Why is fashion even relevant to being successful in the workplace? Well, because it’s the first thing people see. After all, you’re more likely to get on a plane with a pilot dressed in a uniform than one wearing baggy jeans and a tank top. It’s a well-known fact that we associate competence and credibility with people who look and dress the part. For working black women, the saying “look and dress the part” has a whole new meaning. We tend to be scrutinized, especially when we’re part of predominantly white offices where our “otherness” makes some feel uncomfortable. From our daily outfits to our various hairdos, the way we show up at work shapes people’s perceptions, which ultimately affect our chances of career success.
As a black woman facing systemic barriers in the workplace, from lack of representation to micro-aggressions, I’ve found fashion to be a powerful force in navigating these anxieties.
It can be easy to shrink to the pressures of being the only minority member in a place, but fashion has always given me the platform to be brave and boldly express myself. From an ultra-feminine Kate Spade dress to a polished blazer, I fill my closet with looks that match the energy I want to project: youthful, approachable, driven, and professional. Can clothes really do the talking? You bet. As they say, you wear it; you just might become it! My looks give me a confidence boost that enables me to assert myself at work, voicing my perspective in meetings and building a good rapport with different people.
Additionally, fashion helps break down communication barriers across titles. As a visual tool, it facilitates conversations in an organic way. A few compliments later, you might find yourself going to sample sales with your co-workers during lunch or talking about your weekend plans. You might even know more about their personal life or cultural interests, as these conversations often expand to other areas of life. I’ve connected with many people, from senior executives to interns, this way. That’s the power of fashion: It makes a statement about who you are and invites others who can relate.
Here are just a few of the looks I like to wear to work. While some might be considered over the top (hey, I’m a fashion blogger), others are a bit more laid-back. You will find something there for you!
The fluidity of this dress pairs well with adventure. Unexpected touches like the geometric cutouts and twist-knotted front show off your playful side. Wear it to the next team happy hour, and it’ll start some conversations for sure.
Giving a presentation at work? This is the dress to do it in. The voluminous sleeves and tiered skirt are working together to make you take up space. And you can’t go wrong with the flower print, which gives you the freedom to bloom.
A pair of perfectly polished pants works for all office dress codes. This all-white outfit makes it clear that you put thought into what you wear, and it's just the transitional look you need. The top is the same one I wore above.