Here’s the situation: You’ve just finished your school year and you’re on the prowl for an office summer job. As a starving student you may not have a lot of resources, and while the black AC/DC T-shirt, army pant and Detroit Tigers cap combo has done the job until now (at least it always has for me), you’re entering the paycheque world — an environment where how you look is almost as important, if not just as important, as what you know.

“It’s true that appearance isn’t everything, but it is the first thing people notice and often judge you on,” says Laura Shankland of H&M Canada. “You only get once chance to make a first impression.”

Professional wardrobes are possible on a tight budget, the experts say. Gap Inc. fashion consultant Tara Wickwire says whether you’re a man or a woman, you can’t lose with a basic three-piece suit. It can be worn together, or can be broken up and paired with other pieces you’ve got hanging in the closet, especially if you stick to the neutrals (meaning grey, blue and khaki). Do yourself a favour and pick up a white shirt while you’re at it as well — it’s among the most versatile and polished pieces of office wear you can own, Wickwire says.

“Keep your foundations to a basic palette and then accessorize with colour in bags, belts or even heels,” Wickwire says. “That way, you create a lot of options for yourself.”

“Choose key separates such as cotton or linen blazers and pants for men. Women can wear the same but also have the option of selecting a skirt or dress,” notes Shankland. “Add an accent colour in the shirt or with an accessory, such as a scarf for women or a pocket handkerchief for men. For summer 2008, the predominant colours are dark brown, bright red and turquoise.”

Be careful with those options, however. Even though it is summertime, the often unspoken rules for attire in the office still apply.

Short sleeve and three-quarter blazers are a growing trend for ladies, Wickwire says. They allow you to keep cool without showing too much skin.

In a place of business, Shankland says you’re better off erring on the side of caution.

“Keep it simple and don’t go over the top with bold patterns or by over-accessorizing,” says Shankland. “Keep overly summery items for outside the office, and don’t reveal too much skin. Save your flip-flops for the weekend.”

But above all else, the experts say, you should find a style and comfort level that works for you, and a look that says you’re an individual, you know what you’re doing and you’re confident that you’re right for the job.

“The most important thing when selecting clothes for job hunting is to ensure that you will be comfortable in what you are wearing,” Shankland says.

“You need to let your true personality show and you definitely don’t want to be adjusting your garments during the interview.”

Latest From ...