Wednesday, October 10, 2012

How to Dress Your Gothic Self in a Casual Workplace

In many ways, my whole CorpGoth blog is an example of how to dress in a gothic / alternative / creative fashion at a casual workplace. But I thought that, after blogging for so long, I might consolidate what I've learned into tips that others could follow.  This may be useful if you're starting a new job & need to slowly introduce yourself to unfamiliar coworkers or if you're starting your career. Or maybe you've been unsure about how much of your true fashion self you really can express at work, & you're looking to combine your work & play wardrobes more.

I've worked in California's Silicon Valley all my adult life, & admittedly, this is a very casual work environment. We are known for CEOs wearing jeans & hoodies to important meetings. This can be confusing to traditional college recruits & anyone coming from the East Coast, much the less us goth types. How do you fit in but still look like you're at the office & not hanging out at a coffee shop? It's tricky because, especially if you have unnaturally colored hair or tattoos, you already have to work harder to earn respect. So dressing a smidge more conservatively may help, but too conservative & you can look out of place in a sea of blue jeans.

Here are my 10 tips for presenting yourself as a competent, trustworthy professional without entirely sacrificing your individual style.

1. Wearing all-black is a safe bet. Black pencil skirts, black trousers, black jackets, black T-shirts -- build a wardrobe of these basics, especially in high quality materials -- & you'll be set.

2. Under-accessorize. Ever hear the saying about "before you leave the house, remove one accessory"? Instead of wearing a huge necklace *and* rings on every finger, wear either the necklace or the rings.

3. Minimize references to death & religion. Skulls, skeletons, crosses, & crucifixes are potentially offensive. Yes, this imagery is found in mainstream fashion, from Alexander McQueen skull-print scarves to Ed Harvey T-shirts. But those are usually worn in a non-gothic context. When added to an obviously goth outfit, you may push the look over the edge. Tread carefully.

4. Incorporate casualwear, even denim. Goths, in particular, can be quite formally dressed. Which is lovely, but formality can appear stand-offish, even snobby, in casual workplaces. Create a few outfits that use unstructured materials & even try jeans (black is ok!) on occasion. Temper hard edges with soft so you look approachable & friendly.

5. Avoid overly sexualized clothing. It should go without saying that you'll leave the corsets, PVC, see-through shirts, stiletto heels, & bondage gear at home. But also be very wary of any clothing that has elements suggestive of sex, such as corset lacing on a jacket, D-rings on pants, or cutouts on a shirt.

6. Give a nod to current fashions. You don't have to be a slave to trends, but showing that you are at least a tiny bit aware of modern style shows that you're keeping up to date with the world in general. Most jobs today require that employees keep their skills updated & that people know what's going on currently in their industries. Fashion is another sign of being aware of the times.

7. Tone done the outfit if you have wild hair, piercings, &/or visible tattoos.  The good news is that casual workplaces often don't mind blue hair, mohawks, dreadlocks, facial piercings, &/or a sleeve or two of tats. The bad news is that, if you want to be taken seriously, you may have to dress a bit more conservatively to balance out those less-changeable parts of your appearance. You'll definitely want to overcompensate during interviews & meetings with clients, at least until you know people well.

8. Use makeup to focus, not distract. Just like accessorizing, you want to use makeup carefully & minimally. Do deep, dark eye makeup with light lips, *or* do deep, dark lipstick with light eye makeup. You want to achieve balance, not overkill.

9. Add a few colors in your wardrobe. Yes, I know, I said all-black is ok, but all-black, all the time can seem moribund. Especially in summer. And sometimes you may want or need to soften harsh edges. This doesn't mean dressing in pastels -- just add in jewel tones or stripes occasionally.

10. Don't wear anything ripped, torn, or ill-fitting. Ripped fishnets & torn jeans are for weekends only (yes, you may see torn jeans on a Silicon Valley engineer, but remember, it's the context; alternative folks have more than just the torn jeans going against them, so we can't add to it). And make sure that what you wear fits well. Get pants & skirts hemmed, jacket sleeves taken up. Tailoring is everyone's friend!

What kind of attire is standard in your office & how do you adapt your gothic / alternative style to suit the workplace? Share your tips & advice in the comments!

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  1. Great tips! The best part is that these are translatable to other alternative fashions as well!

  2. Thank you! I was hoping this would be useful to more people.

  3. I love these kinds of posts. Thanks! :)

  4. I love your tips, and they definitely do the trick. However for black I really think it depends on how you carry yourself and accessorize it. I wore black everyday for work, and accessorized with the subtle skulls and bats here and there, but I was never considered goth because of how I carried that look and myself.

    I think as long as you don't act, look or feel grumpy and sad, black can viably be worn everyday without the stigma.

  5. It also depends on whether you're in a city vs. suburbs & the seasons too. All black is usually safe, but it's doesn't hurt to mix it up with a pattern or touch of dark color sometimes :)

  6. Great post, these are some great tips. I work in a very conservative environment and it took me a long time to learn how to tone it down without looking completely boring. The links you provided were very informative!

  7. Hey, this is great. I also think really great grooming would help - no fried hair from overdyeing or chipped dark nail varnish.

    As I don't fully dress that way but love adding some goth/fantasy-inspired accessories I think your tips offer the opportunity to look so cool if one can commit to fewer accessories. Goth pieces have such a great visual impact.

    Just think of black jeans, a white shirt, a skull scarf, a leather cuff, coloured hair, dark nail and lip colour.
    Or black skirt, black and dark red striped tee and a couple of rings.
    Or a black simple dress, patterned black tights, boots and skull earrings ...
    Maybe I should have a try!

    Thanks again,

  8. You're welcome! It's an ever-evolving process of figuring out how far you can go & what fits in for your office.