work shoes

Nailing work wear: which shoes should you wear to work?

Why your footwear could make or break your career

Love it or loathe it, you will be judged on your appearance. Fact.

Politicians with competent-looking faces pull greater votes, dominant looking CEO’s and soldiers are more likely to run a profitable company or rise the ranks respectively, and all of us make snap second judgments about someone when first meeting them. ALL of us.

Take these learnings to the workplace, and it’s not hard to realise that dressing the part is all in the game. Want that promotion? Don’t let your work wardrobe be sabotaging the good work you’re actually doing.

We women have a harder time of it than men. Looking attractive, stylish, competent, and – let’s face it – badass, without looking like we popped in to work on our way to the bar, is no easy feat. Men just have to throw on a button up and nice jeans (or suit, if required), and they’re done.

What you wear on your feet could have more impact than you thought. The good news is that once you’ve nailed those couple pairs of work shoes, you’re done. Zip. Finito. Chuck ‘em on and get out the door. Put the effort into finding the perfect pair of work shoes now, and you don’t have to worry about it again.

“Dress for the job you want, not the one you don’t have.”

You've heard this said before, but that doesn’t mean it doesn't have merit. What are the senior female managers wearing in your office? Use their attires for clues, and avoid the university-graduate-in-their-first-role look as soon as you can reasonably afford it.

Take your cues from the sales team, not the tech team.

It’s an unfair rule of life that developers and engineers can get away with the same comfortable jeans and sneakers combo every day of the week, and no one else quite can. Cliches and prejudices aside, they like to sit in the dark and mutter about source code, right? They can get away with wearing whatever they damn well please.

On the flipside, the sales team is dressed to impressed. If you’re meeting clients all day, no one’s going to be overwhelmed with scuffed shoes or peep toes that show off the pedicure you didn’t quite get around to booking. See what they wear. Copy it.

Boots are your friend. Use them.

What is it about boots that smooth over any shoe-related sins? Are the heels too high? Not in boots. Bought them three years ago? Boots still look good. Do your shoes take people’s attention away from the kick arse job you’re doing? Unless you thought wearing gumboots to the office was a good idea, probably not.

A good pair of low, chunky heeled boots in black will be your godsend when you’re running late. They go with almost anything, they’re comfy, and that little bit of heel sends the message: “Yes, I’m excellent and efficient at my job, but damn, if I don’t look good doing it.”

Don’t go overboard with the prints.

Every workplace is different. A media agency is governed by a very different set of sartorial rules than a law firm. But vying for the promotion means playing to win. A female-dominated office might go ga-ga over the crocodile-print boat shoes you just bought, but I had an unnamed male employer tell me that these shoes “would almost make me cancel a meeting". Classy.

The frustrating truth is that you don’t get to make the rules. In an ideal world you could wear whatever the hell you wanted, and everyone would simply focus on the work you do. But this is the working world, and not giving upper management a reason to question your judgement counts for something.

Make absolutely sure you can walk in your heels before committing them to an eight hour day.

The sharp click-clack of stilettos on a marble floor implies a woman means business.

The wobbly, click-shuffle of stilettos means a woman didn’t think about how much walking she’d be doing today, and is now more focused on finding a seat and a band aid than whatever you’re saying.

Heels are fine, in the right environment. Just take them out for a good few practise spins first.

When in doubt, go for closed shoes over open.

Traditional workplaces sometimes demand this, for good reason: they look professional. It’s always your judgement call on what your workplace will deem appropriate, but if you’re unsure, err on the side of closed toed caution.

Friends don’t let friends wear scuffed shoes to an interview.

Or they wouldn’t, if this was high school and they were round helping you get ready.

You might know that one person who always looks sharp and schmick and like they stepped out of Forbes Magazine, but that doesn’t mean you have to emulate that – all the time. Giving your shoes a polish every month or so is fine.

Always remember the real goal: to get people (and employers) looking past what you’re wearing and focusing on what you’re doing. That’s what’ll get you promoted anyway, at the end of the day.

12 shoes to wear to work (to nail that promotion)

Evah Leather Ankle Boots
THE ICONIC
ARVIE Chelsea Ankle Boots
ASOS
Brooklyn Loafer
SABA
Lauryn Shootie
SABA
Doll Face Black/Porcelain
Styletread
Windsor Smith Tallie Boots
Beginning Boutique
Boheme Black
Styletread
Cheka
Florsheim
Kimmi Animal Print Bow Ballet Pump
Boohoo
Rachel Zoe
ShopBop.com
GALLOP Court Shoes
Topshop

Alex Bruce-Smith

Alex Bruce-Smith is a publisher at finder.com.au, taking care of shopping & travel. She funds her addiction to online shopping by hunting coupon codes like a pro, and can usually be found waiting anxiously for a package to arrive. #notevensorry

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