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What (not) To Wear + Modern Manners = Professional Presence!

Updated: Apr 10, 2023

The Basics: Have you put thought into your appearance?

  • Underwear should not be visible. Period.

  • Do not wear wrinkled or stained clothing. All clothes should be ironed and clean.

  • No flip-flops, jeans or athletic wear. No leggings, unless they are sturdy and somewhat pants-like. Do not wear what you wear to exercise, dance or sleep.

  • Remove sunglasses on top of your head, hats, earbuds or headphones.

  • Too short, too tight, too low, too small, too big? If you wear a skirt, it should go to your knees. Clothes should fit properly, which means: a shirt or jacket should be able to be buttoned without the fabric pulling away from the buttons. Be sure to unbutton your jacket when seated, and re-button when standing. Sleeves and pant legs should be the proper length (see our Pinterest page for details).

  • Do not show cleavage or your mid-section.

  • Shoes should fit: can you walk without any signs of hesitation or trouble?

  • Don’t wear socks that don't coordinate with what you are wearing or socks that are too short and leave a gap of flesh when you are seated. Athletic socks should not be worn with more formal, tie up shoes.

  • If you have nail polish, make sure that it is not chipped. Nails should look clean and be trimmed to a reasonable length that does not interfere with your ability to type quickly or perform other job duties.

  • You are always best as your natural self! Do not wear heavy makeup or false eyelashes.

  • No gum!

The Basics: Have you thought about your scent?

  • Do not use strong aftershaves, perfumes or colognes. Many people are allergic or have an involuntary aversion to certain scents. Try to use a good quality bath soap (e.g. non-scented Dove).

  • If you are a smoker, consider not smoking ahead of an interview or important meeting.

  • What are you eating? Did you have an onion bagel for breakfast or tuna for lunch? Pay attention to foods that have a distinct smell, especially on days of important meetings or interviews.

  • Floss and brush your teeth daily.

  • Use deodorant (non-toxic, natural options are available, and are mostly effective). Many in the United States have a low tolerance for body odor, so use whatever products you prefer to help avoid it.

What is in your hands?

  • Do not carry the largest bag, purse or backpack you can find. Use a bag that can reasonably fit your wallet or pocketbook. Use a portfolio. Check out our Pinterest page for options for appropriate bags. Can you easily shake someone’s hand without juggling your bag?

Mobile phones: What is appropriate and what is not?

  • Ask your employer what their policy is on mobile phone use. Less is always more!

  • What is the difference between talking to a person sitting next to me and using the phone in public, if I’m speaking in a normal tone of voice?

    • Believe it or not, many people are “put out” by public phone use. There is research to support the maddening effect of “the halfalogue” – the one-sidedness of an overheard phone call. We’re more distracted because our curious brains can’t help but to try to fill in all the bits we cannot hear, despite the fact that we’re unwillingly engaged in the conversation in the first place. People also talk more loudly on their phones, which ups the annoyance factor. HINT: As a rule of thumb, take calls outside or in a hallway whenever possible—since people in waiting rooms and public transportation are captive audiences, they cannot leave and are not interested in your conversation. It might stress them out. And, do you really want other people to know your business? Be thoughtful.

There’s no way to teach proper cough and sneeze containment!

However, to maintain a healthy work environment: wash your hands, keep hand sanitizer and a pack of tissues handy and try your best to sneeze or cough into your elbow.

Thank you notes: An ideal way to differentiate yourself

Yes, handwriting a thank you card is old-fashioned, has largely gone out of style and has been replaced by the immediacy of emails (and texts). It is still a good and important thing, and an ideal expression of gratitude. Mailing a handwritten thank you note is sure to differentiate yourself from your peers.

Communicate effectively

  • Understand the importance of eye contact; can you read and understand facial expressions?

  • Have you greeted someone appropriately? (Good morning, good afternoon, nice to meet you, etc. Not simply: Hi.)

  • Are you smiling and engaged in the conversation? Are you asking questions to demonstrate curiosity?

  • Are you aware of your non-verbal communication? Pay attention to your posture and how you are standing; notice: where are your hands?

Ability to Deal with Pressure and Criticism

Employers are looking for people who can perform their jobs well, and pressure is bound to be part of a working environment. Having the ability to make sound decisions under pressure, and to act with precision and care in the midst of tension, can absolutely separate you from your peers. You will most likely encounter criticism at some point in your career. In any situation, it is necessary to maintain or exude a positive attitude. If you are on the receiving end of criticism, it is possibly an opportunity for growth. You cannot grow if you are unwilling to learn or change.

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Professional Appearance
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