Clothes that work for new grads hitting the job market

cbolling@charlotteobserver.comJuly 9, 2014 

  • Advice for grads shopping for a work wardrobe

    Charlotte stylists Christine Nelson ( and Felicia Bittle ( offer these wardrobe staples every new college grad should have when starting a career:

    •  A suit or blazer and coordinating pants or skirt. Even if your job doesn’t call for wearing a suit every day, you will find ways to weave the pieces into almost any wardrobe. Don’t forget that moving up the corporate ladder will mean interviewing for jobs from time to time, and a suit will come in handy for interviews and big meetings.


    •  For women, a tote large enough to carry your essentials: a small purse, a lunch bag and an iPad or any other technology. By carrying one larger bag, “you’re not looking disheveled, you’re not dropping things, like the bag lady,” Nelson says. Bittle says to make sure the tote is “something stylish but practical, durable and roomy.”


    •  Pick a closed-toe shoe that you can walk in. It’s hard to concentrate on work when your feet are aching, so both men and women should go for comfortable shoes. For women, “a slingback is fine, but be sure you get that pedicure,” Nelson says, to smooth cracked heels.


    •  Men need a pair of clean, polished, conservative shoes, in black or dark brown, depending on pant color. “Always go for leather. You’re going to spend some money on the shoes,” Nelson says. With a variety of styles out there, men don’t need to pick a plain pair of lace-ups, she says. “Have a little bit of fun here.”


    •  Don’t underestimate the importance of a crisp dress shirt. White is a safe, go-with-everything hue, while a solid blue or pinstripes can add color and character. Bittle says: “This is the classic piece that adds sophistication and professionalism to a variety of outfits.”


    •  Don’t forget about style and grooming. Hair should be neatly groomed, men should have a clean shave or well-trimmed facial hair. Don’t pile on the jewelry; Nelson recommends one ring per hand. Men should have short, clean fingernails. Women, limit the nail art to your toes (under the closed-toed shoes).

  • More information

    On Joscelyn Mason:

    Black skirt,Candie’s, Kohl’s, $44

    Black jacket,Candie’s, Kohl’s, $58.

    Striped blouse,Apt 9, Kohl’s, $36

    Shoes, Calvin Klein, Nordstrom Rack, $59.97.

    Tote bag:The Limited, $69.95.


    On Austin Phillips:

    Shirt, Tommy Hilfiger, Macy’s, $69.50.

    Shoes, Stacy Adams, Off Broadway Shoe Wearhouse, $49.99

    Belt, Croft & Barrow, Kohl’s, $26.

You’ve earned the degree, nailed the interview and scored that first job. Now, it’s time to look the part.

Navigating out of the casual college wardrobe and into workplace-appropriate outfits can be a pricey puzzle, but it doesn’t have to be.

Every workplace has its own style – from buttoned-up banks to the colorful creative environments. The trick is to quickly figure out what’s appropriate and practical for your line of work.

Some rules always apply: People who look put-together and take care in their appearance will make a better first impression than those who dress sloppily. And new hires should try to draw attention to their work ethic and skills – not to what they’re wearing.

“If you have to ask somebody if what you’re wearing is work appropriate, it’s probably not,” says Jessica Hensen, a corporate recruiter for the fast-growing marketing company Red Ventures, based in Fort Mill, S.C.

Red Ventures has a relaxed approach to dress; even CEO Ric Elias wears jeans and a polo to work most days.

But Hensen stresses that although company leaders believe “you don’t have to be dressed in a suit to be professional and successful,” certain things are no-nos: short skirts, ripped jeans and tank tops.

At MetLife’s office in Charlotte, there’s a more formal approach.

Workers in sales who interact with customers wear suits and ties, while those who don’t see customers follow business-casual style with a collared shirt and dress pants. Some departments allow jeans on Fridays, but not the ripped or casual kind; structured jeans in darker denim are the norm.

“We know everyone wants to be an original and stand out, but from a corporate standpoint, a little bit more conservative is better,” says Jason Moore, sales desk manager in the MetLife office.

Women are advised to wear closed-toe shoes instead of sandals, and men to wear lace-up shoes “that don’t resemble anything like a sneaker.”

“If you run into (a high-level manager) in the elevator, think about how you want to look in front of that person,” Moore says, “so think of it as an interview every day.”

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