The issue with being told you “look so young” in a professional setting isn’t the judgment cast upon your appearance, the assumption that it’s based on, or even the underlying ageism. It’s about what this statement invites and implies in and of itself. Allow me to explain.
Being Taiwanese American, I’m used to be told I look younger for my age. For the record, I am 32 years old, and most people I meet for the first time think I’m in my mid 20’s. So, there’s literally the way my face looks, and I get it. I take it as a compliment when people tell me I look younger than my age.
But it’s a different story when I’m at work.
There are certain risks involved in being thought of as “the young one”. It means you may be perceived to be inexperienced, unreliable, unpredictable. It could also translate to passed up promotions, missed opportunities, or just lack of attention or resources given to you
I am very conscious of what I do that could potentially fuel the “young” image I apparently have. But there is an important distinction that needs to be made: you can have a “young” appearance, but you can’t have a “young” reputation. You can get away with looking more youthful in your appearance, but you can’t be perceived to be juvenile or immature.
So, what can one do to avoid being perceived juvenile or immature? It’s body language, the vocabulary you choose, your reaction to things, and so many more. But at the very minimum, dress the part. Picking the right clothes, makeup, and footwear is the quickest way to look professional and avoid looking “too young.” Here are some tried-and-true rules to live by:
1) Balance the looseness and tightness in items of clothing
Clothing that is too baggy or too tight tends to be too casual or flat out inappropriate. Casualness combined with other factors that indicate you are “too young”, is detrimental to your professional image. Avoid baggy pants, baggy (“boyfriend”) shirts. Tight clothing also needs to be handled with care when it comes to creating your ensemble. If they show the lines of your undergarment, of create a cleavage or show anything your grandmother wouldn’t approve of, it’s too tight for the office.
2) Stick with neutrals; unless you know how to navigate colors like a pro
Black, gray, white, and beige ALWAYS work. And most of the time they work well with each other too. 60% of my work wardrobe is black and white, and the rest are either blush-pink, gray, or beige. I have a few fun and more statement pieces that I will mix into my ensemble sometimes but most of the time I stick with neutrals.
Working with a lot of colors is more difficult but not impossible. It’s reserved for the master dressers (like Chanele McFarlane on Do Well Dress Well) when you know it fits your brand and what is flattering and appropriate.
3) Be mindful of your accessories
I’ll be very specific here. When I first started working about 5-6 years ago, I loved wearing bows. Think the beginning of ModCloth and Lulu’s…I could not get enough of bows (on me)! I thought the look fell along the lines of prim and proper and that I could get away with it. In hindsight, it was probably too cutesy to wear a bow on your hair, bag, shoes, however small it is. There’s just something very school girl-y about bows. Avoid them at all costs.
The point is this: it’s okay to have personality and show it in your outfits but don’t let your accessories define your professional brand.
4) Professional & quality shoes only
I think those of us in California are probably the serial offenders for this one. The “west coast casual” is a common dress code that you will see in a lot of offices. I, for one, always try to sneak in sandals days at work and always on the look for comfortable but professional looking sandals.
However, even with west coast casual, there’s still a line not to be crossed. The sandals I would wear to the office tend to have heels, and they have to look quality. Most of the time, Banana Republic, and Ann Taylor sandals are pretty safe.
Oh, and no flip-flops. That’s a no-brainer.
Lastly, sneakers. They probably used to be a big no-no for corporate offices, but with some of the leather sneakers they’re making these days, you can sometimes get away with a sneaker outfit in the corporate office setting.
5) Use a grown-up and low profile bag
When I first started working, I had this overall bag that was in this crazy zebra print. One of these days I’ll dig it out of my closet and show you guys a picture of it. It was roomy, easy to carry, fit the monstrosity of a laptop I had, and it was comfortable to wear. I LOVED that bag. But in hindsight, it was a disastrous bag to take to the office especially when I had just started. It signaled that I was not prepared for or familiar with the kind of environment I was getting into. In the grand scheme of things, it was forgivable because I WAS new and I did quickly change out my bag.
What are some of the young professional faux pas you’ve seen in the office? What did you use to wear that makes you cringe when you think about it now? Comment below and since I shared all my embarrassing stories, it’s only fair that you do! LOL.