Is it possible to dress professionally for a physical job?

Recently, a discussion sprang up in the comments of my favorite blog, Corporette. The question was: If you have a job with physical requirements, such as moving boxes, lifting things, standing on step-ladders, etc, is it still possible to dress professionally?

I think it absolutely is possible. Are there challenges? Of course! Can you wear anything you want? Nope. I don’t really have “typical” days at the office–my days are almost always different, depending on if I’m traveling and working on the same day, attending meetings, doing presentations, or attending expo type of events. On days with meetings or presentations, I can pretty much wear what I want, as long as it’s professional. On travel days, I make sure to wear pants in case of additional airport screening or cold airplanes. And on expo days, well, those are the days that I have to plan ahead.

A typical expo day can involve moving, lifting, and opening boxes; crawling under tables to make sure that wires and cables are connected; standing on chairs or stepladders to hang things; moving tables and chairs into position; and then, of course, the actual expo where I have to present to clients. On those days, the optimal outfit would be tennis shoes, yoga pants, and a long sleeve tee-shirt. Except for that whole dressing professionally thing. The next best thing is to wear an outfit made of professional pieces that FEELS like tennis shoes, yoga pants, and a long sleeve tee-shirt.

My typical expo day outfit includes:

  • Black slacks with stretch. Black because it will hide any dirt I may have picked up crawling around on the ground. And stretch because with all of the bending and moving I do, I need pants that will move with me and still retain their shape.
  • Cute, professional, longer-length knit top. Cute and professional are obvious ones here. I prefer longer length tops for the same reason I want pants with stretch–I move so much I want a top that will move with me, and I prefer not to show any skin when hanging things. Because I am busty, I worry about wearing button down shirts gaping while setting up a room, and knit tops are great because they also have a bit of stretch.
  • Comfortable flats. After all of the room setup I often have to do, I have to be on my feet presenting for hours. I need supportive flats, and my sense of style means they have to also be fabulous. Many of my shoes also have gel inserts. Any type of professional-looking flat will work.

Sometimes, it is so tempting to dress too casually. No one will care! I think to myself. They probably won’t even notice what I’m wearing! That may be true. But regardless of whether people notice what I’m wearing or not, I feel more confident and in charge when wearing something professional. If someone did notice that I was wearing tennis shoes, they may not judge me. But I want to make a good impression on my clients, showing that I take them and the job I do for them seriously. So I will wear my nice clothes, making sure that they are comfortable and will move with me. That way I can do the job I came to do and look great doing it.

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  1. I agree. As a teacher, who moves all day long, I always try to find a balance between clothes that will let me be active and clothes that “look professional.” I think clothes are easier than finding shoes that will A) allow me stand all day and B)not make me look old and frumpy.

  2. I made the mistake of telling my wife the other day, after spending all day with her teaching in her 1st grade classroom, that I thought she wore a blouse that was too evening-party-wear for school.

    Now I feel like I need Dear Abigail advice.

    She questioned me the past two mornings about her attire before leaving the house. Now when I am being asked for fashion advice I know her world is turned around.

    How do I get out of being a fashion consultant?

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