Building Confidence in Corporate Canada Through the Right Outfit

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Miuccia Prada, Italian fashion designer, once said “What you wear is how you present yourself to the world, especially today, when human contacts are so quick. Fashion is instant language.”

As a new immigrant, you want to communicate your confidence, capability, and passion through your outfit.

As a new immigrant, you want to communicate your confidence, capability, and passion through your outfit. Elizabeth Bull, fashion industry expert and Dressing Services Manager at Dress for Success Vancouver shares tips on dressing in corporate Canada.

Know the dress code and relevant policies 

Ask your manager about the acceptable dress code and if a scent-free policy exists. If still in doubt, look to your manager for guidance because what your manager wears sets the tone in terms of formality or lack thereof.

Wear clothes and shoes that will make you feel comfortable

Always choose comfort over fashion because discomfort can affect your performance negatively.

Your comfort is of utmost importance. Always choose comfort over fashion because discomfort can affect your performance negatively. Make sure that you wear fabrics and cuts that you feel confident and comfortable in.  

Comfort means confidence even in terms of footwear.  Make sure that you can walk comfortably in them.  If you’re hobbling around, people might remember you for the wrong reasons. If you want to wear a classic pair of shoes, black, gray, or brown are the best options in terms of color.  You can wear accent shoes once you have the job.

For women, an animal print like a leopard can definitely be neutral and would look great with a navy-blue suit. For men, Oxford and smart loafers are appropriate as office footwear. However, high gloss shoes should be avoided as these create a look that is too formal for an office setting.

Make sure that your clothes fit properly

Before going for an interview or wearing your outfit for the first time, sit down in your garments to check the fit.

Before going for an interview or wearing your outfit for the first time, sit down in your garments to check the fit.  While sitting, make sure that your jacket does not pop up, there are no horizontal lines forming across your clothes, and there is no button spread. These are indications that your clothes are too small. Women can work around this issue by wearing a camisole or sleeveless shirt underneath their outfit and leaving the top button undone to show the camisole.

Be mindful of the length of your clothes. Women can wear tights or a pantyhose with high denier under a short skirt.  Men can wear shoes and socks that are similar in color with shrunk pants to give a united line.

Dress according to the season

If you feel hot, wear breathable fabrics.  If you feel cold, wear fabrics that keep you warm or dress in layers. 

Many immigrants come from countries that are different from Canada in terms of weather.  If you feel hot, wear breathable fabrics.  If you feel cold, wear fabrics that keep you warm or dress in layers. 

Start with capsule wardrobes in neutral colors

Gray, blue, tan, and camel are the building blocks of any professional wardrobe.  You can build various sets of outfits around these colors. 

Black is also an excellent basic color for women.  However, a black suit is usually not recommended for men.  Black suits are associated with the service industry because waiters wear these. Another tip for men is always leave the last button undone when you are wearing a suit. This is a fashion industry standard.

Wear work-appropriate clothes

Stay away from clothing that is loaded with logos as these may be associated with controversial topics. 

Women should avoid wearing leggings or clothing with purposeful holes in the corporate world.  Wear skirts that are a little above the knees or longer. Stay away from micro minis, at least for interviews.  Wear tights or opaque pantyhose under a short skirt. 

Avoid jumping on new fashion trends

Canada is always a little further behind trends so fashionable choices may look odd in this setting.

Women in Amsterdam are wearing voluminous and boxy blazers right now. However, since this trend has not yet reached Canada, wearing these would make you look like you are wearing an outfit that is too big for you. In men’s fashion, oversized and pleated pants are back on trend.  However, classic flat front pants are recommended as these are universally flattering.

Compliment your outfit with the right accessories

Wear the accessories you want to wear as long as these are in good shape and polished.

Your outfit is an expression of who you are.  You want to be able to express this through your accessories as well.  So, wear the accessories you want to wear as long as these are in good shape and polished.  For example, you don’t have to wear a watch.  However, if you decide to wear one, make sure that the battery is in good condition.

While expressing yourself, be mindful of cultural appropriation with accessories because Canada is a highly multicultural society.  Also remember not to wear any kind of political affiliation buttons at first or for interviews.  

Men should be cognizant of the subtle language of tie color. Colors mean many different things throughout the world. These may also be associated with political views or advocacy. Find out what colors might mean in the North American culture. Canada is a lot more relaxed than the fashion capitals of the world in terms of the level of details in clothing. You don’t have to worry about matching the metal tone or color of your accessories, shoes and wallet.

Keep it neat

Ensure that your clothes have no missing buttons, are clean, and are not wrinkly.  If you don’t have access to a steamer or an iron, hang your wrinkly garments in the bathroom while taking a hot shower.  The warm steam will relax some of the wrinkles out.

Wear a pair of clean and polished shoes.   Make sure that your laces are in good shape and that they are not falling apart. Confirm that your glasses are clean.

Transition your interview outfits to a casual business look

It is important to keep your attire classy even if your company has a relaxed dress code.

You don’t have to buy new sets of outfits once you get a job. 

Women can wear flowy tops and stretchy fabrics instead of the structured clothing that is commonly worn for interviews.  You can don a cardigan instead of a blazer.  You can also wear denim in some office settings.   A collared shirt with a V neck sweater or a zippered sweater can be part of a casual business outfit for men.

It is important to keep your attire classy even if your company has a relaxed dress code. You want to have an edge and a more managerial vibe about you. Never wear shorts, open-toed sandals, or flip flops. Do not wear sports memorabilia, a hoodie, or a cap to a corporate setting. 

Stay true to who you are

Your outfit is an expression of who you are in your faith.  You don’t have to work your faith around the corporate world. You can find ways to honor your culture visually. Don’t feel like you have to dress like everyone else but be respectful within certain parameters. 

Staying true to who you are is a bigger challenge for women since a woman’s body is a political minefield.  Everybody has an opinion on a woman’s clothes, weight, and body shape. But do not feel pressured to wear clothes that you are not comfortable in. This also applies to wearing make-up or heels.  If you don’t like wearing makeup or high heels, don’t wear these just because everyone else is.

Find the right balance between expressing who you are and being a little conservative

Find the right balance between expressing who you are and being a little conservative.

The corporate world is still conservative in terms of appropriate work outfit.  A full sleeve of visible tattoos may not be acceptable.  Wear a blazer or sweater on top of a sleeveless top since employers still expect women to wear sleeves for the most part. Avoid wearing blue mascara or blue eye shadows.

You have a lot to offer in corporate Canada, and you can highlight your confidence, capabilities and passion with the right outfit.

Katrina Macadaeg
Katrina Macadaeg

Katrina Macadaeg immigrated to Canada from the Philippines in 2011.  She is now a Quality Specialist in the food manufacturing industry.  Katrina was a beneficiary of several non-profit organizations so she understands the impact of community involvement to newcomers.  She now gives back to her community as a passionate volunteer, mentor, and public speaker.
Contact Katrina at katrina@immigrantmuse.ca.

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