Where exactly can you get them? Here are the popular brands among the female financiers.
1. The Most Important Business Attire for Women: The Suits
If you have no idea where to start, you can pay a visit to these shops first:
Theory (featured on the left) is quite popular and they have lots of discounts in the major apartment stores. So, do time your purchase. Having said that, it really depends on your build and style so please feel free to pick other brands as long as they look classy and professional.
BCBG could be a good choice as well.
A Note On Suit Color
Black is the default color and it’s great in hiding any “accidents” at lunch; but if you have black hair and black eyes, together with a black suit and shoes… you look like you are going to the funeral.
What to do? 2 recommendations:
- Break up the black with tasteful accessories e.g. a brooch (but risk of looking like your mom), or separate it with a nice white blouse.
- Get something off-black, e.g. dark gray could be quite nice.
Suit vs Separate
Suits are convenient, but it could look “pre-packaged” and boring. So it is totally fine to mix and match to create your style. With that, let’s go into…
My take on the popular brands:
- J Crew and Express – I did get a bunch of clothes / blouses from these stores, but you have to be quite choosy.
- Banana Republic and Victoria Secret – warning from my buddy in my bull pen: bad quality! Beware!
- Ann Taylor – I got a bunch of these but it could get you a “mom” look. I need that though because I look younger than my age which doesn’t help in client-oriented business.
- Bennetton – good selection of colors; good alternative to button-down shirts
- Uniqlo – this Japanese store is a big hit in Asia. Similar to Benneton but probably cheaper (NYC dwellers: you can find a store in SOHO in Manhattan)
How About Button-Down Shirts?
I used to think button-down shirts is a must for professional look, but it doesn’t fit very well, and I stop buying after realizing that gape at the chest… In short, wear at your own risk.
Zara and equivalent is good enough for that in my opinion. Having said that, nothing sexy, fancy and flashy in the office setting. Save that for night parties and weekends.
Unlike the men, Shoes are pretty important considerations for business attire for women. Men need only to worry about color and style, but women have to pay attention to the heels – the height, the style, the material.
In fact, I think the height of the heels is the #1 consideration when you buy a pair of shoes for your work.
Obviously, it depends on your height, your personality and your style, but generally I wouldn’t go for heels beyond 3 inches. Well, if you are short and are wearing pant suits, then yeah, maybe 3.5” is ok… but long legs and high heel will only attract dirty looks for your fellow female colleagues.
With that, I would recommend:
- Height: stay conservative with 1.5 – 3” inches. The style of the shoe matters too, e.g. for round toes shoes it does look better with higher heels
- Width: no chunky heels and platforms please. Stick with classic pumps, and if you can handle, stilettos is great
- Materials: same as the rest of the shoe (i.e. covered with leather). Avoid metal and loud embellishments
- Peep toed ok? Some offices are fine while others are not. Please observe for a few weeks before you test the water. If go ahead, don’t forget to pedicure!
- Be sure the shoes don’t make a big clacking sound when you walk
- No need for designer shoes. People notice only if you go overboard.
What I wear:
- Mostly 1.5-2.5 inches. All very plain and/or classy. My most “admired” pair at work was a burgundy 2.5” high-heel from Ann Taylor. I have many female colleagues asking where I got the shoes from.
- Other than that, I had a couple of really plain black or dark color Nine West shoes with siloutee heels. Also, similar ones from Manolo are good.
- I notice that Dior and Prada have tasteful and appropriate shoes for female bankers / accountants as well.
With the office culture and see what others are wearing, you can accessorize accordingly.
Tips: get a pair of flats in case you twist your feet or the heel breaks.
I don’t like tights especially in the summer. But on your first day you definitely want to wear one for a more professional look – some offices are pretty okay without tights but you need time to make a thorough observation. I would also think that wearing tights is the proper, “expected” business attire for women when you go to client meetings.
Tights Related Complaints And Solution
- “Man it’s hot!”: I know. But the office is always in winter and so this shouldn’t be a concern
- “I hate nude tights I look like my grandma”: If this is you, try dark-color tights
- “I always get runs”: Same here. So unfortunately I have to stick with the nude color. Also, stock at least two extra pairs in the office in case of an unlucky day.
The general rule should again be classy. In my opinion it’s worth investing a bit more on one good bag, because your attire gets instantly upgraded with a right classic handbag.
It’s my personal preference, but I like no-brand bags because it’s probably the only thing I can be more creative and give me a character.
But if you look for branded handbags, here are the popular choices:
- Longchamp – pretty safe if you work in NYC
- I see lots of LV too – but better to skip those with colorful monogram-print.
When it comes to makeup, remember this: cut it down. You never want to overdo it because you’d look like someone heading for a clubbing or a flirt.
Here is the general rule:
- Use high-quality make-up: it’s well worth the investment because it doesn’t get smeared easily and you don’t need to fix it every couple of hours.
- Concealer is a must! Keep an extra set in the office. Comes in handy after a long night.
You can get everything at Sephora. Popular brands among my banker / accountant friends include Bare Minerals and Make Up Forever.
“How should I wear my hair? Should I cut it / straighten it?”
I am quite surprised at the number of questions I got on hair.
The day when I got an offer for the internship, I cut my hair and I didn’t grew it long until the last year of my banking career. You don’t need to follow my drastic move, but here are 2 things to bear in mind:
- (Good) junior bankers and accountants are always busy. So you need a hair style that is easy to maintain.
- You are fine as long as you look professional.
On Whether To Wear Your Hair Up
A lot of female finance professionals have long hair and many wear them down. It is perfectly fine as long as they look neat and professional, but if you have a habit of playing with your hair especially when you are tense or bored (read: in a client meeting), it is better to wear your hair up. Having said that, some people look quite “childish” with a pony tail, so make sure you get a nice classy hair band or clip.
How To Deal With Curly Hair
Curly hair is wonderful as long as you have time to take care of it. But the reality is that you don’t’. In my case, I got naturally curly hair and it could get frizzy during change of weather. Somehow the hair was tamed after cutting it short.
An alternative is to straighten your hair every day using an iron straightener, of even go to the salon and get one of those Japanese Straight Perm. I’ve tried one of those and it looks great, but please note that this kind of chemical treatment can hurt your hair and it can get really frizzy at the roots if you are unlucky.
I have to say nails are pretty important too because as an accountant / banker you handle documents and so people can easily notice your hands and fingers.
I don’t manicure or paint my nails, because manicure can’t last for more than 3 days (it’s just me) and I have no time to go get it fixed. Obviously clean and “bare” nails are better than half-painted ones.
Having said that, I would say more than half of the girls have manicure of some sort. The general rule is:
- Keep the color conservative – Black and other fab-color nail polish is bad idea
- No red please! Vintage doesn’t go well in terms of a professional finance look
- Ballerina pink nail polish and French manicure are among the most popular.
At The End Of The Day…
This “dress code” is important because it gives a very positive first impression, and it may make a subtle difference when the VP / manager is deciding whether to take you to the important client meetings and so on.
However, whether it is expensive or designer-brand does not matter. The focus should be on fit, quality, and tailoring.
What Is Considered Overboard?
Obviously, you don’t want to be labeled as the sexy-and-lazy girl, i.e. the girl whom the guys go after for THAT other than work.
But what does it exactly mean? Again, it depends on the culture at the office. Just dress as if you are ready to see a client every day. The goal is to look at least normal and your boss won’t be embarrassed if s/he brings you to meetings.
While observing the female colleagues, please take note of the difference between junior and senior people, because the MDs/partners obviously have more leeway when it comes their version of professional attire. It goes without saying that you should stick with the junior one’s attire.
Business Attire For Women: 5 Rules Of Thumb
- Stay neat, conservative, professional
- Time your purchase during department store sales
- Get more fashionable when you move up the line/your reputation is well established
- Prepare an emergency set of clothes, shoes and tights in the office
- Don’t forget your concealer!
What’s The Fashion Culture in your Office?
Please suggest brands so I can add them on the list. Thanks!