concrete jungle: a field guide for fashionable temps

As I've mentioned before, I work for a temp agency. It can be a great way to experience a bunch of different companies and jobs, as well as a way to keep working in-between full-time jobs. I started working as a temp when I started college, because I could get placed over summers and breaks without having to worry about applying/reapplying. Plus, I got experience a lot of interesting places (offices, hospitals, call centers) instead of just your usual retail work. Being a temp can be nerve-wracking, because you basically have to learn a new job every few weeks (if you're lucky and get placed a lot!), and there are plenty of tricks you can use to get through a new placement with ease and style! (These tips are also applicable for pretty much any new job! But temping is my specialty.)

The First Day
the temp

This is probably the most monochromatic set I've ever created, and with good reason. Your first day is not the day to take fashion risks. If you've gone through the full process of applying and interviewing for a job, you probably have a decent idea about the office culture/expectations. As a temp, it's pretty likely you'll be thrown in headfirst. If you're in an office environment, there is no way to go wrong with a white blouse and a neutral colored skirt (pencil or A-line of approximately knee-length). Stick with nude/neutral makeup and toned down accessories. You might feel a little blah, but it's better to look a little bit too generic when compared with a more stylish office than to seem flashy compared to a conservative one. Get a feel for the style landscape your first day--pay particular attention to what the person training you (who is probably the person you'll be filling in for) is wearing.

Consider this to figure out the office style:
  • What colors do you see? Is it all neutrals (navy, black, beige) or are there brighter colors?

  • What kinds of shoes are people of your identity wearing? Heels? Loafers? Flats? A mix?

  • Is there a wide range of clothing based on department or level of authority? Are the executives wearing suits, but no one else is? Do the IT people have sneakers on, but everyone else has dress shoes?

  • What's the temperature like in the office? Does it get hot around noon? Is the A/C on full-blast?

  • Are there tattoos on display? Non-earlobe piercings? What about "non-traditional" hair colors?

The other great way to figure out what's okay in a new office setting style-wise is to ask. For the most part, places will give you a broad definition (like "professional attire" or "business casual") and it's easy enough to pick up on the specifics yourself while training. But if you're unsure or have a special question that you can't pick up through observation, it's always best to ask outright!

Outfit Remix

pencil gradient

What I've tried to do here is create a theoretical gradient of office appropriate clothing, showing the same basic outfit (a pencil skirt and a white blouse) in three different levels of professional attire. On the right is obviously the most conservative, for a "suits and ties" sort of office. We're keeping things neutral still, not a lot of style experimenting going on. The middle is a more medium grade office, where you can get away with some flash but still want to keep things buttoned-up. We're incorporating color and pattern, and having a little bit of fun with the shoes. The left is fairly unlikely in terms of temp placement, as far as I can tell, but would be great for a very vibrant, creative office or team. Lots of color and style, getting bold with the color combinations and very trendy with the jewelry. I picked flats for all of these outfits because I usually prefer to work in them--you never know when you'll be asked to make 10+ round trips up and down a flight of stairs to the copy machine!

A fashionista still has to be stylish at work, but the corporate world has its dictates. These are particularly stringent when you're a temp; there are no guarantees, and you really want to make a good impression (who knows, if they like you enough they might keep you!). Fashion is, of course, only a small part of that. Be as friendly and diligent as possible...just because it's not a permanent gig doesn't mean you can put in half the effort. You get back whatever you give, as they say.

Have you ever worked as a temp? Made a fashion faux pas at a new job? I've been pretty lucky so far as far as fashion goes...although I did make the mistake of wearing a new skirt to work without sitting down in it first. It rode up a lot higher than I expected and definitely took some finagling to stay "office appropriate" while at my desk!

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