Dress Tips for Foreign Professionals on Their First Day in Korea

Starting a new job can be very intimidating, and the pressure to make a good impression is sometimes scarier than actually doing the work itself. For those starting work in a foreign country, this is especially true, as they must contend with adapting to a completely new cultural and professional environment. 

Often times the first question a new employee asks themselves for their first day of work is, “What am I going to wear?” A very simple but important question, and one that is hard to answer for foreigners in Korea. The first impression is widely considered to be the most impactful, and thus, when done well, can show both professionalism and competence. 


The first thing to consider when choosing your outfit is what sort of company you will be working for. Are you working at a large corporate firm or a small start-up? Is your company in a creative industry or in a more business-oriented one? These sorts of questions will help determine what a proper outfit is to wear. For more professional and business-like working environments, I recommend formal business clothing for the first day. For men, this could include a suit and tie, whereas for women, it might be a pantsuit or a nice skirt. For colors, I recommend matte, reserved colors, such as shades of black and white. Korean fashion is saturated with colors like these, so choosing them is always a safe choice. 

For a smaller, startup-like company, the first-day outfit might look slightly different. As someone that has worked for a smaller Korean company for over a month now, I feel I have a much better idea of what is common for these sorts of companies. For the first day, it is safe to come in business formal clothing; however, you might feel a bit overdressed. The same sort of colors as previously stated can be chosen, but for smaller colors, there is a bit more leeway to show more personality. Perhaps a designed or colorful tie could be just the right touch. 

After the first day, everything becomes much easier. It will be up to you to gauge what to wear in the following days. By looking at your coworkers and supervisor, it is as simple as just matching what they wear to work. For many companies, this may look like dress shirts and nice pants, but it will depend from company to company. If you are still nervous, the safest option is to ask your supervisor what you are expected to wear for work, but sometimes this might feel a bit awkward, especially with a person you just met. Now you are ready to tackle every workday, looking your sharpest. 

But what does all of this mean for packing? I know that when I was getting ready to leave, this was among the hardest decisions of all. Firstly, I recommend bringing at least 5 dress shirts and dress pants/skirts, ideally of different colors, but this is not required. These will be for the different days of the week. I also recommend bringing at least one formal business outfit. I would only say to bring more than one if you are absolutely certain that you will need more than one, as they take up a lot of luggage space and a difficult to transport. For more casual clothing, polo shirts are acceptable, or nice button-down shirts. There you have it! Armed with your new knowledge of work clothes, you will be sure to nail your first day and leave a lasting impression on your coworkers and boss! 

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