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Dress for Success

Dress for Success

Whether you’ve been called to an interview, or finally fulfilled your quest for employment, chances are you’re going to need to know how to dress. As with anything to do with the workforce, there are no hard and fast rules regarding the dress code. In fact, the best advice would be to take a look at what others are wearing in your place of employment. Unless you’re working at a place with a specific dress code (in the medical profession, for example, or the zoo), an insanely laid-back office, or working from home, chances are you will be required to dress in business formal or business casual.

BUSINESS FORMAL

The upside of a business formal workplace is that it takes a lot of anxiety out of choosing your clothes.

  • Your best bet is to go with some sort of business suit.
  • Conservative is always the safest option at work, which makes things even easier for us, as Muslim women.
  • When you buy a suit it’s always good to buy all the little bits and pieces (blazer, pants/skirt) at the same time so that you can be sure you match.
  • If your suit doesn’t fit you well see if you can get it tailored (a dry cleaner can usually do the simply stuff). You’re not going for a form fitting suit, but a suit that fits – no baggy pants, no loose shoulders.

Of course, most of us can’t throw a couple hundred dollars at a suit and still eat over the next week, and cheap suits often look, well, cheap.

  • A good way to save on suits is to buy them second-hand off of a website like ebay.com, poshmark.com, etc.
  • Sometimes a second-hand suit will come tailored already, and if you’re lucky, you won’t have to spend a cent more on it.
  • If worse comes to worst (i.e. if you are as broke as I am), spend some time looking for inexpensive suits that don’t look like they’re going to fall apart.
  • I don’t know anything about fashion but in my experience a good, well-colored black suit will often look more expensive than it is.

What else?

  • Solid color blouses or sweaters are your best friend. The same goes for shoes. Don’t go overboard.
  • If you’re going to be standing a lot and aren’t used to heels, don’t wear them! They’re not a necessity for business formal and flats will look just as professional as a pair of heels.
  • Make sure all of your shoes have closed toes. Peep-toe and open-toe shoes are usually too casual for the workplace.
  • Minimal jewelry makes the best impression – a ring, a bangle, a small set of bracelets.
  • If you are a hijabi, I would go with solid color or very subtly printed scarves. Try to match it with your blouse.
  • If you’re not a hjibai a good haircut is essential.
Muslim Girl - Interview

Muslim Girl - Business

BUSINESS CASUAL

This one’s harder because “business casual” tells you nothing about how you’re supposed to dress. It’s business … but it’s casual? It’s formal … but it’s informal? It’s dead … but it’s alive?

  • Look neat but don’t be afraid to add flair. You have more room to work with prints and bright colors here.
  • You can start straying away from the black pant suit. Khaki-colored pants, white pants and pinstripe pants are popular. Search for wide-leg pants for a professional and modest look.

Maxi skirts and dresses toe the business causal line. For some reason Western society seems to think that maxi skirts and dresses should be reserved for extra-casual events. The main type skirt you will see in an office setting is the knee-length (or a bit higher) straight skirt. Any other type of skirt is not, apparently, professional, or is difficult to style in a professional manner. My opinion is that people are generally wrong about this – I have seen a number of remarkably professional-looking hijabi women in maxi skirts and dresses. It’s definitely possible to do, just be careful about how you do it.

  • Look for neutral colors and subtle prints – no tropical colors or paisley prints.
  • Make sure the skirt/dress is not jersey or denim since both are often too casual to be styled into appropriate work-place wear (unless you are a fashion genius, then go ahead!).
  • Adding a blazer on top of your maxi dress (or jilbab!) will make any dress seem more professional.
  • Stick to conservative shoes, so no extra high heels. I would suggest a pump with a small heel over a flat in this instance, because flats with maxi dresses/skirts may appear too casual.
Muslim Girl - Business Casual

Muslim Girl - Business Casual

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Muslim Girl - Business Casual

WHAT IF NEITHER OF THE ABOVE APPLIES?

A great rule of thumb is to create a “uniform,” no matter how your workplace defines its dress code.

  • Usually this means mimicking what others are wearing in your office (to a certain degree), and taking cues regarding appropriate colors and styles from your coworkers.
  • It also means to be relatively consistent in your workplace attire so that you’re not always stressing about what to wear (or what to buy if you’re building your wardrobe).
  • I like both skirts and pants, so I’d keep a few of each, with a bunch of button down blouses and a couple of blazers. I would make sure that I could do some mixing and matching to get the most use out of everything. I would also stick to black or navy blazers, pants and skirts, with more colorful blouses, scarfs and shoes. Knowing that I don’t have too many options – but not too few either – takes the panic out of dressing.

BUT I’M A TEACHER

Okay, teaching is a tricky one. Depending on the age you’re working with, there are a number of ways to dress. The good thing is that modesty is always an important key to dressing correctly as a teacher.

  • I’ve only worked with preschoolers, and I can tell you that for young children, wear comfortable clothes that you aren’t worried about ruining. Don’t wear jewelry that kids will want to grab, and do wear sneakers or joggers. Don’t be afraid of wearing something fun once in a while.
  • For older kids, there are no hard and fast rules. Older kids can be ruthless. They’re either going to love you no matter what or hate you no matter what. Try to be consistent in your fashion choices. Comfort is the key!

I WORK AT HOME!

You get to work naked! I am happy to report that I am writing this post without any pants on!

No, that’s a lie. I have pants on. In fact I would suggest you get dressed for work even if you work at home. Nothing crazy like a suit, but get up in the morning and put on a nice top, a skirt and a pair of shoes. It’s so easy to fall into a funk and give up on clothing, dignity, and life when you work from home. Dressing will put you in a working mindset if you do it every day.

ANY OTHER TIPS?

  • Dress in what you’re comfortable in. If you hate pant-suits, don’t wear them! If you feel uncomfortable, you’ll look uncomfortable, and that never inspires confidence.
  • You do not have to dress “sexy.” Professional attire means what it sounds like – neat and well-groomed. If someone says you’re dressed too modestly they are flat out wrong.
  • Don’t buy a full wardrobe at once! Buy a couple of things and wait to see how comfortable you are in your choices, and how they fit in with what your coworkers are wearing.
  • Unless you have seen your coworkers wearing denim, skip it. Even a really nice pair of black jeans may not be appropriate for your workplace. Of course, if everyone’s wearing jeans, go ahead! I recently had a worked with someone who wore cowboy boots and jeans to work every day – a sign that it was okay for me to go for a casual look too.
  • Make sure your underwear fits well. No really. There’s nothing like uncomfortable, ill-fitting underwear to distract you from important work stuff. You do not want to be thinking about excruciating wedgies during a meeting – or digging them out.
  • My fashion sense is minimal, so here is a great website for more inspirational hijabi-style workplace clothing!
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