“Your secret is that you don’t care as much as they do. You’re aloof to it all. Your job does not define you. You’re a chameleon, capable of playing their little game but not married to it.“
Wear a blazer on the first day. (You’re thinking, “Wow, she just jumps right into the nuts-and-bolts, huh? No clever intro, no scene-setting ‘color’ — just: boom, blazer. Wear a blazer.”) I’m serious. If at least the top half of you is wearing a suit, you will get respect. If your temp gigs are like mine, ones in which you’re babysitting the front desk because the receptionist rear-ended someone at a red light and has to be in court that day, and your day sometimes involves mindless tasks other people don’t want to do such as cutting out zillions of tiny name tags by hand or Scotch-taping Cheesecake Factory receipts to pieces of scrap paper to go into expense-report files, or taking care of the dishes or refilling the rolls of toilet paper in the employee bathroom — respect is crucial. People are already going to walk right by you without saying hello because you have the temp stamp branded upon your chest, hovering in a dim halo over your pate. They are already going to wonder whether it is worth the emotional investment to so much as learn your name, for you seem to them a creature as ephemeral as a cherry blossom. They are already going to wonder what your “deal” is, what shaky set of circumstances led to your accepting this job as a corporate babysitter. They will do all of this regardless of whether you heed my advice and wear a blazer. But at least you will feel better about yourself if you wear a blazer. Trust me on this.
After the first day, you have already worn a blazer, so you have proven yourself to be someone capable of projecting a professional image. However, the second day will set a pattern. Don’t wear a blazer again, or you will seem at best clueless and at worst insane. People will pity you: “Aww, I bet this is the only office she has ever worked in! She’s got her big-girl clothes on!” No, it is not the only time you have worked in an office, and you don’t want to let them get away with thinking that. So don’t wear a blazer the second day. But still look nice. I suggest a button-down shirt and a skirt or pants that are not khakis. In some fancier offices, khakis are for casual Fridays. A button-down shirt, a skirt or non-khaki pants — and nice shoes. I have actually known older people who judge a person’s character by his or her shoes. This is undeniably lame but a fact of life, and I am here to impart unto you facts of life, not tell you fairy tales. So wear your nice shoes. And not too much jewelry, especially not earrings if you are answering the phone all the goddamn time like I am.
A few days into the gig, if it’s a longer-term one lasting weeks or even a month or more, you will very likely want to dress a little flirty. No, not to win over some sleazy VIP — just to feel good about yourself. To remember that you are a woman and not an office-bot. There are probably appealing dudes (and chicks, if you prefer or also like those) who work in this office, and they are probably at least remotely in your age range. Perhaps you, like me, are in a satisfying and committed relationship. Well, good for you. Still, it’s only human to want members of the gender to which you are attracted to find *you* attractive, to wonder during idle moments what you’re like outside of the office, to imagine how charming you could be after a glass of wine or a cocktail, to envision you dancing at a club or having a relaxed non-work conversation at a low-key party. In short, to be able to conceive a version of you who is *not* glued to the reception desk with a phone to her ear. So go for it. You have my permission. Wear a clingy dress that is still long enough to pass for office-appropriate, so that if the schoolmarmish HR lady raises her eyebrows you can shrug innocently because the hem is in fact the required-by-some-stupid-
If you feel like trying something a little more advanced, especially if you’ve landed a longer-term gig, and *especially* if you fancy being offered something full-time (i.e. non-temp) and away from the reception desk — dress down. No, I’m serious. While wearing a blazer on Day 1 shows you know how to at least “walk the walk” of a serious professional if need be, dressing down connotes confidence. It means you are *not* some chump sweating in an interview suit in the lobby, incessantly clearing your throat and clutching your resume and straightening your tie. It means you are *not* so hungry for professional approval that you’ll mince about all day with your feet pinched in stilettos only to slip moaning into fuzzy-bunny slippers once you get home. Wear something comfy — jeans on a day that isn’t Friday, even. Wear shoes that are flat, and just look around you at all the high-heeled women shooting you jealous poison darts with their eyes. They only wish they felt that secure. What’s your secret?
Your secret is that you don’t care as much as they do. You’re aloof to it all. Your job does not define you. You’re a chameleon, capable of playing their little game but not married to it. You are not a delicate candle quivering in the economic winds — you’re not a candle at all. You have night vision, and will see what’s what long after they have run out of flashlights.
*For women! But there’s probably some way to apply this to male temps, too. That’s up to you, though–we can only do so much.