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what to wear to work

What To Wear To Work

I was reading an article recently in HR Daily about what to wear to work. Kind of interesting that it is a topic of discussion in an HR publication.

My first job when I graduated from university, as a naive young graduate (1984) was with IBM (in New York). On our first day as part of our induction, each of the graduate intakes was scrutinized to determine if we were suitably attired to be an IBMer. I was wearing a black suit, with a white shirt and black and white spotted tie around my neck, black shoes and stockings. (Bare legs would never have been allowed.)  IBM was world famous for its strict dress code.  Yet fast forward to now and IBM was named by Hewitt as a 2009 Best Employer in Australia. I wonder what IBM’s approach to dress is now – do they have a policy. Maybe someone could let me know.

In the early days of RedBalloon working in the front room from home – I’d wear what ever I was comfortable in. We did not have a lot of money and clothes were the last thing on my list of things to purchase. It was Jemma (now the RedBalloon GM) who took me aside and requested ‘Could you buy some new clothes – and dress like a CEO of the business we are fast becoming’ – sage advice which I abided by.

Happy snap of my wardrobeWe dress for others, not ourselves. We don’t have to look at ourselves, others do. People often ask if I wear red all the time – I haven’t always worn red. In the early days of the business I wore a red suit to a speaking engagement and someone mentioned how ‘on brand’ I was. The reality is I hadn’t until then connected the two. I just liked dressing in a bright colour, of course, I wear red most work days. I don’t have much else in my wardrobe as you can tell from the snap of my wardrobe.

So in my opinion we dress for the environment that we are in. – without ever losing a sense of self. The reality is that if you find you have to dress in a way that you really don’t like just to fit in – there will be another place who does want your talents where dress is not a priority.

PS while we are talking about dress sense – I love seeing business women wearing colour – rather than dressing in dark suits. We can celebrate our femininity.

PPS or maybe you could get someone to help design your look with a fashion styling consultation

Reader Interactions


  1. When I first started work we were given a booklet that stated very clearly what was acceptable to wear at the office. For women this included stockings but with 35degree summers they really aren’t practical when running around town.
    Come summer I skipped the stockings and eventually one senior male staff member commented. I explained that when the men who could wear short sleeve business shirts come summer started wearing stockings in this heat then I would as well. Alas it was never commented on again and the other female staff members were very grateful and stopped wearing pantyhose during the summer months.
    I’m very glad that today bare legs in our hot climate is standard in summer. It really is more hygenic and comfortable and who cares about a bit of bare skin on your calves, a much better sight than too much cleavage.

  2. Hi Naomi,
    Really enjoyed reading about your take on “image”. Sometimes we forget that our clothes send constant messages to others and many of us don’t even know what messages are clothing is sending. I also find that the way I dress has a direct impact on how I think and behave. Never make an important business call in your pj’s !
    I personally love you in “red” and absolutely on brand. Not sure if you’ve ever had your colours done but I suspect your on the money!!!!!

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