Making the first impression: What suits the job?

By Daniel Callicott & Kathryn Flippin

Photo Illustration by Kathleen Hartsfield

In order for college graduates to transition into the work place, they must adhere to one addition: business attire.

It may be extreme to say all graduates dread this shift, but many, upon entering the business world, will have to take the extra step to transform his or her wardrobe.

While the objective is obvious, the desires and resources of students are not always the same. Some want to be noticeable, some want to blend in, some have lots of stylish wear and others have only pieced together outfits accumulated over their college experience. All are different, but all have a common goal: To walk into their first day on the job ready to impress his or her new boss.


While the goal for the average man is not always to be trendy, he should desire to make a statement with his clothing, said Eric Haynes, assistant manager for Men’s Warehouse in Jackson.

“You want to show a sense of business knowledge and demonstrate you put thought into how you dress,” Haynes said. “It expresses you are concerned about the job.”

It is safe to say men show their style in a different way than women, but they should not be written off as not trying. When they do take the initiative to change their wardrobe, a lot of times it enhances their performance and shows them as being professional.

What does the average college grad do to keep up with the mode of the men’s business world? Well, he humbly seeks to find the best pieces without going overboard in the spending.

Haynes said recent graduates overspend the most in the area of custom- tailored suits. While it is a good idea to invest in suits, the costs should not resemble those of a CEO. A good amount to own would be 2–3, ranging from a variety of colors such as navy, black and charcoal gray. Although seer sucker is gaining popularity, it is not as flexible as other fabrics and does not make strong impressions.

The American cut is the classic business suit and gives the wearer extra room. European cuts provide a sleeker look and snug waist. A three-button suit also provides a slimmer look, but a two-button suit will fit better on shorter men or those who have larger shoulders.

Suits can be paired with simple dress shirts and clear-cut ties. The majority of men have a decent amount of dress shirts, but Haynes said they do not have to go out and buy 25 just to feel fresh everyday. Haynes said choosing 5–6 simple white or light blue shirts could go a long way. He also added that red and blue ties that are solid or have discrete patterns are strong choices. Any of these combinations paired with a suit or a pair of slacks can make a few pieces merge into multiple options.

Be smart when buying. Looking for a specific style is not smart; start with general items and build from there. In time, the choices will become more personalized and an impression will be made. Stick to being simple from the beginning and that will speak volumes while going up the pecking block.


Women’s business fashion is a whole other story. They rely on accessories to make a statement.

While it is not always a good idea to be simple, Elizabeth Wood, 2010 Union University graduate, said it is extremely important to be sharp and clean.

“Dressing modestly makes you look professional. Of course, you want to add your own style but stay moderate in your choices in order to look professional,” Wood said.

After her recent transition into the work place, Wood said she quickly learned how much a first appearance matters to professionals.

“People can tell a lot about the way you handle your work by the way you are dressing when you meet them,” Wood said. “It is always good to dress the part you are representing.”

Accessories are a great way to add a personal touch to any businesswoman’s wardrobe through things such as scarves, necklaces and belts, but they must be chosen with care so they do not cause a profession to get the wrong impression.

“A watch adds style to any outfit,” said Haley Gallagher, senior business major. “It not only keeps you prompt, but helps you be fashionable without appearing flashy.”

The information website for women,, shares tips on what is considered professional business attire for women. The site points out that accessories can be trendy and can be included in an “outfit in order to add flair, but try to refrain from flashy pieces and bold colors.”

The website also points out the wardrobe necessities of a businesswoman. They range from formal to general to casual. More formal wear includes skirted suits, closed-toe heels and hosiery. General wear can also incorporate these, but it tends to stick to the area of dresses with jackets or pants suits. Casual wear should always be determined by the employment, but the most common is a skirt with a blouse.

Individuals who work in creative or fashion jobs normally are given more freedom with their look and may be encouraged to express their style through unique clothing and bold accessories. Knowing these distinct differences can go a long way for a woman in the business world.

Any outfit can be changed or modified to fit an agenda, but keeping it chic while being professional is always fun. Look for those places you can add accessories. Be smart in colors and try not to overbear anyone.

Wood said she knows how it feels when “you just want to get up and be comfy” but she also adds that dressing up helps you focus and really keeps you motivated in your professional life.

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The Cardinal & Cream is a student publication of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Our staff ranges from freshmen to seniors and includes a variety of majors — including journalism, public relations, advertising, marketing, digital media studies, graphic design and art majors.