By Whitney Matusiak
I haven’t always worked freelance. I spent eight years in an office where the dress code was business casual, which loosely translated to dressing well, but not trendily, not comfortably, and certainly not better than my clients or boss.
One year ago, I started working freelance, and I went from itchy-waist dress pants and impossible-to-wash knit sweaters to the other extreme: pajamas. Not only had the mighty fallen, but they were also still in bed.
And so the big question is, what should I wear?
Where are you working?
Rather than asking where you are working, perhaps the better question is, where aren’t you working? Your wardrobe requirements may vary with location—home, cafés, libraries, and shared offices. Check out the wardrobe norms for your hot spots and suss out the how-tos of being an office of one.
Consider layering your clothing so that you can cool off or warm up as needed. If you carry books, paperwork, or a laptop from destination to destination, invest in a proper bag or backpack. Comfortable but well-maintained shoes will also help you on your trek. Remember, these accessories are just as important as your clothing and can say a lot about you.
Be sensitive to your surroundings and apply an age-appropriate and culturally sensitive wardrobe. Beware the denim trap. Jeans may be completely acceptable, but avoid distressed washes, rips and tears, and frayed cuffs. And be mindful of clothing that is too low-cut, too big, too small, too short, or even too long.
Who will you be seeing?
Sometimes your job takes you on assignment—perhaps to your client’s place of work. While your wardrobe should be an expression of yourself, consider what dress codes your clients may have in place and endeavour to stand out in a good way.
Your wardrobe is a large part of the first impression you make. Bright, bold colours and patterns may match a boisterous and energetic personality; pastel or monochromatic attire may indicate someone who is tempered and introspective. Consider blending the extremes to create a wardrobe your clients will find approachable—and remember they may not have the same personality type as you.
Above all, find a way to add a personal touch to your style. The author-editor relationship begins with a personal connection, and your wardrobe should say something positive about you. Scruffy, unkempt, and worn-out attire can send all the wrong messages.
What will you be doing?
Comfort is key. Don’t fight your wardrobe. When you get dressed, consider what you’ll be doing that day. Some tasks—interviews, computer work, event coverage, or travel—require added stylistic consideration.
Don’t let your clothing restrict you in a way that affects ergonomics. If your outfit is ill-fitting or not well-suited for long hours in front of a computer, make an adjustment toward comfort. There’s no rule about selecting an outfit that works for the whole day. Costume changes aren’t just for celebrities—you too can change for meetings or long hours at the computer. And consider bringing a change of clothes if your day warrants something different.
Lastly, accidents happen, but there are a number of things you can do to avoid showing up with a coffee stain. On-the-go stain removers, emergency clothes, or buffer time for a quick shopping trip are great solutions to uh-oh moments.
The existential bit—who am I?
If you’re like me, and fashion doesn’t come easily, this experience may be unpleasant. Give yourself some time to experiment. Start simply with inexpensive staples that meet many of your needs. And pare down what you know doesn’t meet your, or your client’s, expectations.
Get advice from friends and family, and use accessories to enhance what you have. A smart-looking laptop bag might be a good first step, as it shows care for yourself and your work—a perfect first impression.
If you keep class and consideration in mind, you’ll never be out of place.
Whitney Matusiak is a freelance writer and editor for Jean Marie Creatively, providing copywriting, substantive, and copy editing services for corporate, academic, trade, and lifestyle publications.
This article was copy edited by Michelle Schriver.