While everyone is searching for that elusive fountain of youth, looking too young at work can sometimes work against employees who have found success early in their careers. Aging well, are petite, look young for your age or have often been confused for an intern? As a follow up to my tips on how to look stylish when you are the oldest person at work (which certainly comes with its own problems) today, I am going to give my tips on how to dress your age and how to build a foundational wardrobe when you have started to find success early in your career.
Don’t dress too old
I will never forget a client I worked years ago. She was in her late 20’s but had already accomplished great success. This client found herself interacting with peers who were many years older than her and she wanted to compete and be taken seriously among her colleagues. When I entered her closet I found that she was making the biggest mistake I see many young, successful women make, she was dressing way too old.
Applying logic to her approach to her wardrobe, it made sense. In order to fit in with her coworkers she figured it was smart to dress like them. However, this plan was backfiring on her because she actually looked younger in her wardrobe instead of older because it looked like she was wearing her mom’s clothes, like she was playing dress up. When I switched things around with her and created a more age appropriate, yet powerful wardrobe, within just a few months she told me she tripled her sales and since then her success has been through the roof.
If you are confused about what to buy, even the most well intentioned moms are probably not your best shopping buddies because in order to look older, wearing labels that your mom would purchase isn’t the solution. Don’t try copying your successful older coworkers either, it won’t work.
Spend more on classic work pieces and style them with younger accents
If you are a young professional it is quite possible that you haven’t built up a wardrobe in breadth as your older coworkers. You have to start somewhere and if you are only now starting to make some money to spend on clothing put the majority of your wardrobe budget towards good, foundation pieces, like one good, classic three piece suit and other tailored pieces and then less on the components you wear with them. I even take this approach with my more seasoned and successful clients, but for you, as you are in the beginning of building your work wardrobe, this is crucial. You want to get more with less and start adding clothes to your wardrobe that will go the distance. Even if you don’t need to wear a suit daily, you can break it up and wear it a variety of different ways.
How to Create a Powerful Wardrobe When You are the Youngest Employee
Below are four mix-and-match looks that further explain and illustrate how to build a powerful wardrobe when you are a young, successful woman.
Starting with a navy suit as a great base, like this jacket and pants from Theory (a great label for young professional women), I added some less expensive, yet versatile pieces. First, the novelty white t-shirt. I chose one with sleeves from Modcloth so it could be worn under a jacket or on its own to guarantee it can be worn multiple ways. Next, I added these green Nine West shoes. Nine West is brand that offers affordable, yet stylish work styles and I chose green for the fact that they can add fun pops of color of a variety of looks because the color is so versatile. Often what differentiates a young, successful woman and an intern are these smart touches. Lastly, I filled in the neckline of the top with a blue and green necklace from Ann Taylor that may be colorful but can be worn with many looks.
In this outfit, I used this Theory skirt, which is the third part of the pantsuit above. While the skirt can be worn with the jacket, it can also be used separately, like I did here. It’s styled with a coral sleeveless Vince Camuto top and basic grey cardigan from J. Crew. Finishing the look I added the same shoes and necklace from the previous look.
When investing in your tailored pieces, keep them neutral. Because the skirt is navy and the cardigan is grey, it doesn’t matter what color you pop underneath it. Plus, as you cycle in less expensive tops, your more expensive pieces always look fresh and updated.
On business casual days, your suit can still come in handy. While it’s probably smart to have a few pairs of tailored pants, using the pants of your suit can really maximize the wearability of your wardrobe. Here, I styled them with a novelty top fro Zara. Dressing in this high-low way of pairing cheaper pieces with more pricier ones makes them look more expensive. This is a great way to build your wardrobe slowly while still making it look like you spent more.
Finishing the look, I added these grey ballerina flats, stud earrings from Bauble Bar and bracelet from Stella & Dot.
You could also take this top and wear it with the skirt and grey cardigan or navy blazer over it.
Dresses are no-brainer work pieces. It’s smart to have some dresses in basic, neutral colors, like black and navy, but don’t discount colorful ones as smart buys. With all your more tailored pieces, like your blazers and classic cardigans in neutrals, you’ll have an easier time breaking them up and wearing them with dresses in a variety of colors. It can be hard to match a navy blazer with a navy dress, but much easier if the dress is in a non-neutral shade.
Here, for example, I used this sleeveless, yellow Boden dress in ponte and used the jacket of the navy Theory suit to layer over it. Here, again, I am using those versatile green shoes from Nine West and all the accessories I previously used. Instead of loading your closet full of black shoes, think about colorful ones, like green that can be worn just as often as black pairs. You’ll get the same amount of wear while also inexpensively creating some variety.
From a mix-and-match standpoint, the grey J. Crew cardigan could also be layered over the dress to create another outfit.
Build your powerful wardrobe by keeping the look fresh, youthful and professional. Spend your money on good classic pieces that will bring you a lot of timeless wear and rotate in some fun pieces that highlight your youth and show you mean business at the same time.
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You have a skill beyond others Bridgette. You make everything ageless.
Thank you so much!!!
I have made the mistake of dressing too old for my age and learnt this lesson the hard way. I am sure these amazing tips will help a lot of young women who are doing very well in their careers.
As usual, the attention you give to the smallest of details continue to astound me, Bridgette!
Thanks, Maneera! I appreciate your comment about attention to detail. I can really only credit my years of experience for this as, at this point, I have seen it all. Unfortunately, most advice you read on blogs hasn’t been tested or practiced in any real venue. Not that there aren’t some great quality blogs out there, but my clients are always my best inspiration. If they are struggling with something there is a good chance most readers are too. I am glad this post helped you!
Thank you Bridgette. From reading this article, I think the mistake I am making is not getting my better pieces tailored. It’s hard to afford when one is becoming successful but is still poor, but I hope it will make the difference in my appearance. Just this past week I attended a conference wearing my best, most stylish dress, met an important colleague, and got the usual, “you can’t be Maria, you look like an undergrad!” *Sigh*
Hi Maria! Yes, tailoring will make such a huge difference. I just saw a girl this morning wearing a lovely outfit that really didn’t look good simply because it didn’t fit her well. It’s also a great way to make less expensive pieces look like they are of better quality.
As far as being successful, but still poor, I totally understand. Had it not been for the fact that I was a designer for a company that made exquisitely tailored clothing that I could get for a steal at out sample sales I would have been sh*t out of luck. The reasoning behind spending the best you can on good, timeless pieces, is definitely a good one because, with the cost per wear equation, they will definitely pay for themselves in time. However, if you don’t have the money up front it can still be hard to plunk down hard earned money and still have anything left over to live. I get it. Keep you eyes open for sales, shop outlets and discount stores and go slowly. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Your more seasoned colleagues have probably been collecting most of their treasured pieces for years. And, while you may not feel you look as grown up as you think you should yet, I am sure you look just fine. Keep on keeping on!
Thanks for another great post, Bridgette. I think my challenge is that I’m somewhat in the middle. I’m not the youngest, but I’m not the oldest. I’m Asian so I look young for being 41-42, and I am now in a management position over people older than me. Oh, plus I’m short. So trying to be “age appropriate” in the work world can be tricky, but I do have “classic” pieces and then dress them up with trendy pieces like a statement necklace.