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André Leon Talley's top work wardrobe tips for millennials

"You are not all that. You can’t wear just anything," says the contributing editor for Vogue.
Image: Vogue Contributing Editor Andre Leon Talley
Vogue Contributing Editor Andre Leon Talley at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on June 18, 2017 in New York.Taylor Hill / Getty Images file

So you nailed your interview and got your dream job or internship. It turns out, what you wear at work matters a great deal too.

You may think it sounds superficial, but how you look says a lot about you—whether you’re organized, laid-back, fashion-forward, creative or serious. It influences how our co-workers and bosses treat us – and, just as importantly, how we feel about ourselves.

André Leon Talley, contributing editor for Vogue, recently shared with Mika Brzezinski and I, some tough love advice for my generation:

Millennials need to have (clothing) guidelines. You are not all that. You can’t wear just anything.

Andre Leon Talley

I learned this lesson awkwardly. When I interned in the offices of Bad Boy Entertainment in New York City in 2012, I was surrounded by larger-than-life women executives who were dressed to the nines – oftentimes in brand name dresses and stilettos. So I decided to give the old “dress for the job you want” advice a try.

One morning, one of the women executives called me over to give me my task for the day. Proudly, I walked over strutting my new knockoff designer dress and high heels. I approached her desk. She looked me up and down. Surely she was going to comment on how fashion-forward I looked – or so I thought.

Instead, she smirked at my 20-year-old self “I know you're trying to do your ‘thing,' but right now I need you to go upstairs and assemble the swag closet,” she told me. #Fail. 

Lesson learned: As an intern, dressing the part of an executive wasn't the best idea.

But don’t take it from me. Take it from Talley. The fashion guru recently gave Know Your Value work style tips that go beyond simply “dressing for the part you want.”

Know Your Value's millennial contributor, Daniela Pierre-Bravo, and fashion editor Andre Leon Talley.Courtesy of Daniela Pierre-Bravo

Here are Talley’s dos and don’ts:

Stick to the basics:

The good news? You don’t have to spend a fortune looking work-ready. Talley believes you should stick to the basics when you first start out. “You can put on a blouse from H&M.” He added, “A simple skirt, I don’t care what the skirt is, or a simple pair of pants from Uniqlo, and just a pair of black shoes.”

Nix the haute couture

Talley has seen his fair share of young professionals make risky fashion choices to stand out. You may think you need those expensive shoes or brand name dresses. But the reality is, if you are an intern or are just starting out, you’ll be tasked with doing some grunt work. So keeping it simple with your clothes is your best bet. 

Talley also touched on this issue in Mika’s book, Growing Your Value, when he shared the story of a time he was interviewing applicants to become his assistant.

Hoping to impress him, one job candidate came in wearing Gucci and Calvin Klein. But what he really thought was: “She spent more time preparing the right brand, or what she thinks I would like, because it’s Vogue, than the substance when I am asking her questions!”

But don’t go too casual

With that being said, simple is not the same as casual, and as Talley says, “Casual is not the way.” You have to show you care.

Casual in college is one thing. You don’t have to be dressed in a certain way, or dressed to the nines. But you’ve got to be neat. You’ve got to be presentable and mannered

Andre Leon Talley

Pay attention to the details

According to Talley, a big part of style (aside from the clothes you wear) is presentation. Those details matter big time. He recalled a time he was at a hotel restaurant for the holidays and a college-aged woman was waiting on him. Aside from her not being attentive and avoiding eye contact, he remembered, “She had the worst nails. She had chipped her nail polish.”

Talley, known for his bold personality, decided to do something about it. “I went to the manager of the hotel and told him, ‘She has got to get it together,’ because that girl is unpresentable.” It worked. The next time he saw the young woman, she seemed like a different person.

She changed her attitude, suddenly saying things like, “Good morning Mr. Talley. It’s a lovely day, isn’t it?” She started following up with him, being attentive and making sure he was being taken care of. “And then I see that she has clean nails! She just had simple but clean nails, not some vampire goth-looking thing,” he said.

Don’t over-accessorize

Another big “don’t” in the workplace according to Talley? “Lots of earrings”

“I don’t care if you are male or female. Lots of earrings in the ear are just terrible. Nose rings are forbidden in the workplace. Earrings yes, but a nose ring… Nose rings are forbidden.”

Show you care

Work style is also in the way you present yourself, so take some pressure off yourself by keeping it simple with the clothes you wear and focus more on the way you carry yourself.

That includes your body language and your presence. “Bottom line is you have to show you care, that you are alert, and that you are present. Showing you care in the full package,” said Talley.

Daniela Pierre-Bravo is Know Your Value's millennial contributor. Learn more about her here.