Navigating workplace fashion is no easy task, and knowing whether to dress to impress or to take a step back and dress conventionally is key to making the right impression.

For the Y Generation currently entering the labour force, the quandary over what to wear is perhaps one of their greatest challenges. Also known as the Millennials, the Gen Y'ers are in their late teens and early 20s and have been raised on a diet of pure consumerism – they will buy something (particularly fashion) because buying is a part of life, as opposed to their predecessors, the Gen X'ers who buy because they want or need it. Gen Y'ers are powerful and enthusiastic consumers and have become easy targets for smart marketers.

Not only do these up-and-coming professionals bring new outlooks, skills, strengths and challenges to their employers, but they are also upping the fashion stakes in the corporate world.

According to Kim Meszaros, marketing executive of workforce management solutions company, Kelly, "Gen Y'ers are without a doubt particularly savvy when it comes to the latest fashion trends and styles, but the appropriateness of these trends in the corporate world depends on your career choice and the actual office environment."

How trendy should you be?

Meszaros says it is important, particularly in times of economic downturns such as the one we are currently experiencing, that employees don't fall into the trap of becoming fashion victims. "Fashions change so fast that, unless you have an unlimited budget, it is difficult to keep up with all the latest trends," explains Steadman.

"It would be more beneficial to think economy and style, buy a couple of good pieces of clothing, and rather accessorize to dress up the outfit or to make it more voguish," she adds.

"It will be your ability to dress well - and with self-expression - which will earn you more respect in the workplace than blindly following every single fashion trend."

Corporate culture and your style

The nature of the work and your age also impacts on the choice of workplace fashion, factors which workplace fashion trends tend not to distinguish between.

Whereas retail clothing stores tend to actively encourage the wearing of the latest styles, a more professional or corporate environment requires a more professional approach to workplace fashion. But professional attire does not necessarily infer boring.

Meszaros says: "Accessorising with shoes, watches, scarves, bags and jewelry opens up limitless – and relatively inexpensive – possibilities for changing the look of an outfit. Good accessories can personalise an outfit and give it flair, without being inappropriate."

Meszaros concludes that the corporate world is a tough world, and looking your best at work will not only determine how your colleagues perceive you, but could also impact on your chances of advancement. "It is vitally important that you are conscious of your appearance at work and the impact it has on making the right impression."

Kelly, a division of the Kelly Group Ltd, is South Africa's largest national workforce management & productivity solutions brand.  Reference: International Labour Organisation, Switzerland.2010.

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