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Office Fashion ‘Faux Pas’

Eye-catching, head-turning fashion belongs on the runway, not in the office, at least that’s what stylist/image consultant David McKnight says. Sometimes dressing to impress can make the wrong statement, which prevents people from promotions that their name should be all over.

DAMStyle” was born through McKnight’s passion for fashion and his strong management consulting background. The New Jersey native, first-generation college student was offered a full-ride scholarship to Rutgers University for graduate school, where he studied public policy. He was then accepted into the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship program, shortly after, which allowed him to focus on consulting and management. He says he remembers assisting his mother in selecting outfits for special events as a child, and in college he was voted “Best Dressed” four times in a row.

After taking a few image consulting classes, he realized he was naturally good at helping people look professional. His business background placed him in corporate settings so when he finally decided to start his own business, he says he felt qualified to guide people on what’s appropriate for the office.

JET had the opportunity to pull some great advice from McKnight that most can only get through his new book “The Zen of Executive Presence: Build Your Business Success through Strategic Image Management“ or by hiring him for his services. We’re giving it to you for free. Here’s what he shared:

JET: What is one of the biggest mistakes new hires make at their job within the first few weeks?

David McKnight: One of the biggest mistakes that people make when they’re first starting their career or a new job is that they don’t really understand the culture of the organization they’re working for.

For example, what you wear during your first couple of days working at Goldman Sachs versus what you would wear working at a small software IT company is going to be very different. I think it’s important to understand the industry that you’re working in.

It’s important that your wardrobe matches the environment. Unfortunately, there are really no rules, there is no guidebook to tell you exactly what to do, what not to do, but I think it’s important for people to try to, as best as they can.

If you’re going to stand out at work, you want to stand out for the right reasons, and not the wrong reasons.

JET: Some like to do it “big” and go all out with their dress appearance. Is it okay to out dress your boss, especially as a woman?

DM: I would say yes and no. Wearing diamond cuff-links, I think it’s a little much and I think it shows that they’re trying too hard. In that case, that’s definitely overdressing, but I think that if your manager is someone who doesn’t really focus on their appearance, but you do, it’s okay for you to show who you are if it’s authentic to who you are.

I’ve actually moved up in my career very quickly because of my professional attire and so in that particular case I’m dressing a little better than my manager is, but it’s not because I’m trying to outshine him or her. It’s because I’m also trying to dress for the next level of where I want to be.

You can actually isolate yourself and you can create kind of an invisible barrier between you and your colleagues or your manager if they can’t afford what you have.

JET: Are there some women’s shoes that are just too sexual and should be banned from the workplace?

DM: Shoes can definitely conjure images of sexuality more than others. The higher the heel, the more sexual the shoe. The higher the platform, the more sexual the shoe looks. The more skin that shows, the more sexual the shoe will look.

I also don’t like for a professional woman to wear the ankle straps in the workplace. I think that has a sexual connotation and there is a difference between being attractive and looking professional and sexy versus inappropriately sexy.

What you wear to drinks with the girls, or to the club on the weekend, is probably not what you should be wearing in the office. Women don’t know this and I think that’s the biggest problem that our young people have, they just don’t know what’s acceptable and what’s not.

JET: What are are the necessities that every man and woman should have in their wardrobe?

DM: I think every man needs a good fitting, crisp white shirt. It’s something you invest in so ideally it would actually be a custom shirt. It’s a foundational piece and it’s very versatile.

I think that every man needs a suit. It’s really important because you never know when you’re going to be invited to a meeting with the CEO or to dinner with a very high end client profitable client. You always want to be prepared.

The final thing, and it may seem kind of obvious, is every man needs a good pair of shoes. These are not your everyday shoes, these are not shoes that are old, they are good shoes that are investment shoes. You need to spend probably a couple of hundred dollars on them.

JET: And what do women need?

DM: They really need a good suit. I [also] see a number of women with purses that are knock-offs or that are imitation leather, where you see the cracks in the leather or the string hanging. They need a well made leather purse. I think it’s just a requirement.
This was a lot, so to make it easy, here’s a top 10 list for you to keep in mind:

1) Get a clear understanding of your company’s dress code and environment before the first day. It’s okay to ask questions before you start. When in doubt, overdress.

2) Dress for success, but don’t work so hard on wearing the latest fashions and top designers, that your work performance suffers.

3) Avoid outdressing your boss, unless he or she just isn’t big on their appearance and you’re actually being true to your personal style.

4) Every man needs a good, white fitted dress shirt, a good pair of “investment” shoes and a custom made suit.

5) Every woman needs a good custom made suit and real leather purse. No knock-offs ladies.

6) Women need to make sure their clothes aren’t too tight or too big.

7) Women should avoid heels that are taller than four inches, that have ankle straps or huge platforms.

8) If dealing with clients, try to adapt your dress style some to help them feel at ease.

9) Only wear your investment pieces when needed because these are the ones you’ll end up spending a couple of hundred dollars on.

10) Have a clear understanding of your role, your environment and your audience.