I have started three news jobs in my post-University career, and on Monday I will start my fourth. There are lots of things you should do when you start a new job, and deciding what to wear is definitely not the most important – but it is the most on-topic for this blog and so here it is! Everything I’ve learned, so far, about figuring out what to wear to a new job.
The problem for us lady lawyers (among many problems, let’s be real) is that we have the benefit of not having to wear a suit every day, but that means we have to have something else to wear every day that is just right. On your first day, you have no idea what the standard of dress is and unlike your male counterparts, rocking up in a navy trouser suit straight out of the gate might create an impression that you don’t actually want to give. While I believe in a life philosophy of “I do what I want” when it comes to clothes, I also believe in a life philosophy of “don’t be an idiot” when it comes to…everything, and so I am obviously going to make a bit of an effort to set the right tone in a new job. But (ignoring actual work ethic and general personality), how?? How does one wear the perfect outfit on one’s first day???
When I started my very first job, straight out of university, I had no money and only slightly more idea of what was okay to wear to work in an office. Luckily for me, WINZ would give you a small amount of money towards a work wardrobe if you went to a meeting at WINZ and then went to various participating retailers and organised some quotes so I was able to buy one black skirt, one peach coloured button down shirt and a pair of shoes (from Portmans, Glassons and Number One Shoes, respectively). I was extremely grateful for those clothes at the time, and they gave me a bit of confidence on my first day as a law clerk with no idea of what I was doing. I proceeded to wear the heck out of them, and a few pieces I had accumulated while working at David Lawrence through the power of a uniform allowance, until I could afford to buy a few more things. I earned $26,000 per annum when I started that job. It took a while to save up.
Regardless of my precarious finances, I had unwittingly landed on the perfect outfit for a Lady With an Office Job: a suit-ish element and a pop of colour. I am yet to encounter any woman in my work life who could not wear this to work and be 100% appropriately dressed. It’s not as formal and starchy as a suit, and it doesn’t have the accidental over-ease of just a pretty dress. Ideal examples include: a dress in a highly corporatized cut (like a shift) and fabric, but in a more eye-catching colour or print; a pair of tailored trousers with a jewel-toned knit or shirt; a blazer over just about anything (I think blazers are a bit magic when it comes to workwear).
I don’t at all remember what I wore when I started my second job, but I do remember buying a suit for my interview and leaving the jacket at a friend’s office to change into because it would have been so obvious to my workmates that I was dressed up for an interview. Thinking back, I think I probably wore my favourite “work dress” to my first day – a black shift, with a trippy watermark effect. I felt chic in it, and it would have been an obvious choice for me as I left the safe nest of my first job and moved into a big corporate.
It’s certainly easy to overthink what to wear on special or auspicious occasions, right? I’m definitely not alone in giving some intense thought to what to wear, but I think a key thing to keep in mind is that often you already know what your best option is. It’s already the outfit you feel best in at work; it’s the dress you reach for when everything else sucks or the pants that you always feel comfortable and in charge in. It’s those earrings that you wear over and over. Mostly, the thing that makes your first day outfit a bit spesh is the extra effort – brushing your hair more thoroughly through to a full face of carefully applied no-makeup-makeup, depending on your fancy. You don’t need anything new, and in fact an oldie can be the security blanket you need when everything else is new (and needs remembering). A first day is not the day to realise your new dress rides up horribly when you sit in it!
My third (and most recent) job was the job where I became a boss, and I went in with a clear idea of the woman I wanted to be. I tried to wear things that I felt a sophisticated and in control lady of finance would wear. This was entirely at odds with who I actually am – a gregarious fool who loves to be included (if I had a tail, it would be wagging) and who eggs on her team to make jokes and forward entertaining but distracting stuff to the team chat group.
Unsurprisingly, over the years I rapidly pivoted back to my truer self, which meant those outfits from the early days slid out of rotation as I started using work as a place to experiment with style and to have some fun. I learned that you can wear a jumpsuit to work and still be respected; I learned that you can accidentally wear flamboyant vintage dresses to meetings that you forgot were happening and still be taken seriously. Basically, I learned that while people will definitely make a snap judgment on the basis of how you present yourself, most of the time that judgment will be rounded out by what you know and how you work. Judging by the number of phone calls from fancy people getting paid a lot more than me, asking for my views on things, they do not care that I love a vintage jumpsuit. They care that I will give them an answer that they can then rely on.
So going into job number four, I’ve accumulated everything I’ve learned so far. Wear a mix of something corporate and something colourful; don’t try to be someone you aren’t; and remember that first impressions are just that – first, and not last!
The outfit I’ve chosen for this blogpost would be a perfect first day option for me. It incorporates a suity element in the pinstripe trousers, but the pops of marigold and fuchsia, as well as the voluminous cut of those trousers, make it much more “me”. I’ve worn all of these things before and I know that they’re comfortable and reliable. It’s not what I’ll wear on the day though – if you want to see that, then check out Instagram on Monday for an update!