Dressing the Part of the Creative Professional

This article was written by Leslie Almeida of Propaganda New Orleans for AIGA New Orleans’s students whom are preparing for the annual ADVANCE Creative Review Day this Saturday.

The typical 9 to 5 uniform is easy to master.

Basic silhouettes, separates in subdued colors, mix-and-match, blend in. But if you’re entering a creative industry, you’re likely to have the opportunity to express more of your personality and style. Just as in life, your office wardrobe should present a balance of fun and work. Our friends at AIGA New Orleans asked us to provide tips on how emerging creative professionals can dress for success without stifling their style.

Before You Land the Job

When applying for a job, think of yourself as a product. You are essentially selling yourself to a potential employer. What you wear to

the interview is packaging for your “brand.” Like it or not, we are all judged based on our appearance. An unkempt or unprofessional appearance will guarantee the interviewer has already written you off before you begin your spiel. Even in most creative industries, you will be expected to dress a certain way. How do you know your “packaging” is appropriate? Let’s look at the two major aspects of creating an outfit.


Tip #1: Keep it simple.
Hair, Face & Nails

Now is not the time for over-teased up-dos, experiments in facial hair design or sparkly eye shadow. Here’s what else you should keep in mind:

  • While nail art is more widely accepted in the office today than it was only three years ago, stick with a fresh, yet modern “new nude” shade of polish. Don’t wear nail color? Make certain your nails are short, filed and clean.
  • If you wear eye makeup, stick with a matte, neutral eyeshadow and avoid heavy eyeliner.
  • Balance the look: If you can wear winged eyeliner, opt for a subdued lip color. If you can wear a bold lip color, opt for a cleaner eye.
  • Keep your hair out of your face, yet not prom-ready
  • Clean, dry hair (no, you cannot go to an interview with damp hair) is more important than a perfectly styled coif. Use products that leave a natural finish and are not overpowering, especially hairspray.
  • Guys, avoid the “gelled and spiky” look and try a flexible pomade. Also, if you need a haircut, get it done a couple of days before the interview so it doesn’t look like you got a haircut just for the interview.


Tip #2: Do your research.
The Clothes

How does everyone else dress at this particular office? A Google search can often help here. Does the company have a Facebook page? Perhaps they post pictures from around the office or employees have left comments, giving you the opportunity to check out their personal profiles and catching a glimpse of their office attire. When interviewing for a job, you want to come across as someone that can jump into the position and get to work with minimal guidance. Dressing like your future office mates can help make that connection visually for your interviewer.

Most important aspects of a professional wardrobe:

  • Proper fit
  • No holes, stains, strings or missing buttons
  • No wrinkles
  • Keep it modest – no plunging v-necks or 5″ stilettos

For the interview, you will want to play it safe and dress more conservatively than how you think the office generally dresses.

  • Forgo busy patterns
  • Avoid distracting accessories – long, chunky necklaces, large hoop earrings or cocktail rings
  • Wear closed toe shoes – If you’re certain open toe is allowed, make certain your toes are manicured/polished
  • Not certain about something? Err on the more conservative side – cover tattoos and remove facial piercings.


Tip #3: Wear what makes you feel good.
After You Land the Job

You did it! You’re awesome! And now you’ve got a desk/cubicle to call your own. Give yourself a couple of weeks to prove that your work is as sharp as your style before you bust out some of your more standout wardrobe pieces. By this time, you will have a better feel for the office culture and dress code. But first, let’s create a foundation with office basics:


  • Pair of pants in a neutral hue (you can never go wrong with black)
  • Black knee-length skirt or dress
  • Black blazer or cardigan
  • Tailored denim in a dark wash – no embellishments, rips, whiskering, etc.
  • Black heels or flats


  • 2 pair of pants (khaki, black)
  • Pair of dark wash, classic fit jeans – no holes, rips, loops or embellishments
  • Sportcoat/blazer (dress up without the tie!)
  • 2 belts (1 black, 1 brown)
  • 2 pair of dress shoes (1 black, 1 brown)

Yes, the men’s basic wardrobe is a costlier investment, but women can get away with remixing pieces with the numerous accessories we can wear. A drawer full of patterned scarves goes a long way in creating new looks. And guys, something you might not think of, yet is very important…socks. Buy them. New socks. The proper socks for your shoes. Socks with a high percentage of cotton. Trust me; you’ll thank me for it.

Now that we have the basic pieces, you can show off your personality by throwing in bolder colors, patterns and accessories.

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If that nude nail is boring you, choose a sophisticated deep teal or a berry pink. Pair polka dots and stripes in the same color family and ditch the basic black. Just remember, balance is key. If you’re sporting red loafers, keep the rest of your outfit subdued. Most importantly, dress for comfort and comfort zone. Whether you’re sucking in your belly after lunch or you’re feeling awkward in a skirt when you’re more of a pants gal, it’s sure to be a distraction. Plan the next day’s outfit the night before to help avoid last minute wardrobe malfunctions and irritations. Regardless of how good you look, a kick-ass work attitude will always look better.


PROPAGANDA New Orleans is an independent digital magazine covering culture, community & commentary in the city and beyond. It is multimedia for the people, by the people. NO PROP’s goal is to bring attention to the unknown and underserved, to present popular ideas from a creative perspective, and to honestly and candidly discuss the topics mainstream outlets overlook. Engage with us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

By Leslie Almeida, Propaganda New Orleans
Published April 3, 2014