Tips For Dressing Up From College To Corporate World

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07-08-2015

4 min read

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Lift up your neckline, lower the hemline!

Come to think of it, when I was in my teens – perhaps due to my guardians’ (parents and teachers included) strict upbringing – I had never worn anything that was considered to be “skimpily short” or “sexy”.

Maybe it was the years I spent in Chinese school and subsequently a local university which enforced conservative dress codes. Or perhaps I grew up watching The Little House On The Prairie as opposed to Keeping Up With The Kardashians.

Whatever the reason, I’m thankful for the values instilled in me, directly or indirectly, that dressing decently is part of our daily lifestyle; that you don’t have to show your cleavage or legs to gain attention.

Fast forward to today

If you look at our youths today, the way they dress may sometimes make your heart skip a few beats. Just take a stroll during lunchtime at some of our corporate offices in Kuala Lumpur on Fridays, and you can see a multitude of fashions and styles that makes you wonder if they are adults or still in college.

What has changed? I believe it may well be one of these factors:

  1. Social media

    My teenage goddaughters literally scroll for fashion inspirations every day from Instagram posts for their college outfits.

  2. Online fashion wear

    Just click on any online boutiques. You will see crop tops, jeggings, uneven blouses, baggy loose tops, flared minis and short dresses.

  3. Social circle influence

    You can’t be wearing a maxi while all your friends are in minis.

  4. Lack of parental guidance

    Spare the rod and spoil the child. Sometimes teenagers get over their ‘teenage phase’ but most of the time they don’t.

Our youths are inundated with certain images and cultures in a way that we were not a decade ago. With the advent of social media, there is an explosion of provocative imagery everywhere – on television, Internet, movies and advertisements.

Saturated by these images, some teens dress so casually that they pay no heed to what is ‘appropriate’ anymore.

I understand the need to fit in, to experiment when you are young, to have the freedom to express your own individuality. (Believe me, I was once a rebellious teen who hated my school pinafore and that two-inches-below-the-ear short hair.)

But then again, during my days, there was no controversial Miley Cyrus wrecking my brains out. The danger is that without proper guidance, our youths would still carry the same image they have in college when they enter the working world.

The inevitable transition

We as corporate brand and image trainers hear frequent complaints from top management on the inappropriateness of how the young ones dress up and carry themselves.

The most common ones are clothes that are too casual, revealing, short, tight, etc. What many youths don’t realise is that their sloppy or provocative dressing may have a big impact on the progression of their careers and even their personal lives.

So, for those of you transitioning from campus to corporate life, here’s something for you.

Every piece of garment you put on yourself says something about you – your character, educational background, culture, family values, confidence and self-esteem.

There is no such thing as neutral clothing. Specific characteristics, traits, or design details in clothing function as cues to communicate a message.

Attention: Young men

  • Torn, faded or baggy jeans may suggest that you have a careless and lazy attitude.
  • Crumpled, un-ironed shirt gives an impression of you not paying attention to details.
  • Working pants that are too tight – seen frequently in young adults nowadays – may suggest that you are not bothered about corporate settings.

Attention: Young ladies

  • Uncoordinated outfits and/or clashing colours give an impression of a disorganised and unprofessional you.
  • Overly trendy clothing worn in a conservative profession might give the impression that you care more about fashion than your work.
  • Frills, ruffles, laces and florals make you appear immature and less ready for an important project or position.
  • Low-cut blouse and too-short skirt may portray you as lacking of self-control and awareness of appropriate dress code.
  • Ill-fitting clothes display poor taste, and show that you are unaware of your physical liabilities.

Someone once said, “If you dress sexily, you attract sex. If you dress lovely, you attract love.” I’d like to add that:

“If you dress respectfully, you attract respect.”

So dress well, dress right!


When you walk out, you represent not only yourself, but your parents, your grandparents, your friends, your bosses and the company you work for.

Therefore, you need to be aware of your own clothing cues, the messages you are sending, and the response you gain from them. The rules of the game change once you enter the working world. You dress not to gain attention, but for success!

So ladies, avoid anything that is too short, bare or ‘sticky’.

As Marilyn Monroe rightly pointed out:

“Your clothes should be tight enough to show that you are a woman, but loose enough to show that you are a lady.”

Therefore, avoid:

  • see-through blouse and low-cut tops
  • exposing your underarms
  • skirts no shorter than three fingers above knee when standing
  • clothes that are too tight, clingy, loose and baggy
  • cropped pants, skorts, bubble skirts or skirts with irregular hemline.

Instead, opt for:

  • working suits in dark solid colours – black, grey, navy, burgundy, etc
  • outfits with a maximum of two to three colours
  • patterns or prints that are subtle and business-like
  • tailored dress
  • outfit with matching cardigan or blazer
  • blouses with tailored skirt or pants
  • shoes with heels and preferably covered.

In the words of Mark Twain, “clothes maketh the man”, i.e. you will be judged by the way you dress. So for the boys – avoid anything that is too long, big or tight.

Thus, a big no-no to:

  • clothes that are creased, torn, faded, baggy and unflattering
  • tight fitting shirts or skinny pants
  • rugged fabrics like corduroy, denim
  • clothes with cartoons or inappropriate prints
  • underwear showing.

Opt instead for:

  • jackets or suits in dark solid colours
  • long sleeved business shirt in light colours only
  • subtle patterns on ties
  • tailored pants in dark colours – black, grey, navy.
Wendy Lee is president of Mabic (Malaysian Association of Brand & Image Consultants) and a director of BII (Brand Image International Institute). She is a firm believer that with style… there must be substance! To engage Wendy for personal branding and grooming in your organisation, email training@leaderonomics.com. For more Image Matters articles, click here.
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