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!
- When to Show Personality at the Office and When to Play It Safe -- In this guest post at Corporette, SiouxieLaw gives some fantastic advice on how you may need to sometimes surrender, but never give away, your true self at work to advance your bigger goals.
- Dressing Goth at Work (and Not Getting Fired) -- Sophistique Noir offers tips for easing your goth look into the office.
- Three Ways to Survive as an Offbeat Employee in an Onbeat Job -- Good, general career advice for artsy types working in less-than-artsy workplaces from Offbeat Home.
- Is Vintage Appropriate to Wear to the Office? -- Pretty good tips from Corporette about how to incorporate vintage clothing in an office-friendly fashion.
- Office Appropriate Attire -- Actually, this is a list of universally inappropriate office attire! But YouLookFab pins down the basics of what should never be worn at an office, no matter how casual.
- In Silicon Valley, Socks Make the Tech Entrepreneur -- According to the New York Times, socks with funky patterns are all the rage among (presumably male) tech workers in the Valley. Um, ok, I haven't seen that, but I do have a drawer full of Halloween-print socks myself ;-)