View Full Version : A clothing question/dressing for the workplace

3-6-12, 1:45am
I don't know if this belongs in this section or in another, but...

Suddenly I feel like I don't have the right clothes for my new job at the academic library. Libraries can be pretty dusty places. I have a few separates (jackets, but not super-former ones) and turtlenecks and black pants for winter wear, but I feel like that's almost too dressy for a library technician.

I don't have a lot of sweaters, casual or otherwise. For the warmer months, I have sort of arty T-shirts, and some semi-professional stuff.

Am I worrying about nothing? I worked in an office for many years, but I got the message from my boss that I dressed too casually there.

Where can I find reasonably priced, decently made clothing? I may need to supplement with a top or two.

I can't do thrift shops or Sally's, though. Can anyone suggest a regular store?


3-6-12, 5:41am
When working, I always found that the Brand, Sag Harbor, gave me a range of casual business attire that was easy fitting, well made, washable, etc. I have a closet full and there were some pieces I wish I had bought duplicates of. The price was great. Now some seasons were duds but mostly excellent designs and colors. I googled the brand and the brand is sold at Kohls, Sears, and other locations. I am a smaller plus size and the fit was excellent and easy.

3-6-12, 6:39am
One of the other things you can do is to use accessories (scarves, jewelry) to "dress up" an otherwise casual outfit into something more professional looking. Jackets and cardigans help too. I've been able to find some nice scarves and costume jewelry at consignment stores. Steinmart, JC Penney is where I often go for accessories.

Float On
3-6-12, 9:03am
In a library I'd say comfort is key. Lots of bending so I'd work on making sure I had 3 pair of comfortable pants (and shoes first). Tops again comfort and I too would suggest as herbgeek and go for scarves and jewelry (be known as the funky pin lady or something :)). I would probably do a lot of 'twin-sets', having a light sweater in a library can be a good idea year yound.

3-6-12, 10:31am
I'm a huge fan of the Red Hanger Sale at Talbots that happens several times a year. I wait until things are marked down to at least 60% off retail.
The clothes LAST and wash well.
I also have found great long-lasting clothes at upscale consignment stores.

I've had OK luck with buying super sale stuff at Land's End online and if they don't work you can return to Sears brick & mortar stores.

As you can tell -- I'm not really setting any style trends with my wardrobe! But I do enjoy classic pieces that are cut well to fit my body and will last a long time.

Miss Cellane
3-6-12, 11:17am
I used to work as the Evening Supervisor at the circulation desk at a university library. A lot depends on the general "feel" of the library. We had managers who wore suits and technical people who wore running shorts to work.

If you will be working at a service desk at the library, you will be dealing with professors and students and the general public. They can and will look at how you are dressed and make assumptions on your level in the organization and how much they can bully you into doing what they want you to do. I found that dressing up a *little* helped a lot. Dress comfortably, but with a little authority. If you will be supervising students, take that into consideration as well. If you will be the only adult working in the department in the evening, that means you will be handling all the problem patrons who show up during that time frame--a little authority can help a lot sometimes.

My standard outfit was either slacks (not jeans, but chinos and the like) or a long knit skirt and tights, a shirt/dressier tee/turtleneck, and another layer over that--cardigan, pullover sweater, casual jacket, vest. There's something about that extra layer of sweater/jacket/vest that gives you a bit more polished look and a bit of authority. Nothing was really dressy, but it looked pulled together. Long skirts are just as comfortable as trousers when crouching down on the floor to retrieve books from the bottom shelf. Short skirts are more problematic.

If you are going to be completely behind the scenes, what I'd do is call whoever hired you and ask what the dress code is.

And remember that the academic world is generally pretty accepting of personal quirks. If you become known as the best-dressed tech there, that's not really a problem. And if you are hoping to get full-time work there, remember that it doesn't hurt to dress for the job you want. I started out at the library as a student employee when I was in grad school. Got "promoted" to a senior student position, and when the Evening Supervisor quit suddenly, was offered her job. I had always dressed a little bit nicer than the other students and I don't think that hurt. Not suits or anything, but nicer jeans and khakis, with clean, neat, ironed tops and sweaters.

One Saturday, I went into work to work on a big project with a fast approaching deadline. I was wearing jeans, a white tee shirt and a chambray shirt over that. The staff person on duty had called in sick, so the student workers were working with no staff at all. Once they saw I was there, they did call me out front twice to handle problems. Dressed the way I was, I looked like an older student. Both problem patrons demanded to see a supervisor and were quite surprised when I stated that I was the supervisor (I was in my 30s at the time). I'd never had that happen before and the only difference was the way I was dressed.

Oh, and the library shouldn't be too dusty. At mine, the floors were vacuumed daily and the books were vacuumed on a regular, rotating basis. Maybe the moving stacks of very old books down in the sub-basement were a bit dusty, but not the floors above ground.

3-6-12, 12:12pm
I'm sorry you can't use thrift shops; that would be a tragedy in my life. That said, I like TJ Maxx best for reasonably priced clothing, but I also shop Ross and Marshall's--especially the sale racks. Nordstrom Rack is another possibility if you have one in your area. For the most part, I don't pay retail.

Where I did library work, one of the librarians had a delightful way of dressing--layers of color and texture over leggings or other interesting hosiery. It was in no way typical business attire, but she looked perfectly appropriate.

3-6-12, 1:07pm
LIB, you said you can't do thrift stores. However, are there any women's consignment stores in your area? I've found them to be a good source for work clothes in the past.

I live in cotton twin sets from Land's End year round. You can return items at Sears stores locally.

3-6-12, 2:52pm
Ann Taylor has a large array of slacks in a variety of cuts/lengths and nice shirts for the office. I have a couple of pairs from there and they are very flattering on me. I have a friend who is petite (I am tall) and she has the same experience. If you live near an Ann Taylor outlet, you can often find them for less than $20. I wear fitted knit shirts that are fairly casual, but sometimes I will wear a necklace to make it a little less so. I would dress more on the formal side when you start and then get a feel for it. You wouldn't want to dress too casual and appear sloppy.

3-6-12, 10:10pm
Thank you for all the very helpful suggestions. I make my own jewelry, so I have an abundance of it there. Some cool scarves, too. I tend to buy a lot of clothes in black and have quite a few pairs of black pants and tops that can be dressed up or down.

I tend to get in a panic whenever I am traveling anywhere or starting a new job. For some reason I always think I have the "wrong" kind of clothes. Usually it works out.

I do like the idea of being a bit more dressed up so as to appear a staff member and not a student. I am nearly 50 years old, so I'd be on the older end of grad students, I presume!

I will have to check into women's consignment shops around our area. I see them for children/moms, but then, sometimes you don't notice s/thing till you're looking for it!

Thanks again!

Zoe Girl
3-6-12, 10:11pm
I have to agree with the authority and opportunity angle to dressing nicer. I work in after school child care but I am a supervisor. I rarely if ever wear jeans. If needed I can throw on tennis shoes with dress pants and take the kids to the gym.

My coworker has been dressing sharp lately, he found it gave him a lot more authority with the administration. Sure they know we are there to get the kids active but a principal is more willing to take some time in dressy pants and a crisp shirt than in the nicest jeans. The behavior conferences I have had with parents have gone well and I never went to one in jeans.

I am also pretty petite and have always looked young, very nice in my 40's but I was asked for the 'real manager' many times well into my 20's. Being small without looking young can affect your authority. By watching one of my favorite principals I learned to dress crisp and clean, solid colors rather that prints that were too large, any print was in a scarf or accessorie, and to pick your best colors and your best fit. It doesn't matter if it is in fashion if the color looks good on you and the fit is just right. So most of my wardrobe is black, white and red (including my power shoes, red and black Ariat cowboy boots, it IS colorado after all).

That was more of an answer than you wanted, advice time, get some good colors, JCPenney and Kohl's have regular sales, a good 'foundation' (bra) and stick to non-trendy slacks and solid shirts with a few sweaters.

3-6-12, 10:54pm
Just an idea as it's helped me simplify my work wardrobe. One coworker even called it my "uniform."

Only black bottoms, period. Black shoes. I tend towards bright, strong colors (purple, bright pink, cobalt blue). They pop with the black bottoms. I always look presentable, every top matches with every bottom, and I can get dressed for work in the dark, very quickly.

iris lily
3-6-12, 11:34pm
Agree with Tradd, no one needs anything other than two pairs of black pants, or perhaps one skirt and one pant. That's it.

Miss Cellene's advice was really good! I'd wear a sweater or jacket always, dressing up a bit for the the next job on the ladder.

3-7-12, 7:10am
Except for what others say in the workplace, black bottom and a white crisp shirt works at all times for women or men. There is nothing wrong with creating your own uniform, should call it your signature look. And I really think you should dress for the postion you want and not the one you have unless a factory is involved. In our back office area, it was obvious who was really trying to be more professional and wanted to be seen as such by anyone they were in contact with.

3-7-12, 9:11am
I would think something like a black turtleneck and pants would be fine. If you want to make it more casual, maybe you could add funky jewelry or a scarf.

When I was working, I mostly wore long knits skirts and cardigans. That was my uniform. I hate button down shirts and anything that needs to be ironed. I don't think people pay that much attention as long as your clothing is not sloppy. At least I never did. Heck, I had trouble remembering what I wore yesterday. I guess it just doesn't register with me.

3-7-12, 10:53am
I really don't think it's necessary for library workers to dress like corporate drones. No one at my library did, including the (well-paid) head librarian. Young adult librarians have even more latitude, with piercings, tattoos, and actual fashion being the rule more than the exception with them.

3-7-12, 4:01pm
Better to dress a bit too formally to begin with than too casually. I started my first library job wearing dress pants, formal shoes and a kind of fitted sweater... but it turned out that all my new colleagues were sporting jeans!

As much as I hate to add to the stereotype, I love cardigans for working in the library. Most of my female counterparts swear by them too... makes for lots of dowdy librarian jokes ;). They're versatile and easy to remove if you're too warm.

If you're not keen on black (I can't stand it), make your 'base' colour another neutral shade like grey or brown and gear the rest of your wardrobe towards that. Sure makes getting dressed in the morning a lot easier. As someone else mentioned, it can be a very physical job, so skirts and heels might not be a great option. If you're still unsure, wear clothes you already own for the first couple days so you can survey what your colleagues are wearing and make appropriate purchases based on that.

3-8-12, 1:04pm
As much as I hate to add to the stereotype, I love cardigans for working in the library. Most of my female counterparts swear by them too... makes for lots of dowdy librarian jokes ;). They're versatile and easy to remove if you're too warm.

I wore cardigans for work aways. Was an environmental complience officer/inspector for a water district and had to be both in the field alot - sometimes in dirty conditions wearing hardhats, etc... - as well as be presentable (but not too formal) for meetings on the same day or even in the field. So I usually wore navy blue slacks, a navy blue cartigan (hated blazers) and a white button down shirt with steel toed oxford shoes - i.e. the nerdy girl engineer look. Worked great for both more formal occasions (meetings with EPA, etc..) as well as casual ones. like doing inspections and being on job sites. Like Tradd, it was my basic "uniform" and worked well and didn't cost much to maintain. I had polyester blends so just wash and wear - no ironing or dry cleaning. I think something basic like that would be great for a library job. If I was you LIB, I wouldn't buy a bunch of new stuff and just try to make what you already have work.

Miss Cellane
3-8-12, 2:39pm
Cardigans are not inherently dowdy.

And you people need to learn about Lipstick Librarians! LIB, be sure to check out the beauty hints! http://www.lipsticklibrarian.com/

iris lily
3-8-12, 10:08pm
I prefer the Annoyed Librarian


is her blog before she went mainstream, picked up by the dull library press.


She's definitely lost her edge. Back in the day when she sipped a dry Martini and dispensed Annoyed wisdom, she was cool.

3-9-12, 6:52am
Cardigans are not inherently dowdy.
Oh no, of course they're not, but non-library people never tire of poking fun at us :)
I can't count the amount of times someone has asked me why I'm not wearing my hair in a bun or glasses held with a cord around my neck.

3-21-12, 10:22pm
Wow, thank you all very much!

I started the job yesterday, and it's going very well. I noticed that the librarians and techs do tend to dress rather casually, except for the Dean (who wears a tie). Right now it's awfully warm outside and the school has not turned on the AC because the system isn't quite ready for it (and what if we then get a snowstorm?) so I've been going through my summer clothes.

A few quick notes: I have nothing against wearing black. I rely on it quite heavily. However, after looking at my work clothes after 3 years (!) I am finding a lot of stuff that's worn, has holes, or is just plain sloppy looking. I don't know what I was thinking in retrospect. Not that I am going to be buttoned down (As someone said, I hate ironing!) but some of my stuff is just too artsy. I have a lot of Blue Fish dresses, for e.g., that I bought secondhand. I just don't feel "at home" enough yet to wear something like that, nor am I sure it would be appropriate. So I'm going to have to try a "five easy pieces" approach to clothing and mix and match. Oy vey! I feel sort of overwhelmed. My sister recommended Target, and I went there today and found the clothing to be shoddy and generally ill fitting.

I may try Land's End, LL Bean or Penney's. Ann Taylor and Talbot's is a bit too formal for me. Thanks for all your suggestions! I am still listening if anyone has any more advice!

3-21-12, 11:15pm
LIB, I'd highly recommend this "t-shirt twin set" as I call it from LL Bean. Sleeveless shell and a button front long sleeve shirt. VERY comfy and easy care. I generally wear them with cropped black pants.

I'm so known for my twin sets that when I showed up for work in two Travelsmith dresses the past two days since we had big wigs in, you wouldn't believe how people commented on it. "What happened to your twin sets?" was what I heard from more than one female coworker. :D


3-21-12, 11:35pm
You have gotten good advice. In my worklife I always felt I got more respect if I dressed a little more formally than the average. Mind you, I had way fewer clothes but I always showed up clean, my hair groomed and my clothes ironed. Nails short and plain, shoes with a small heel. It was always the outliers that got the attention, both good and bad. My main goal was to blend in and look classy. I only had a few outfits so I wore them a lot but it is the people who dress provocatively or sloppily that were the biggest standouts.

PS I hope you like what I think is a dream job for many

3-22-12, 4:21am
Sounds as if you're on the right track...as a Library Director, I wore suits (but I was in my early thirties and the rest of the staff was, at minimum, 10 years older). I like the idea of a twin set; my current uniform (I'm now a corporate trainer) is a light cardigan layered over a plain T or collared shirt with a trouser or skirt. Have some sort of differentiator - your jewelry will serve nicely here. My counterparts like scarves or statement necklaces to stand out just a bit. Clean,neat, ever-so-slightly dressier than the rest (if you want to step up in the ranks).

Pretty much what everyone else said, but I wanted to add my .02 in support. Enjoy your job!

3-22-12, 10:54am
My standard uniform in either my library job or my regular job is the same: Black or khaki slacks (multiple pairs), short- or 3/4-sleeved cotton shell, a nice casual jacket or classy cardigan, and a scarf or great piece of jewelry. Comfy shoes. I never have to worry about what to wear, I look professional and confident, and I can focus on my work and not how I look! :) Good luck with this, and try to have fun getting to the place that's perfect for you!

3-22-12, 4:42pm
I can't emphasize enough the utility of good discount stores. They sell quality clothing at reasonable prices and their clearance deals are in line with thrift stores. I recently bought a pair of $99 Talbot's slacks for twelve dollars at TJ Maxx, and their lingerie bargains are equally impressive.

Miss Cellane
3-22-12, 6:37pm
I had to google Blue Fish dresses. They are cute! I don't see why you couldn't wear them to work. Maybe not head to toe, but a top with blacks slacks or even leggings (if other people wear them) should work. Usually the academic environment is very forgiving of artsy clothing.

You could also try Eddie Bauer--they tend to be a bit more fashion-forward than Bean's. More expensive retailers would be Coldwater Creek and NorthStyle, which might have some things in your style.

3-22-12, 6:48pm
I love the Blue Fish style; it makes me want to dust off my sewing machine. Neat stuff.

3-22-12, 6:48pm
I am really leaning toward catalog/online shopping because I really dislike going into stores, trying on clothes, etc. It exhausts me.

I talked to one of the other library techs about dress code today. She said because it's been really hot , people have been dressing more casually, but for the most part, dresses/skirts don't work well if you need to fix a photocopier, bend down and untangle wires, etc. I am thinking the twinset and black pants.

pony mom
3-22-12, 11:29pm
I'm so jealous of your library job. I've applied so many times but only interviewed once.

It's always better to be better dressed than underdressed. Neat, simple shirts and sweaters are always good. And comfy stretchy pants if you'll be active. You could always wear interesting inexpensive costume jewelry, like pendants that you change with the seasons, to dress up your outfit. One of my coworkers always has cute unusual necklaces and earrings that she buys at the flea market; she said she gets more compliments on those than her better jewelry.

Always make sure your shoes aren't shabby looking. Even worn out comfortable shoes look a lot better with a good polish or conditioning treatment. If your nails aren't looking too good but you want a manicure that lasts, try a shellac manicure. It's tough and lasts for at least two weeks, and you can get a french one that looks really natural. If nails matter to you.

Oh, I wish I was in your position!

3-23-12, 9:59am
LIB....I am so happy you got this job! I have been lurking, not posting recently....but awesome!
I agree with the black attire....I wore black all the time in corporate with some bright colored tops. I usually shopped an New York and Company....they have fantastic deals all the time.

4-4-12, 1:47am
Thanks, everybody! Especially for your good wishes.

Haven't been around much since I started the new job. It's going very well, better than I had hoped.

Still have not bought any new clothes but I'm about to!

4-4-12, 9:22am
That is wonderful to hear LIB! So glad things are working out for you.

Float On
4-4-12, 4:13pm
I was just wondering how your job was going. So glad you checked in to let us know!