As I am sure any graduate student can attest to, planning for your career after graduation can be a little daunting. This especially is true for how to dress for said career, particularly if you are unsure of how you envision your career unfolding once you finish. Speaking as someone who recently switched from an archival focus to a public/academic focus in her MLIS degree, I have had to research and envision assuming roles in a variety of work settings; all of which have had their own respective dress codes. Some have been more relaxed while others were more structured; so it has made preparing for internships and future job interviews a tad harder as I figure out how to best dress so I can put my best foot forward and stretch my (very small) budget.
While I acknowledge from my experiences in my program that many students in our field are often attending graduate school to get promoted within their current workplace, I have also seen many using their graduate degree to not only move themselves forward in their career, but to move themselves into a new workplace. So, I would like to say that our field is a good mix of experienced and early career professionals; all of which have different takes on how to dress for the career they want based on their past work experience and their prospective future workplaces. Thus, for anyone who is trying to figure out how to prepare their current wardrobes for workplaces they do not currently work in, here are some suggestions I can make based on what I have learned from articles printed in fashion magazines like Glamour (like this one and this one) and InStyle, among other sources, over the years:
First, do your research: Sometimes, workplace dress codes may be available to review online and sometimes they may not. When the latter happens, hashtags like #librarytwitter and websites like Librarian Wardrobe, among other LIS-related social media, may be helpful because you can consult current LIS professionals about how their workplaces approach their own dress codes and how you can adapt your current wardrobe to fit their observations and recommendations. Social media can also be helpful if an organization’s dress code is incredibly vague and/or outdated and you need some direction on how best to address what the code outlines without overthinking it. While some directives are pretty much implied in any workplace culture – do check your clothes for stains and holes, do not wear anything that may have offensive content or be potentially embarrassing structure-wise, flip-flops are not work appropriate, good personal hygiene is a must, etc. – others may need some feedback. So, feel free to consult those already in the field or in the particular position you aspire to be hired into for advice.
Secondly, evaluate your current wardrobe: Since we are all operating on slim budgets and want to be taken seriously by our potential future employers, we need to evaluate what we currently have in our wardrobes and only invest in professional-looking, LIS-relevant basic workwear we do not currently own when needed to keep our budgets intact. By the time we reach graduate school, it is easy to assume that a lot of us already have some basic workwear in our closets that can be easily adapted for most workplaces and act as a foundation for us to build on as we progress into our careers. Thus, it is so important to not overbuy clothes that may not work with pieces we currently have in our wardrobes and to consider slowly building our work wardrobe more than buying everything at once.
With seasonal sales, changing trends, and the availability of secondhand clothing stores, you may be able to buy more for less later and/or find trends that fit your style and sense of self better by waiting for new stock to be delivered to stores as seasons change. This is especially true for the trickier hotter seasons; when we have to accommodate larger swings in temperature between our workplaces and the outdoors. So, you should not rush into updating your wardrobe because taking the time to evaluate what you already own and plan out potential outfits using preexisting and newer prospective pieces can save you money and time later.
Also, if you consider using on-demand clothing services to build your wardrobe, please be mindful of any hidden costs incorporated into their services so you do not end up with clothing you cannot return and lose money on. While they may seem like a big help in theory, they may go against your budget if you do not plan or research them properly. Meanwhile, while evaluating your wardrobe, if you find that you have any pieces in your wardrobe you no longer use or want that are still usable, consider donating them to charity so others can use what you no longer need to similarly build their own wardrobes. However, if you have pieces that you would like to give way that are no longer usable, consider donating them to textile recycling programs like H&M‘s to keep those pieces out of the trash.
Thirdly, when looking for new pieces to add to your wardrobe, always consider the fit, the fabric, and the feel of it when you try it on. Some fabrics, as you may already know, may drape better over your body than others and some fits may be more tailored to your body type than others. As has been discussed by publications like Time and companies like ThredUp, many clothing brands have complicated the clothes shopping process as “vanity sizing” persists in that industry. So, it is essential for you to find what pieces fits your body type the best across the board so you do not feel uncomfortable during a job interview or on the job. Additionally, extra maintenance may need to be considered for a piece depending on the fabric it is made out of. Thus, if it requires too much upkeep, it may not be a worthwhile purchase if you cannot see yourself wearing it a lot; which can also apply loosely to choosing accessories, too.
Lastly, it is essential to discern whether or not something may be too casual for a workplace, even if the workplace itself is casual in nature; so you are taken seriously and still seen as approachable in your job interview and/or on the job. What may wear on your days off may not always easily translate into work-appropriate outfits, so be sure to use your best judgment when figuring out which pieces in your wardrobe may be able to do double duty. It may take a little bit of extra time to accomplish, but you can find work-appropriate clothing that does not make you feel awkward while wearing it and shows off your individuality. Since how you present yourself matters, taking the time and effort to invest in your wardrobe and yourself will pay off in the long run if you do it well.
Photo by Alexander Naglestad on Unsplash
There are huge differences in dress codes between one library and the next. I have been running academic libraries for over 20 years, and have never had a strict dress code, but I may be in a minority. Usually “business casual” works for most places, but that will definitely not be good enough for many bank, law, or corporate libraries. In my libraries, the dress code is generally practical – I dress up, as I may at any time have to meet with a donor, so at the very least, I wear dress slacks or a skirt and an attractive top. Often I wear suits or separates. But my staff? My dress code usually consists of “Cover whatever will get you arrested. Be clean – shower, wash your clothes. No wearing shirts or anything with profanities on them.” Other than that, wear closed-toe shoes if you are shelving – dropping books on your toes hurts. I do not care one whit about tattoos, piercings, pink and orange hair, or anything like that – it’s all fine. I only ever ask people to dress up a little if we are having a visit from a donor or an accreditor, and even then, as long as it looks neat, it’s fine.
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Wear business attire for an interview, but pay attention to the non-interviewing staff members while you’re there to get a solid idea of dress code. I’ve worked in public, academic, special, and school libraries and each had a slightly different dress code. No one went over typical business wear, though, just the special library which was in a corporation. Most of the libraries I’ve worked at allow jeans with nice/business tops and nicer shoes (i.e. no flip flops). Most places don’t mind hair colors or tattoos, some would have staff wear spacers for facial piercings, others didn’t.
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I am so glad you brought up this topic. As someone who wants to work in a public library, I think about this when I am shopping for clothes. As much as I would love to have a great, well-fitting suit, I can’t justify spending a lot of money on one as I can’t see it being very useful for working with the public. Rather, I think about having clothes that make me look more approachable. Wearing a suit or even slacks and a blouse may present a barrier to some people being comfortable coming up to or working with me, among other factors. I see pop-culture t-shirts, plain tees, with cardigans or casual jackets, or sweaters, paired with jeans, leggings, or more casual pants. While there will certainly be occasions to dress up for work, a fancy suit still seems a bit much.
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