Lace Skirts and the Office

Can You Wear Lace to the Office? | CorporetteReader J has a question about lace skirts:

Can you give some advice as to how to wear lace skirts? I bought a black lace skirt, which has a tan lining, a couple of years ago, and have never been able to find anything to pair it with. It hits just below the knee, and is pencil cut. Black blazers don’t look right, and black tops seem to make it all too dark, but the tan lining really makes it impossible to wear another color. I know that the colors lend themselves more to fall or winter, but I could use advice either way. I am guessing that others might have similar problems…

Maybe I’m misunderstanding Reader J’s question, but I think she isn’t asking an important question: are lace skirts appropriate for the office? (In fact, is *any* lace appropriate for the office?)

Let me start by saying that I have owned several lace pieces that I wore to death. I had a great black Ann Taylor lace top a few years ago that was one of my favorite going-out tops with jeans, and a black and white dress with a lace overlay on the bust that I fondly remember wearing to my friend S’s wedding. My wedding dress was chantilly lace.  (Pictured: Josie Natori Dragon Lace Pencil Skirt, available at Saks Fifth Avenue for $295.)

Lace and the office, though, can be tricky. I like to avoid lace trim on camisoles, worrying that they can look too much like lingerie that shouldn’t be seen, and black lace blouses often have too much of a boudoir look for the office.  To me, lace is only appropriate for the office if it’s a) clearly meant to be seen, and b) does not call to mind bedroom, lingerie, or boudoir.  For example, I think a regular fabric that had a lace print on it would be fine, in most cases, for a blouse, skirt, or even blazer.  I think white lace worked into the hem of a skirt, or even as an entire blouse, might be appropriate.  But black lace overlaid on a tan fabric seems to suggest skin beneath it.  I’d avoid for the office.

Ultimately, I think you’ll get a lot of great wear out of the skirt — but for parties.  I’d wear it with a simple black top and a velvet blazer to the office holiday party, or with a slightly daring sweater to a friend’s party (low cut, off-the-shoulder, etc). But to the office… maybe not.

Maybe I’m alone here, but I also feel like black lace is more of a holiday look, best saved for fall and winter parties.

Readers, what are your thoughts on lace at the office? Is a lace skirt appropriate? Would you wear a black lace skirt into spring and summer?

Comments

  1. MissJackson :

    *shrug*

    I have 2 lace skirts that I occasionally wear to the office. I think that they are both from Ann Taylor. One is black lace overlay over white lining pencil skirt, the other is black lace over nude A-line.

    I really don’t think that either one evokes lingerie. I like to wear the black/white one with a red top. The black/nude one I usually pair with black.

    There is a lot of variety in lace from quite sheer to nearly opaque — perhaps that makes a difference? Both of my skirts are relatively hefty lace, although certainly not opaque.

    • I agree. The type of lace matters. On Ann Taylor skirts it’s obvious the nude lining is fabric and not your legs showing through. It looks more like a pretty print.

    • soulfusion :

      okay, I’ll out myself as a Real Housewives watcher and the Andy Cohen Bravo show (whatever it is called) and say this discussion reminds me of the “nude illusion” tops worn by the Miami ladies. Those tops – NOT work appropriate. An Ann Taylor (or the like) lace skirt, not my style but I would not blink at someone else wearing it to the office since as another commenter states down the line, I would never mistake it for just lace with skin underneath!

      • Here’s the ticket for a lace problem: have your tailor replace the lining with a different color and even a different “hand” or weight to the lining. We’ve done it well … for evening I wanted a color underneath a black lace skirt from Talbots that had matte greyish lining. Stunning. For work, I’ve done the opposite, changed out taupe lining for something that clearly isn’t skin tone … once a dark green for navy lace and once a tonal complement to navy lace. You’d have to be close to really detect the lace on that one. The tailor says it’s an easy job and charges accordingly. Another time, I changed out bright green lining on a navy skirt for toned down red, as my olive skin isn’t done any favours with the bright green. No experience with laces tops however…

  2. I have a skirt almost identical to the one pictured and I have no problem wearing it nor do I think it is “unprofessional”. I pair it with a cream or black turtleneck or crewneck. Anyone who would think that I’d wear a see-through lace skirt to work needs their head examined.

  3. I think it does depend on the item, but I do agree about the skintone-under-lace stuff not being appropriate for the office.

    (In fact, I find that trope a turnoff for most situations, because I am super tired of the constant sexualization of women all the freakin’ time. We are about more than that, really!)

    • I will reply to myself (!) to add that I have a couple of lace shirts and shells that do not read as lingerie-inspired that I would wear with simpler pieces like a solid pencil skirt, sheath dress, cardigan or jacket, etc.

      I also have a black on black lace skirt, but it’s of the gothy-looking tiered variety and is not something I would wear in most office settings.

    • I think it says more about the constant sexualization of women that we can’t just wear what we want without it being sexualized all the time. I’m not talking about the work context, because that’s different, but in our personal lives. Sometimes I want to wear a lace skirt because I think it’s pretty, or a low-cut sleeveless top because it’s cooler in warm weather. Just because a woman wears something that is revealing doesn’t mean she’s wearing it because it is revealing, and I find it very frustrating that it’s so hard for people to understand that.

      There, rant over.

      • Yeah, I agree with you. But, I also feel like women’s clothing options shouldn’t set us up for it in the first place. In recent years it seems there’s a persistent crop of black lace items offered with that nude underlay, which isn’t something we necessarily clamored for in professional clothes. I didn’t say that ALL lace is an issue, but that version is clearly symbolic.

        Then there’s always the question of why are there so many items like that if so many of us didn’t demand them. It is a good question, but then I think of all the baby-hoochie clothes in childrens’ sections that moms have complained about for years. (I’m not a mom but I have heard this.) So who is encouraging it to continue? It’s one of those things…

  4. I have a black-on-black-lace knee length skirt that I love, but haven’t worn very often because I can’t come up with a good top for it either. The few times I have worn it, I’ve paired it with a simple black cami and cobalt blue cardigan. I think it can be a very nice office look and I really like the idea of a velvet blazer for a more polished look.

  5. i have a purple lace blouse that i scored at off saks (saks brand) for $10 on impulse – it’s a wide crew neck (that doesn’t choke me), s/s, bright purple lace, with same purple lining. it is my go-to top under my navy suits when i’m stumped – it’s fun enough to not feel boring and cut perfectly to be comfortable and sit atop all skirts and pants.

    they had it in black as well and i kick myself for not grabbing it – would have been awesome with all of my patterned pencil skirts

    • somewherecold :

      Those sound nice and very useful. I’m on the lookout for short sleeve shirts to make suits a little less boring looking so I don’t get asked where the funeral is (again).

      • short sleeve natural fiber blouses are what i will pay the most money for when it comes to tops — come summer time, i don’t know what else to wear since i don’t do sleeveless at the office and don’t like the idea of commuting sleeveless and throwing on a cardigan at the office, it’s seasonally odd.

    • I have a charcoal lace top that I wear with a matching charcoal cami. Paired with a conservative suit, I think it’s completely appropriate.

  6. Anonymous :

    I don’t think lace is appropriate for the office, period.

    On your free time, have at it – but I’m not sure that black lace is seasonably appropriate in spring/summer.

  7. I think Kat is being a little too militant on this lace thing. We didn’t even get the usual “know your office” caveat. Sometimes lace is fine for the office, if it’s not being confused with lingerie (which, IMO, an entire lace skirt is not).
    In fact, I was considering buying this tank to wear under suits, which I think is beautiful and appropriate:
    http://www.jcrew.com/womens_category/knitstees/tanksandcamis/PRDOVR~36954/36954.jsp

    • lawyerette :

      In my honest opinion, that looks like something you would sleep in.

    • Anonymous :

      SS, I really like the tank you linked to, but in all truthfulness, if I hadn’t read your description first, I would have thought it was part of a very pretty sleep set from Anthropologie. Maybe with some super soft cropped pants or tap pants.

      This is why I think a lot of lace is challenging. Even if it doesn’t look like undergarments, it doesn’t necessarily look formal, either (unless we’re talking evening dress, and then you’ve gone far in the other direction!)

    • SS, I’d wear that to the office as well. With a navy pencil skirt and belted cardigan. I love it, and go for it. In my NYC biglaw office that would totally fly with a jacket or cardigan over it.

    • I agree with the others that this looks like a casual tank or sleepwear. Sorry! :)

    • I don’t think it’s appropriate to wear with a suit, but because it’s too casual, not because it’s lacy.

      • I wonder if it loks casual because of how the model is wearing it? I hate how J Crew styles everything to look casual. Some of us work for a living . . . Anyway, I’m going to check it out in the store, as I think it looks like a good option for under a suit.

        • i agree, it’s the j.crew styling. they make black pumps look casual with neon knee socks, blazers look casual with rolled up cuffs and a sequin tank, and add a layer of gingham fabric to everything. seriously, sometimes i just want to see what the damn item looks like.

        • No, it’s b/c of the buttons, the collar and the straps – it looks like a henley tee, not a shell for a suit.

    • I think “know your office” is a given.

    • I like it. Cute. If the neckline isn’t too deep, I might get it to wear to work under cardigans or blazers (business casual). I think the lace adds texture in a really nice way.

  8. I like the lace skirt pictured, and have a similar one. It’s tough to coordinate with though – I wear a different color with it, as it’s near impossible to match blacks (they’re always slightly different). I go lighter earth tone – like a cream or maroon cardigan.

    Lace otherwise is tricky – I hate when I see lace trimmed camisoles under blazers/jackets. To me it looks… tawdry.

  9. Maybe the places I’ve worked (federal government, both in the DC area and out of it) are particularly forgiving of lace, but I never found it inappropriate or even all that uncommon. I have a blouse/shell I’ve worn that’s red (!) lace that I’ve worn over sleeveless shirts, often under a sleeveless vest. I have a tan, tea-length skirt that’s lace over a beige lining. Other female co-workers wear lace skirts with neutral-colored linings, lace-topped shirts, and lacey “sweaters”.

    Anyway, my suggestion for Reader J is to try pairing it with a sleeveless black “suit” vest. That should give enough separation between the tan in the skirt and the color on the arms/neck of the shirt/blouse that they can complement, but the outfit doesn’t seem like it’s all black.

  10. AnonyDress :

    Threadjack!

    I need a dress for a wedding in a few weeks. I like flowing maxi dresses but prefer a bit more coverage up top (no plunging v-necks or strapless – it just isn’t my personal style). Anyone seen anything great recently? I’m stuck in the office with little time to shop :(

    • lawyerette :

      Check out the Nordstrom dress section online. Great stuff, and I’m fairly certain you can select by type of dress/cut.

    • Boden usually has one or two maxi dresses, I think, though they may require a cami under (I think they’re usually v-neck). Also, check eshakti.com

    • Anthropologie has recently gotten in a ton of maxi dresses. Some of them are a bit v-necky for my taste, but I thought some others were quite pretty and eminently wearable.

    • The DvF dress posted here a few weeks ago was pretty great, but a bit pricey.

  11. I don’t think lace is necessarily scandalous, but I think it looks out of place because it looks (at least the skirt above) like evening wear.

    • agree! i think lace works much better when it seems more like just an added “texture” to an outfit, if that makes sense. maybe that’s why color-on-color lace seems a bit less evening/sexy and therefore more daytime appropriate.

  12. On the lace skirt –

    I also have a nearly identical one, also from Saks. I would never wear it to the office. The lining material is silk. Silk + lace = probably not for the office as far as I am concerned. I actually bought it thinking it would be a great piece to wear to a not-too-formal wedding, and to have in my closet as an emergency dress up piece when I want something different to wear (fancy occasion skirts are in my mind brilliant b/c you can always pair them with new stuff and t/f not feel like you are wearing the same thing as before). I am thinking of pairing it with a black silk shell/cami and some fun heels. I would welcome any other suggestions! [Also, I don't think this is a necessarily winter look at all, and if I am wrong, please let me know!!]

    As for lace in the office, I actually encountered this last week: a woman I work with wore a lace skirt and while it was not per se inappropriate, it looked off. Kind of like she had a date after, and wanted to change in anticipation thereof (business on top, party on bottom).

    Someone else in my building wears a white lace suit quite frequently, often with silver mary janes (non-lawyer but in legal dept). I don’t think she has suffered any adverse employment consequences as a result of that (or her many similarly unusual outfits), but I am not a fan of the look, either.

  13. I don’t think lace is necessarily forbidden at all – I think it just goes into “Know your office” territory. For me personally, I don’t wear anything if it reads evening wear or bedroomy. I’m not hugely into lace, but I sometimes wear lacy blouses and I’ve seen other attorneys wear similar things or also more tailored-looking lace skirts.

    That being said, I also have friends who work in much more conservative offices where none of this would fly.

    • I tend to agree. I wouldn’t wear it when everyone else is wearing suits, but I think in the sort of office where skirts and sweaters, or open toed shoes, or similar things are appropriate, it’s perfectly fine as long as it doesn’t suggest nudity and looks structured.

  14. Anonymous :

    Why would we want to wear something that *might* be *okay*? How about striving instead of trying to sneak by?

    • lawyerette :

      Completely agree.

    • because otherwise everyone is wearing a black skirt suit with pantyhose, a white button down and black pumps every single day. “Okay” in this context only means not offensive to any more conservative people in your office who may judge you for your choice.

  15. I have heard people mention that they are offended by women wearing lace to work. I’m not offended but would rather not deal with possibly offending, erm, more traditional superiors.

  16. Lace doesn’t strike me as per se sexy, but rather, it’s just something (like ruffles or sequins) where a little goes a long way. A lace skirt looks like eveningwear, not officewear. But I see nothing wrong with a little lace on a collar or cami.

  17. I have this skirt
    http://compare.ebay.com/like/280600950364?ltyp=AllFixedPriceItemTypes&var=sbar&rvr_id=222281460440&crlp=1_263602_304662&UA=WXI8&GUID=9d382f4e12e0a02652945c64ff9316cc&itemid=280600950364&ff4=263602_304662

    If that link didn’t work, if you google Eileen Fisher Wool Lace Skirt you’ll probably find it.

    I bought it to layer under an EF dress that hit me above the knee. The skirt hits at the middle of my knee and makes kind of a cute petticoat. I wore it to an event.

    But I’d like to get more use out of it, so I’ve worn it on casual Friday at the office a couple of times. It works best with a more casual outfit – ballet flats and black cotton cardigan. Otherwise, to my eye, it can look too “dressed up.” I’m a big fan of dressing up, but there’s a difference in dressing up for an event vs. dressing up for a formal business environment.

  18. I wouldn’t wear lace to my corporate male-heavy office. But some women there would. Probably not the ones who get promoted to be execs, just thinking about who projects what images. It’s not my style anyway, not sure I own anything lace, but would seem if you did it to make it very minimal with the rest of the outfit being non-attention getting. If I wear a cami with lace, it’s with an outfit wear it doesn’t show. When the men are all in blue shirts, I think about how much I stick out with shape/color. I wear colors, and skirts and stuff, but not too much all at once. Would overall vote no on this skirt for work. But as always, in PR or other fields, probably a plus not a risk.

  19. Guilt Free Mom :

    My office is business casual, so something like this would seem way over the top. I think I’d like this skirt for a cocktail party or something, but I’m skiddish about lace. It always seems a little too… something. Too dressy, too busy, too old lady-ish. I guess I just don’t know how to wear it.

  20. Anonymous :

    I have to disagree, Kat. I have a beautiful black lace over navy skirt that I bought from Tar-gey that I wear to the office often and get tons of compliments on. The lack is in a diamond pattern and it’s very clear that there are no legs showing through and that it is not a piece of lingerie. Even my tailor commented on what a beautiful skirt it is. It is, however, tough to pair–I either wear a black or white button down with it.

  21. love.clothes :

    okay now you ladies have me thinking!! In the winter, one of my go-to outfits has been this lace overlay shell (link below) with a black wool blazer from Barneys and medium dark grey wool slacks. I always wear a black cami underneath the shell and style it with black pat. pumps. could this be inappropriate in your eyes? if it matters, i’m still in my 20s!

    http://bananarepublic.gap.com/browse/product.do?cid=26499&vid=1&pid=792707

    • Love.Clothes, I think your outfit sounds gorgeous and I would wear it in a second. The shirt you posted is perfect example of lace just being another interesting texture. There’s nothing provocative about that shirt more than there is about any other textured or lightly patterned shell you would wear beneath a jacket. Your stylist suggestions sound great and thus make it appropriate office wear.

      I think anybody who tells you differently is just very stuck in one idea of what office wear is. Honestly I feel that I know it when I see it, which can make it difficult to make sweeping judgments about what is or is not *always* appropriate.

    • I think this shirt shows the key difference between lace as texture and lace as lingerie, and the way it reads. This shirt reads as an interesting texture. There’s no confusion to me that this shirt is actually lingerie, especially styled as you describe. But the lace over nude look, to me, implies that you support the illusion that skin is underneath. So yeah, lace solid color (also, lace over navy, or purple lace over purple, as described above, I’m totally okay with) is different and potentially very workable.

      The more I type lace the more it looks like a real word to me.

      • I mean, black lace over nude is really just a variant of black and beige in my opinion, so I don’t really see anything wrong with it by default. Is all beige inappropriate because it is vaguely related to skin tone? I think it depends on the item of clothing. In the skirt above, the fact that the lace is a very ‘tight’ lace with not a lot of extra space just makes it look like a beige, patterned black skirt to me. I know some black lace over nude items though do involve a lot of space between the lace pattern and yes, sometimes those sorts of things are not appropriate for office wear, but I don’t think all beige/nude+color things are inappropriate just because they involve beige/nude or a color that is related to that of skin.

      • love.clothes :

        thank you, both! I realized in between when I posted the link and now that the item sold out! found it on another site, in case anyone else wondered what we were posting about!

        http://www.polyvore.com/lace_overlay_shell/thing?id=31178523

      • That’s a classy top. The texture is almost geometric, not frilly.

      • “the key difference between lace as texture and lace as lingerie”

        This is the most important part. I you look at an item and the first thing you think is “What a lovely texture that lace would add to my boring black blazer” you’re in the right ballpark. If you have even a small question of whether it would look lingerie-like then it’s not appropriate for the office. For me, a textured all over lace with an appropriately colored lining is totally fine. Lace trim on ANYTHING reminds me of lingerie… might wear it casually, never to the office.

        The banana republic tank in question is a gorgeous example.

        • I have to disagree with the statement that “Lace trim on ANYTHING reminds me of lingerie.” I have this blazer from Ann Taylor http://tinyurl.com/3pehvoa that has a black-on-black lace trim on the inside of the V neckline that I have only gotten compliments on. While I don’t recommend the printed top underneath it, I think that it adds something interesting to what could normally be a boring black on black outfit. And I find it hard to believe that a black wool blazer could remind someone of lingerie…

          • That’s a good jacket. I think “lace detail” is a far cry from “lace overlay.”

  22. I think this is a perfect example where people seem to be getting hung up on the “All of X is ALWAYS bad” mindset, which clearly isn’t correct. I agree that some things made of lace are slinky, too see through, meant to be sexy, etc. Those things are obviously not at all okay for office wear.

    But for things that are obviously NOT meant as such, I see no difference between them and another patterned or textured shirt. I have a couple of lace shells with short sleeves and high, pleated necklines that are worn with camis of the same color beneath and they do not at all look like bedroom wear (unless your bedroom wear is pretty modest). They just sort of look like a shirt with a texture on it. Similarly I think the lace skirts shown here are fine, so long as the rest of outfit is kept equally as neutral (conservative black blouse/sweater/etc.). Again, don’t know what sort of bedroom wear you all have, but I’ve never seen a knee length pencil skirt on the bedroom section of the VS website…

    Finally on the issue of camis- I actually won’t wear a cami that DOESN’T have lace if it is exposed. I think streth/plain camis look plain, frumpy, and out of place under low cut shirts, whereas to me, something trimmed with lace/detail just makes the ensamble look more upscale and more put together. For example, I have a co-worker who has some lovely silk wool sweaters from Banana Republic that are a bit particular and need to be worn with a neutral cami and not a blouse- she wears them with this lovely lace-trim cami from BR as well, and the combination just looks so lovely and well put together. The lace camis compliment the feminine cardigans well and just wouldn’t if they were straight cut across.

    In sum, we are reasonable women and can tell when something is meant to be sexy versus when it’s meant to just be interesting or different. I don’t think that just because something is interesting or different (read, lace) automatically means it’s disqualified from being office wear all the time.

    • I’m curious – do other corporettes prefer lace-trimmed camis?

      I always wear the non-lace ones. The idea is to not attract attention to my bosom. I think a lace cami can look nice if the lace is sticking out at the hem of your sweater, i.e., across your hips … but lace in your cleavage seems a little racy to me.

      Or maybe I’m just a fuddy-duddy.

      • Perhaps it depends on the size of chest. I have a rather small chest, as does my co-worker who wears lace camis under sweaters.

        I also think it might have to do with the height of the cami. I always have lace camis that come up over my chest area so there really isn’t cleavage showing for the lace to accentuate/flank. Same with my co-worker- because her chest is so small, lace camis tend to cover the entire chest area with just a bit of collar bone and some skin left showing.

        But I admit that I could see how somebody with a larger chest might not be able to get a cami to lay up that high and how it might be a bit awkward to have lace flanking cleavage. I still think hough that camis with a bit of detail on the top look much better than the straight across ones- they just look so much like casual layering or work out tops to me.

        • Camis come up over your chest area?

          Maybe it is a small- vs. large-chest thing then.

          I find myself wearing camis when either 1) the neckline of the top (or dress, etc.) I’m trying to wear shows too much cleavage, and I want to make it more modest, or 2) it’s see-through, and I want to make it more modest.

          So I guess if your goal isn’t to modest-ize something, then lace is a different story.

    • I wouldn’t have thought twice about lace camis UNTIL the time I was in an important meeting sitting next to woman who was wearing a lacy pink cami under a partially unbuttoned blue button down shirt. I straight up thought her shirt had accidentally unbuttoned exposing her bra. I almost died of second hand embarrassment and was trying to figure out a discreet way to let her know… before I realized that it was intentional. Obviously that’s an extreme case, but it did turn me off to lace camis.

      • Seems like a perfect example of ‘know something is not office wear when you see it.’ I think the lace cami looked odd here because it was exposed in a way that did not seem intentional/seemed like it actually was underthings poking out. I mean, a button down shirt is meant to button up and NOT expose extra flesh. But, as I was saying before, I think for certain blouses, sweaters, etc. where a lace cami adds to the overall look or even ultimately looks part of the shirt doesn’t necessarily scream inappropriate because it looks like it is meant to be there and not like an awkward undergarment poking out from a shirt that is otherwise meant to be closed up.

  23. For those of you looking for styling ideas for your lace skirts – I saw this a few weeks ago, it’s a round up of different outfits using the same Target skirt.
    http://www.onedayinthelifeofsara.com/?p=115
    I think the skirt is too short for me/my office, but I really like the look of the first one.

  24. NEVER lace in the office! (Perfect for dressy top for dinner or evening out – maybe with less dressy top for an afternoon shower or tea. Nothing else.)

  25. Never. Ever. EV-ER. So pretty, yes. But c’mon, ladies. Are you forgetting what we know- and have read- and have read here (thank u Kat) about the mind of man?? Lace = Lingerie. Plus, you just can’t wear lace at the office and expect to be taken seriously by your female colleagues either. Unless you work at a bridal salon. Or at a lingerie boutique. Or at a lace shop.

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