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Suiting up: How to dress for success in the workplace

Student-athletes are often lauded for having a dirty uniform when the final whistle blows, signaling a productive game and a determined effort. However, taking that same approach into the workplace won’t help you land a new job or score a promotion. Whether it’s heading into a job interview or deciding what to wear for casual Friday, first impressions are most often formed based on how you look and present yourself. Julian Jones, Clemson’s assistant director of student-athlete development, relays this message to Tigers student-athletes through a professional attire fashion show he arranges as part of Clemson’s career development programming. From that event, Jones shares his advice for how young professionals can set themselves apart from other candidates and project a positive and professional image when entering the workplace.

Business professional

Clemson women’s basketball player Sirah Diarra and men’s basketball player Elijah Thomas model business professional attire at the fashion show. / Clemson Athletics

Whenever you walk into an interview, it’s crucial that you look the part. The attire you select indicates your respect for the interviewers and the company they represent and ensures you will be taken seriously. In almost all cases, this means wearing a suit.

When choosing a suit for an interview, take into account the style, fit and color. Generally, suits in a dark, basic color ­are best — avoid loud colors and flashy patterns. More importantly, your suit should be comfortable and fit well. And, of course, make sure it’s neatly pressed.

For women, Jones recommends a conservative blouse and suit jacket that can be worn with either pants or a knee-length skirt.

Men should don a matching jacket and pants with a color-coordinated dress shirt, tie and pair of dress shoes. A pocket square is a nice finishing touch and helps to bring the whole suit together.

While suits are often reserved for interviews, they can be worn in other settings depending on your employer’s dress code. But as Jones points out, “It’s always OK to overdress.”

Business casual

Women’s soccer player Lauren Harkes and men’s soccer player Nolan Lennon sport business casual attire. / Clemson Athletics

Many employers adopt an office dress code of business casual, a style more relaxed than the professional look commonly worn in interviews. Business casual means different things at different companies. As a general guideline, Jones advises to not wear jeans. Suit jackets are not necessary for women or men. Additionally, men do not wear a tie.

So, what should you wear? For both men and women, khakis or dress pants are a solid choice. When it comes to shirts, women typically have more options than men, ranging from blouses to sweaters to vests. Shirts can be tucked in or untucked.

Men should wear a tucked-in collared shirt, either a polo or button-down, depending on the season. A shirt with a sweater vest can be worn for a sleeker look.


Diarra and Thomas provide an example of an acceptable casual look for the workplace, typically reserved for dress-down Friday. / Clemson Athletics

Depending on your company’s culture, you may be able to dress down on Fridays. While these casual days allow you to dress more comfortably, you still should aim to look professional.

“If you have to ask yourself a question about what you’re wearing,” Jones says, “you probably shouldn’t be wearing it.”

Jeans are acceptable, yet shorts are not. Jeans should not have any holes in them. Also, it’s OK to leave your shirt untucked in most cases, but leave the tank tops and T-shirts with sayings on them at home.

About the expert:

Julian Jones / Clemson Athletics

Julian Jones is the assistant director of student-athlete development at Clemson. In addition to the Professional Attire After Sports Fashion Show, Jones coordinates other professional development programming for Clemson student-athletes related to topics such as dining etiquette, interview preparation and financial literacy. Before Clemson, Jones spent a year at the NCAA national office as a postgraduate intern in the office of inclusion. He graduated from Youngstown State with a bachelor’s degree in physical education and is currently pursuing a master’s in youth development leadership while at Clemson.