Sekou Ma’at spends much of his workday in the company of teenagers. He speaks their language and knows how to relate to them on their level. At 29, it’s not hard for him. Indeed, his easy style of communicating could put just about anyone at ease. But as a professional-and a role model determined to show those teenagers how important they are to him-he knows that he can’t let his attire match his casual conversation.
A social worker dedicated to improving the community, Ma’at could never be mistaken for one of the volunteers who work with him. A fan of three-piece suits and professional-looking ties, he dresses more like a corporate executive than a kid from “around the way.”
“There are days when I feel like rolling in to work in some sweats,” laughs the director of New York City Youthline, a division of the city’s Department of Youth and Community Development. “But I would never do it. In order to be a professional, you have to dress like one,” he adds.
It’s an inevitable fact of life: suiting up for the job is a necessary part of establishing a successful career-or business, if you’re an aspiring entrepreneur. But after years of wearing relaxed clothes, making the fashion transition from college sweats to career suits may take some getting used to. It did for Michael Bell, an account executive for WTNH-TV, an ABC affiliate in New Haven, Connecticut.
“I was strictly a jeans and T-shirt kind of guy,” says Bell, 28, of his undergraduate days at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. “Making the jump to a more professional style was tough.” It took a mentor-who went so far as to contribute to Bell’s then-sparse collection of suits-in the earliest stages of his career to help him craft the basics of a great workplace-ready image. The investment has since paid off. “It took a little while for me to acquire a taste for fine professional fashion,” he admits. “Now, I would dress up even if it wasn’t required.”
If you’re wondering when you should begin building a professional wardrobe, the time is now. “Creating a professional image takes time and planning,” says Mary Lou Andre, president of Organization By Design (www.dressingwell.com), a wardrobe management consulting firm in Needham, Massachusetts. “Therefore, you’ll want to get started early, before you land a job.”
When it comes time to make your entrance into the world of work, you’ll want to make sure your appearance is as on target as your qualifications. Ditto for when you’re ready to move on to bigger and better professional things. With some guidance from our experts, you too can master the three dictates of professional fashion-without losing your own personal sense of style.
#1: Get Dressed to Impress
Shantel Goodman knew she looked good when she went off-site to meet her first client. “I wore a blue suit, a scarf and heels,” says the real estate advertising sales representative for The Washington Post in Washington, D.C. The only problem was that she wasn’t dressed appropriately for