle isn’t what you would call anti-hipster (she’s lived in and around NYC for many, many years), but she’s pretty clear about messaging on shirts: “Chances are that if you're mature enough to read tips about what to wear to work, you're also too mature to wear anything with an ironic message on it. And you know what constitutes ironic. Don't risk offending anyone.”
9. Summertime, and the Living is Breezy
Summer may be the time for relaxed livin’, but not so much when you’re freelancing in an office. All gave the advice to always wear sleeves (“Long sleeves, 3/4 sleeves, short sleeves, cap sleeves--just wear any sleeves”), never to wear anything too low cut or revealing, and...
No flip flops. Ever. Ever. Ever at work. There are many sources that say flip flops are bad for your hygiene altogether (especially in big cities), but for now just make a habit never to wear them in the office.
10. Pierced? See Rule #1.
Monica told a story of a freelancer who was starting a job at a corporate client. The problem? The client had a policy against piercings, and the freelancer had visible nose and eyebrow piercings.
“I asked her (the freelancer) if she wanted to take them out. The choice was completely hers. It was a fantastic job opportunity and she was perfect for the role, but she had to consider the company policy.”
How did it work out?
“She decided to take them out and take the job. Lo and behold, it was a perfect match. She freelanced at that company for two years before taking a permanent job there. The lesson is: know what you’re walking into and err on the side of caution.”
Though that choice may not be right for you, remember that the company gets to determine their environment. So don’t worry if an environment isn’t right for you, keep searching for the one that is!
11. There’s Always Room for Creativity
Don’t think we’ve squeezed out all the fashion fun from your wardrobe, even within rules, there’s plenty of room for improvisation.
Monica says, “You CAN be fun—be as fun as you want—you can accessorize, you can wear bright colors, as long as you know what you’re walking into.” Just remember to respect your new employer’s environment.
Arielle chimed in, “Be thoughtful how you present yourself, but don’t make yourself crazy thinking about it. You’ve got a lot more important things to think about at your job!”
Bottom line, you can be yourself AND make a great impression on your new team. Just make sure your choice of attire isn’t so out of whack with the company culture that your wardrobe gets more attention than your work.
That said, there’s a match for every style. So if being able to express yourself through clothes or body art is important to you, make sure you find a place that will love your self expression as much as you do!