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Mastering the Civilian Uniform to Improve Your Employment Opportunities


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civilian uniformService-members seldom have trouble getting their hands on a good job once they’ve transitioned to the civilian sector. With a reputation for dedication, integrity and an adroit capacity to learn new skills, these men and women are excellent candidates for employment. Unfortunately, after years of being told what to wear and how to wear it, many former military find it difficult to master the art of civilian dress.

As fresh-faced recruits, they learned uniform regulations from impassioned drill instructors–pointing out “Irish pennants” (a stray/loose thread on a uniform) and other imperfections in their camouflaged BDUs. In the course of time, many servicepersons become first-rate examples of uniform codification.

Soldierly Similarities

A clean, polished appearance, along with an attention detail, can go a long way in the military. Likewise, it is no different in the civilian world. Only this time, instead of BDU’s and Dress Blues, we’re talking blazers and blouses.

When the times comes to push on/retire from the armed forces and seek a new job in the private sector, you will need appropriate civilian attire–not only for that first interview, but once you’ve secured the job. Below, you’ll find general guidelines for an appropriate wardrobe, post-military career.

The Interview

First impressions–they can make or break you on certain occasions. A prime example: Job interviews.

During these oral examinations, the way you look can mean the difference between the unemployment line and the job of your dreams. Depending on your field of work, the general staple in regards to men’s attire is a suit. Something dark, something tailored and something constructed of quality material (silk or wool).

But remember, you don’t want to out-dress the interviewer. Simple is better.

In regards to women, either slacks or a conservative skirt are suggested. Combined with an oxford shirt and blazer, you’re guaranteed to make a great first impression. Although stilettos may look great, stick to something mid-heel. Keep make-up on the traditional side, as well, and avoid too much perfume.

Bear in mind, these suggestions generally relate to executive/managerial positions. Assure your wardrobe is appropriate for the line of work you seek.

Gainfully Employed

So, you got the job–drinks on you tonight. But after the celebration, take some time out to invest in a quality wardrobe.

In today’s business culture, there are three main categories of attire:

  • Most common: professional dress. As the name suggests, it consists of professional attire (i.e. suit, slacks and a tie). For women, business or pants suit fit the bill.
  • Up next: business casual. Consisting of a relaxed version of professional dress, men need not wear a tie. A moderate length dress or skirt works best for women.
  • Finally, we have what is called campus casual. A relatively new take on business attire, you probably won’t be wearing this much. It is essentially what you wear everyday. Informal office gatherings and casual networking events may call for this type of business wear. Again, lean towards the conservative side–jeans, polo shirt, sneakers, etc.

Ultimately, the best way figure out what is acceptable attire at your place of employment is to watch what other employees wear. Assimilation, although counter to our cult of individuality in America, is the safest best concerning your business attire.

Wardrobe Do’s, Don’ts and a Few Tips

  • If possible, tailor your suit/dress.
  • Learn what clothing flatters your specific body-type.
  • Invest in a quality wardrobe.
  • Cover tattoos and remove facial piercings.
  • A fresh haircut conveys a professional appearance.
  • Post a lint remover in your car for those pesky animal hairs.
  • Remove any political and/or military emblems on your attire.
  • Remember: Black shoes, black belt; brown shoes, brown belt.
  • Avoid extreme styles.
  • If your pants have belt loops, wear a belt.
  • Avoid combining horizontal/vertical lines in your attire.
  • The tip of your tie should fall atop your belt.
  • Just like in the military, polish your shoes.
  • Keep a stain remover pen (such as Tide to Go) at the office.
  • Wear appropriate jewelry.
  • Do not wear overpowering cologne or perfume.
  • Do not wear outlandish hairstyles.

Transitioning from the military to the civilian world can be a very stressful time. This is especially true when seeking out employment in the private sector. From the first interview, to the daily grind, assure you understand your company’s ethos and standards–it’s a proven way to succeed.

Chris Mandia is a Southern California-based writer who writes on Military issues. Serving two tours in Iraq as US Marine machine-gunner, he graduated from Loyola Marymount University 2007 and currently attends the University of Southern California’s graduate film program.