What NOT to Wear to the Office

what not to wear to workSo there’s this great piece on USA Today about how “business casual” can be confusing to some people — this one 24-year-old PR executive was shocked (shocked, we tell you!) when she wasn’t allowed to attend a meeting dressed in Bermuda shorts and flip flops.

So I thought it might be fun to have an open-thread today about what attire makes you really raise your eyebrows. Obviously, every office is different, but I think we can all do a public service by listing which garments and accessories someone might want to think twice before wearing.

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For my own list:

  • Any shorts (or any pants that are less than full length — ankle-length pants and capris will be questionable at some offices!)
  • Flip-flops (whether they’re plastic or leather, rethink)
  • Sandals of any kind; peep toe shoes are also often questionable at the most conservative offices
  • Tall boots (even knee-high used to be questionable, but over-the-knee styles are definitely questionable)
  • Anything that is overly noisy in the hallways (flip-flops are the primary offender here, but other things qualify also — corduroy pants, for example)
  • Denim, or items cut like denim (e.g., 5 pockets) — cords, khakis, etc.
  • Lace or sheer clothing
  • Sleeveless tops or dresses (worn without a cardigan or blazer on top)
  • Any item that can be worn to the gym (sneakers, yoga pants, terrycloth wristbands, large shapeless t-shirts)
  • Anything too short, tight, or low-cut

Readers, what “think twice” list have you compiled from your time at the office? Any fun “I couldn’t believe she wore that” stories that you’d care to share?

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  1. One of my old co-workers used to wear different clothing items that had to be “laced up” (like the laces that a corset would have. For example, she would wear a cute pencil skirt, but the back would have the lace up thing, or a button up that had some type of lace up detail in the back. The whole thing reminded me of lingerie.

  2. One of the senior staffers in our office wears capris every day during the summer. Last summer, we did our staff photos and we were told to wear business professional clothing. She showed up in her capris and red flats.

    • Anonymous :

      I’ve seen this done nicely at non-profits/less formal places. Know your office, I suppose.

    • Anonymous :

      There is a lady I work with and she treats the us (the other two women in the office) like crap, but when our worker guys come in, she is all smiles and laughs and just acts like she wants all the men. It seems she is possesive of them as well, like if we have questions for them she will act jealous almost. She wears jeans with the rhinestones, sandals with rhinestones, bracelets with giant rhinestones, low cut tops, and today she is wearing a low cut shirt with one shoulder exposed. I said to her in private, “do you know your strap is showing?” and she just goes, “yea, I know..” like it was no big deal. She has wrinkly cleavage and I’m sorry, it is gross. One day she was wearing a shirt that should’ve had a camisole underneath, and when she went to sit at her desk you could literally see the whole center half of her breast. She is newly-married, for I guess the third time now, has two teenaged kids and is like 50. Why do women who are not in their twenties try to dress like the high school girls with reputations? And if you are married, why are you trying to get attention from men at work? It is sad really, but I think how you dress has a lot of impact on how you act. If you dress like you are at a bar, you are going to act like you are at a bar. But if you dress like a respectable lady, you will most likely act like one and people will treat you as such.

      • FunKyChick :

        What you describe – jeans with the rhinestones, sandals with rhinestones, bracelets with giant rhinestones, low cut tops, and today she is wearing a low cut shirt with one shoulder exposed – shouldn’t be worn to work by a woman of any age.

  3. Leggings. I love (love) leggings, but I do NOT wear them to work.

    • Can I request comments as to whether this is definitely true? I would love to hear from others if there is any way to do an opaque legging under a skirt during the summer and style it to be professional enough for Biglaw. I suspect not, but would love to be proven wrong. …

      (For those wondering and who do not know my moniker yet, I do not bare my legs — including just wearing pantyhose — for religious reasons, but I’m desperately jealous of those wear skirts and wondering how I can get in on the party.)

      • sadly true. not for biglaw.

      • What about really opaque tights? Hue does some that are double thickness.

      • anonx1000 :

        only if your biglaw is Quinn. Shorts and tank tops are acceptable officewear there. (Really. Please don’t do that.)

      • I think leggings would be fine under a skirt that would be appropriate for other women in your office would wear with bare legs or hose. (ie, under a knee length skirt suit would be ok, but under a mini skirt would not)

        • Sorry, accidentally hit “report comment.” I didn’t intend to report it; it’s a helpful comment.

      • If we can’t tell it’s leggings (as opposed to thick tights) I don’t see why not.

      • Alternative idea: long skirts really seem to be making a comeback. So far mainly in the hippie-ish, way too casual for work variety (as far as I’ve seen in stores, anyway), but you might be able to find something that works.

      • In the winter you could just wear opaque tights. I sometimes wear two pairs over each other to get them really opaque.

        In the summer I think this look is just always going to look a bit weird. I’d go with the long skirts.

      • prettyprogrammer :

        You know, the 90’s are coming back and I think the most heinous thing about the ‘leggings with skirt’ look is the cut at the ankle. It just makes you look like you’re wearing way too much clothing. There were extra conservative girls in my Catholic high school who wore leggings underneath our SUPER CUTE khaki pleated minis (which were part of the uniform) and it looked BAD. Mostly just because they’d have leggings like running down to their ankles, and then a… dare I say it… white sock… stuffed into a Mary Jane. I would like to say I have seen this look replicated on an HR manager in my own company recently and let me tell you it’s never a good look. THAT BEING SAID… try STIRRUP LEGGINGS. I think they look SO much classier if you’re going to wear leggings under a skirt.

    • Catherine :

      I CONCUR. No leggings at the office, ever. Just…..no.

    • Anonymous :

      THANK YOU!!!! Especially NOT NOT NOT skin-tight, leopard print leggings! WTF, I’m disgusted that I have to have this conversation with an employee who is a grown woman, it’s absurd!!!!

  4. Ah, yes, the infamous “sexy secretary” look that Express capitalized on a few years ago. A young woman that I went to law school with wore these “suits” every day while we interned in the Middle Temple in London. SO inappropriate for that setting. We were told to look funereal…. not hot.

    Don’t get me wrong– she looked amazing. It just was not appropriate for the setting, nor most settings that I can think of.

    My personal favorite was my AA at my old firm who used to wear sports bras and spaghetti strap tanks… and nothing else. Well “she was always hot,” which is fine– so am I– but this was just so beyond appropriate. And no one said a thing to her.

    • Speaking of sexy secretaries…one of the secretaries in our corporate offices would regularly wear a mini-skirt, with black fishnets and black leather knee-high boots. I’m sure the look on my face when I first saw her dressed that way was priceless.

      • Wow! Fishnets? mini-skirt? Was she trying to sleep her way to the top?

        • At least she would have had a point if that were the case but sadly, no. She’s in her late 40’s, happily married and the bosses are seriously great people. It’s just so painful to see.

          • I can dress somewhat racy when I am out at night, but the closest thing I have to fishnets are lacy black tights. I consider them a classy version of fishnets. I think if you are out of college, they should be reserved for the bedroom or Halloween, if that. Sorry, maybe that’s one of my pet peeves.

          • I disagree – fishnets rock. But not for the office with a miniskirt.

            I’ve worn nude fishnets with boots and a fairly long skirt to work. I felt very daring :) But I think it was pretty innocuous – you could barely see them. My office has a casual dress code.

          • SO late to the conversation, but my assistant at my last job wore torn fishnets + short skirts + high leather boots and said things like, “My pants are eating my ass and vagina.”

      • I saw one of my peers (mid-level associate) come in wearing fishnets the other day. I know I’m more modest than most at the office, but I think that would be over the line for almost anyone…

        • What do you think of fishnet trouser socks? They seem innocent enough to me, but fishnet causes such a strong reaction that I’m always afraid to try it.

          • I think that if they were the small fishnets, they might be okay, because people probably wouldn’t notice them.

          • I agree with cbackson, something with a finer print/subtle color is ok. The traditional fishnet that shows your skin color with the very dark/apparent netting is not.

        • middle-aged anon :

          Not office-related, but I remember being floored several years ago when Mervyn’s (the now-defunct department store) styled tween models/outfits in fishnets with boots and skirts. UGH!

        • Anonymous :

          Eh, I’ve worn fishnets with a below the knee pencil skirt and a turtleneck. I think it brought something fun to the most conservative of outfits. I work biglaw. I’d wear it again. I see nothing wrong with them. Just some vintage flair.

          • I just wore “flesh-for-me” fishnets the other day, with a skirt that came about to mid-knee. They basically looked like sheer hose, but a little more interesting. I don’t think you could tell they were fishnets unless you got quite close.

            Why the fishnets instead of sheer hose? I don’t know, I guess my office feels too informal for sheer hose, I would feel weird wearing them. It was also a bit too cold at the start of the day for bare legs (for me at least), and weirdly, the stockings did add a bit of warmth. Or maybe it was purely psychological.

            I have to say, the dress code at my office is basically, “clothes.” Although to be fair, I don’t see a lot of flipflops like you’d wear in the shower. Women do wear capris in the summer, usually nicer ones but not always. I also have seen Bermudas worn with a nice shirt and casual jacket, and thong-style sandals. I’m not a fan, but it doesn’t look super-inappropriate in our environment.

          • I’ve also done the flesh-for-me tiny-hole fishnets, and with a pretty conservative outfit. It’s the one fun bit.

            Black or other non-flesh-for-me colors stay at home.

          • I recently saw a State Supreme Court Justice at a business casual function wearing a stunning below-the-knee wrap dress, nude for her fishnets, and brown high heeled sandles (beautiful ones). She looked incredible – fashion forward, creative and elegant.

    • Sigh, I think express and Ally McBeal permanently confused an entire generation of women as to what appropriate office attire is.

      • That is so true. Also, when you go into a nice store that sells professional clothing, and all of the tops they have to go with suits are low cut, you start to think that’s what you’re supposed to wear. I had that problem with Talbots a couple of years ago, every top and blouse they had in the store was just too low cut (even blouses that buttoned had the first button inappropriately low). They are getting better, and finally started getting some tops with higher necklines, but you kind of expect a store like Talbots to be conservative.

      • I’m home sick today and in my boredom found Ally McBeal streaming on netflix, so I decided to watch the first episode. All I could think the entire time was how inappropriately short her skirts were.

        • mlle-cassis :

          AND she’s going to have some trouble about it in the next few episodes – if I remember right… :D

        • Original Lola :

          Yes! Stay tuned. :)

        • y’all are too young to remember that an entire generation (or at least 5 years worth, lol) of lawyers who were in their late 20s when ally was on wore their skirts that short, and it was considered entirely appropriate in the day. really.

        • TechLawGirl :

          Completely agree with this. I am at a top law school and going into biglaw. I was shocked by what girls were wearing to on-campus interviews.

          I looked like a total square (but in a good way): I stuck to the black/charcoal/navy skirt suit, white/blue/pink long-sleeve button down (oxford style), nude hose, pearl earrings, hair neatly pulled back, and black low heels. Very few women wore hose and there were a lot of low cut, bright, and frilly shirts. Sigh.

      • Lost in Dall-Oz :

        Probably true! Although, I watched Ally McBeal religiously when I was in high school, and I remember thinking even then that her skirts were ridiculously too short!

    • SF Bay Associate :

      I was in Denver on a hot summer Friday at a prominent local counsel’s office. The fabulously helpful assistant I was working with was wearing a sports bra and ribbed tank top. And cargo capris. And flip flops. As were many of the people in her office, some of whom must have been attorneys. And there I was in my depo best, full suit. After I got over my initial shock, I thought to myself, hmmm, maybe I should move to Denver :).

      • Opposing counsel at my depositions in Ft. Lauderdale a few years ago was wearing wearing capris, what appeared to be a tanktop, and linen blazer. I was in full NE-style black business suit with button-up. I would love to live and work in a more relaxed city — just have to convince my husband to move out of his comfort zone here in the Northeast.

        • Lost in Dall-Oz :

          It’s amazing how different regional “dress codes” are. My boyfriend (works for an energy holdings group in Dallas) had a meeting with some of the company’s investors last week. He asked me what he should wear. My favorite suit of his is a light heather gray with a vest…and it looks amazing with a pink shirt and tie, so that was my suggestion. He looked at me like I was crazy. All he said was, “They’re from New York. I have to wear a dark suit.” Being a good Southern girl from Nashville and having relocated to Dallas, I had no idea this was really a thing! Men in Nashville still wear Seersucker on Thursdays in the Summer! And women regularly wear brightly colored suits to even the most conservative offices. So strange.

          • Talking Texas :

            Lost In Dall-Oz —- I too am a good southern girl from Nashville living/working the Dallas Metroplex.

          • Talking Texas :

            Lost In Dall-Oz —- I too am a good southern girl from Nashville living/working in the Dallas Metroplex.

          • prettyprogrammer :

            I totally agree with this. I work in the South, and we love COLOR in our clothes, and don’t see it as unprofessional. I grew up in Maryland and there are even major regional differences in professional dress. Growing up if my dad was doing business in Baltimore, he’d wear black/charcoal/navy suit and tie. If he was doing business in DC, he would dress like the prepster that he is and can wear something a lot nattier without losing any professionalism.

      • Mountain Girl :

        Yes you should move to Denver. I think this is a very casual city. You can wear a ski jacket and it is perfectly acceptable almost anywhere – perhaps not with formal evening wear but we don’t have formal events often.

        • I am in South Florida so I can dress with a bit more flare for court. That said, some of the outfits I see are crazy!

        • Original Lola :

          Also true in the northwest. Pretty casual. In my city, it’s not uncommon to see Carharrt’s at the opera.

          • Plus one to this! I live in Seattle and that was brilliantly put. I’m not necessarily a fan of the look, but I agree that it’s good that we CAN.

    • I was definitely one of those 25 year old first year attorneys who didn’t understand that Express’s version of “business professional” did not translate to the law firm world. Whoops. I’m pretty sure it was elemental in costing me my first job.

      • mary ann mendoza :

        i just wondering what should i wear when im going to the office…you know what,because this company is for engineer and that case i dont know what should i wear…plz i nee an advise..help me..

    • Sorry but the first reaction I had to your comment was : That’ so sad!
      Dress as if for a funeral?

      I agree that people need to dress professionally, but is it not possible to combine “joy” and “work”? Do we need to look depressed for it to be professional?

      I think the main points of looking professional is to 1) not be distracting (too sexy, flamboyant etc), 2) functional for your line of work (a profession which involves meeting a lot of clients has different requirements than someone who is a kindergarden teacher needing to run around and bend down all day), and 3) to look clean /polished (=look like you care).

      No need to look like someone died.

  5. Along the lines of “items cut like denim” – I think some people in my office think any black, non-denim pair of pants qualifies as work appropriate. I’d challenge this assumption. If you wouldn’t wear it in gray, you should probably rethink wearing it in black. Dark colors can turn a very, very slim subset of otherwise borderline items into the “okay” category, but not many.

  6. It is important to look good, but not too provocative. When I first signed on at my law firm, I wore a beautiful YSL dress which unfortunately was a bit too risque for the partners, since it was both low cut as well as a bit short (by today’s standards). The older partners ogled me and the younger ones thought it way too much for the office. The female secretaries loved it, but swore they would never dress like that. After that introduction, I concluded that boring was the order of the day, so from then on, I have never wore a low cut dress (or blouse) and the hemlines have always been at or below the knee. This way, the partners have nothing to say or look at.

  7. I think saying no tall boots and no five-pocket styles is a little much. I think that they can both be done tastefully, but it really depends on the office. I work in a relatively conservative office, but those things are still considered appropriate. Khakis especially! I mean, everyone here seems to have a serious hate on for cords (I love them, and think they’re great office wear if you pair them with a nice top and nice shoes), and I can understand no cargo pants completely, but no khakis? It just seems a little ridiculous.

    Maybe this all applies for only law offices, but other corporate offices, I don’t think.

    I did see a girl in our office the other day wearing a tunic. Just a tunic. She had leggings on, but dude, LEGGINGS ARE NOT PANTS. I couldn’t believe it. We’re not supposed to wear skirts any shorter than 3 inches above the knee, which I think is appropriate, but gosh. I was dumbfounded.

    • Leggings are not office appropriate pants, but they are pants. I don’t see a tunic and leggings being equivalent to a super-short dress with nothing underneath, which is how you seem to have interpreted it!

      • I disagree that leggings are pants. You wouldn’t wear leggings without a top that covered your hip/crotch/upper thigh area, whereas it’s perfectly acceptable to wear pants without covering up that area. That’s the difference to me.

        • Sure you would. See below. Haven’t you seen people wear jeggings the same way they’d wear jeans?

          • No, I honestly haven’t.

          • Chicago K :

            I do, and I’d bet you a $1,000 that you would have no idea that my jeans have spandex mixed in with them. I only bought “jeggings” because they tuck into boots cleanly, so I don’t sport that “boot cut jeans tucked into boots but are puffing out everywhere making me look ridiculous” look.

            I think I can see that we disagree about the leggings being pants topic because we can’t agree on what an actual legging really is. I agree, tights are not leggings, but spandex pants / jeans with spandex are also called leggings and are definately pants in my book.

        • Divaliscious11 :

          Lot’s of people where jeggings without covering the crotch area. I do. Depends on what I’m wearing.

          • Anonymous :

            ‘Lots’ (not lot’s which means ‘lot is’)
            ‘Wear’ ( not where!)
            Sorry but these things are
            just as important for our Image
            as clothes – perhaps even more so!
            Use the Word spellchecker :-)

    • I have to side with BrieCS on this one: leggings are not pants. In my opinion, they are equivalent to tights, and if you wouldn’t wear a tunic with tights to the office, leggings won’t make it any better.

    • Chicago K :

      I don’t personally think that leggings should ever be worn to the office (agree with Kat’s “if you can wear it to the gym criteria”) but if you can’t see through the particular leggings, then why aren’t they pants? I’ve heard the same thing about jeggings (skinny jeans with spandex) and i own a pair of those (from Ann Taylor)and don’t feel it’s necessary to wear shirts down to my knees because of it.

      If the leggings are not transparent, they why aren’t they pants? I often wear knee length leggings to yoga class and hardly feel naked pairing it with a tshirt or sports bra like shirt.

      • These were not totally opaque leggings. I think, outside of the office, with long tunics, you can get away with wearing leggings, but only opaque leggings. I still don’t consider them pants, though, because they leave absolutely nothing to the imagination in most cases. It, to me, is not much different than wearing opaque tights.

        • I think leggings have to be opaque, or they are just tights. Read that in an article this winter. Leggings and tights should not be confused.

          • anonx1000 :

            This. Leggings are opaque and one’s cellulite should not be visible – otherwise, they are too thin and are tights. (not a dig on anyone’s size, btw – I have cellulite and would be horrified to have it showing through pants or tights.)

        • Chicago K :

          Well, I think of leggings as being more like this, which is why I think they are pants. I can see how some tights fall into the leggings catagory and definately DO NOT consider those pants. Perhaps everything is just being referred to as a legging lately because they are so trendy? http://www.asanagreen.com/womens-yoga-clothing/pants-capris/love-capri-legging?gclid=CNG4hr3kl6gCFcm8Kgod9X6sEA

          • Anonymous :

            I consider those yoga pants. Maybe the distinction is pants come on a hanger, and leggings come in a cardboard package.

          • Same here. Those are yoga pants due to roll-down waist.

            By the way, all you ladies who wear leggings as pants- sometimes your leggings are not as opaque outdoors as they seem indoors. I’ve seen a lot of underwear through leggings in bright sunlight. Same result with leggings that stretch out over the course of the day.

      • I think the “leggings are not pants” mantra is a good one because you can never really be sure your leggings aren’t sheer in places. If you wouldn’t wear the shirt or dress without pants, leggings aren’t a good fit. I have a really good friend who wore leggings to a barbecue thinking they were truly opaque… pictures proved to her that in the light we could all see a tattoo in an, ahem, interesting place. Keep it simple and just say, “Leggings are not pants!”

      • I think it’s because good pants skim your body whereas leggings cling to your body. If the shirt or dress is not long enough then you can easily see the outline of the crotch area through leggings which doesn’t look professional. That won’t happen with good pants that skim your body. Even skinny jeans are fine because they are thick enough to not show the outline of the crotch, thigh and behind.

      • MissDisplaced :

        Don’t get this either. I have leggings that are thinner-lighter for working out and ultra casual wear, but I also have leggings that are very thick fabric (like an Ottoman knit) that are really pants to me, and so I wear them to work. I think fabric weight and fit are the key to making them office appropriate.

    • Leggings are not pants. When I see women wearing leggings with a tunic that’s a little too short to be considered a dress, I think…seriously I don’t want to know you that well…

      • if a women wears short mini skirts and shes only working around men what does that tell you about her????
        plus she works for a married men

      • MissDisplaced :

        I think this legging under tunic looks better than most dresses and skirts though! A LOT of supposed “office professional” dresses are too short and show much, much more skin. So why are they still considered ok? Just because they are a feminine dress?

        Seems kind of sexist to me.
        If the leggings are thick enough (and not too tight!), they do become pants.

  8. One of our paralegals wore pleather red thigh-high boots to the office. She claimed that she needed to stretch them out before going to the club Saturday.

    • WHAT???

    • This reminds me of an AA at my former office who looked *every day* like she was about to go clubbing – always had the full-on fake tan, long nails, teased and overdyed hair, low-cut tops, etc. However, she was the longstanding assistant to the most senior partner in the office AND was darn good at her job otherwise, so no-one ever seemed to say a thing.

      • One of my college roomates believed that a blazer magically made everything office appropriate. Um, no, putting a blazer over a sequined backless top is not ok when you intern at a law firm!

      • See, I actually like this. Competence >>>> sartorial sense, FTW.

      • We have an assistant like this. Wears red 4″ heels, rhinestone shirts, and tighter than hell skirts. But she works with the crankiest partner in the office, and he doesn’t have a single bad thing to say about her. So yes, competence will override ridiculous clothing choices.

    • Jenny Law :

      bonnie – that just made me laugh out loud in my con law class. priceless!

  9. Are corduroy pants noisy?

    My list: visible tattoos, skirts more than an inch or 2 above the knee (5’7″ coworker, I’m looking at you), sundresses, even with a cardigan, Bermuda shorts, and shoes you can’t walk in. To this last point, if you walk like a horse while wearing 3″ heels, then don’t wear them! But if you can walk gracefully in 4″ heels, go for it! No one will notice the heel height, unless they’re red. Or leopard.

    • KandiSTYLE :

      @Jenn-they are(noisy that is) if they’re too tight and your thighs rub together when you walk.

  10. Wow, so many great lines in this…

    “The goal is to keep cleavage and belly views at a minimum.”

    “Sunglasses are not allowed indoors, and NBA players can’t wear chains or medallions when on team or league business.”

    • Um…also, the girl felt that being told she couldn’t wear shorts and flip-flops to a meeting was “highly offensive” because “People my age are taught to express themselves, and saying something negative about someone’s fashion is saying something negative about them.”

      As someone approximately her age — I’m more offended that she believes this. Where do they find these people?

      • Who taught her that?! What a disservice to someone who is probably a smart and confident young woman.

      • These statements always annoy the crap out of me. Just seems like a rather juvenile attitude to me. Wake up and smell the coffee – if you wanna be treated like one of the big kids, you need to look like one of the big kids.

        And I say this as someone who’s about the same age as the woman from the article and frequently expresses herself through her wardrobe. Anyone who knows me at work knows that I love color and funky jewelry. I express myself at work and I’ve never been told that I can’t sit in on an important meeting because of how I’m dressed.

    • AnonInfinity :

      My personal favorite: “No . . . exposed thong undergarments are allowed.”


      • This is bringing REALLY inappropriate images into my mind….too funny!

      • This is actually a much more common problem than it would seem – my husband (poor guy) spent a day working with a female supervisor who was doing a lot of kneeling and crouching to measure and photograph some equipment. The back of her pants didn’t fit very well, so he spent the entire day staring at the back of her neon green thong.

      • Yep. The first time I ever had to have a discussion with someone I supervised about her wardrobe choices, it was because she wore short tops and low rise pants, and when she was sitting at her chair or bending over or sometimes just walking around the office, her thong was visible sticking out of the top her her pants. No visible underwear allowed.

  11. In my office capris are perfectly acceptable from June -August . Same with sleeveless however (sleeveless blouses are the only acceptable thing), spagetti straps, tube tops, etc, are not. Cords and khakis are fine as well as long are you’re not meeting clients. Dark Denim (think trouser jean) are fine for Fridays as long as you pay for it (each week we pay to wear jeans on Friday. At the end of the year we vote on which charities to give our donations).
    Off limits for me, high heels that you can hear a mile away, leggings, corsets (yes I’ve seen it too), mini skirts. Ripped hose also irks me (my mom used to say that “only ladies of the night wear ripped hose”). I always keep an extra pair and some clear nail poish in my emergency fashion kit (which I recommend for everyone) .

    • MissDisplaced :

      I don’t get the problem with sleeveless or sheer blouses. I layer a cami or tank under them so it’s not like you can “see” anything. I also wear capri’s and sandals in the summer. Honestly, I would melt if I had to wear a jacket. I guess I’m glad I work in a casual office. I have also worn leggings: with a LONG tunic and tall boots (all together) so that you only see a peep of the actual legging and no butt.

      What I do not wear: shorts, flip-flops, short skirts, tanks (without an over top), sneakers, and usually not jeans unless it is a weekend.

  12. One of the senior female partners at my firm wears khaki cargo capri pants on Fridays in the summer… I’d go ahead and put that in the ‘no’ category. Then again, I have a pair of wool cropped pants that I sometimes wear with heels and a blazer in the summer, which I think is fine. Also, some of the female partners wear peep-toe shoes in the summer, which I would never dare to do.
    Also, I will say that at my firm I feel comfortable wearing sleeveless shirts, like a silk blouse (but not strappy tanks) if I have a blazer or cardigan to pull over it if necessary (meeting), but maybe people are commenting on my inappropriate clothes choice behind my back, who knows!

    • I’m the same as you – re: sleeveless tops. They’re always thicker straps on silk shells or blouses (no spaghetti straps!). I always bring a cardi or blazer into the office with me too, just in case. I work in SoCal and we have the worst AC in our building (it’s either ridiculously cold or not working), so sometimes sleeveless is the only way to go!

      • Sleeveless is okay in my office as well (PNW), so long as it’s a dressier piece (so a sheath dress would be fine, a sundress wouldn’t).

        • Ditto – a true shell/sheath dress is fine in my office, but nothing strappy.

    • I live in very warm country and wear sleeveless tops to work but the straps are at least three inches wide if not more so my shoulder is mostly covered. The days I wear these, everything else is super conservative, think pearls + pencil skirt and heels etc.

    • MissDisplaced :

      Yeah, cargo pants of any type are a bit too casual unless it’s for weekend work. I was thinking that a plain khaki or chino trouser or capri could be ok on a casual Friday. Ditto on anything too spaghetti-strap.

  13. Anonymous :

    My office (big law firm) is business cuasual, but people here dress in a wide range — some wearing suits every day, others more casual most of the time. I wear a suit whenever i need to, but otherwise always wear a “third” piece, i.e., a blazer, cardigan etc, and I always wear pumps/heels. That said, the issue to me is less about what you wear and more about how you wear it.

    If you look put together and professional, I wont think twice about what you are wearing. i generally think open toes/peep toes, sleeveless, lace, knee high boots, patterned tights, and capris are totally acceptable if worn properly. I wear sleeveless shells or sheaths under suits, peep toes with suits all the time. I might wear a capri suit in the summer, or capris w/ a blazer, and kitten heels.

    • “If you look put together and professional, I wont think twice about what you are wearing.”

      This is *so* the point!!! It’s so silly to say “no peep toes” or “never sleeveless” or whatever. It’s how everything is put together and how you look that matters. You have to be honest with yourself. You don;t need to be a total puritan about it.

      For the record, I work in a fairly formal place, and I wear peeptoes and occasional sleeveless dresses in the height of summer. Everything is always polished. And, I look a lot more “professional” in my peep toe pumps and sheeth than someone else in sloppy loafers and a badly tailored suit. It’s like the hose vs no hose debate: interviews aside, it really comes down to “do your legs look acceptable without stockings or do they not.” Same with sleeveless — some people wear something sleeveless and all you can think is, “that’s a lot of flesh!” Others wear sleeveless and you don’t even blink.

      Guidelines are great and all, but let’s not forget that they are *guidelines* — good for people starting out and good for those who don’t have a good feel for what works (not a sin, we all have our strengths and weaknesses), but let’s not pretend that they are as written in stone as “thou shall not kill.”

      • I think peep toes are fine in terms of professionalism, but I am a bit confused about their practicality. I figure closed toe is good for winter of course, but peep toes might be too cold for winter and not make enough of a difference for the summer. Can you please explain the point of them? Do they make you feet feel better in the summer?I figure closed toe is just…easier.

        • AnonInfinity :

          For me, it’s just that they are cute. I don’t think they make a difference in the temperature of my foot.

          • For me, it’s both aesthetic but also the fact that my foot breathes more. I find them much more comfortable in the summer. Would never wear in the winter.

        • Anonymous :

          they are pretty

        • This may sound bizarre, but I inherited bad bunions, which have gotten worse as I gotten older. I’m also a long-distance runner and like to wear heels, so thost things don’t help, either. But peep-toe shoes and sandles are SO much more comfortable for me and take a ton of pressure off of the bunions. Winter is miserable because my feet hurt by the end of the almost every day on account of wearing closed-toe shoes.

          • Don’t wear them, they’ll just make your bunions worse! I had surgery for bunions because I made lots of poor shoe decisions in my early 20s! Wear flats with good support!

      • I agree with AIMS 100%. I work with an attorney who always wears conservative suits and 2 inch heels but they’re so frumpy and ill-sized that it looks like she borrowed them from her grandmother. She has all the conservative boxes checked but could look so much more professional if she got a tailor.

      • I totally agree with AIMS. It is the whole picture, including the fit and your accessories. Of course, there are some items that are always inapproiate in the office.

      • I completely agree in regard to sleeves – I look horrific in a sleeveless top, but others look great!

    • Hello Jodi :

      You said it WAY better than I ever could! Granted, I work in a pretty casual (you can wear jeans if you have no contact with the public) non-profit, but I wear all the things + some that people here seem to think are unprofessional (at least 4 visible tattoos, exposed arms, bare legs, fishnets, open toes, contrast back-seam stockings, various vintage oddities like weird polyester and waitress uniform, full-on pinup makeup, pink patent leather saddle shoe pumps, I could go on) but my colleagues and directors consider me the best-dressed in the office. It’s all about context and how it’s all put together.

  14. Pants that aren’t hemmed properly/drag on the floor are a big no-no. I have a coworker who wears them that way, and it looks horribly unprofessional.

    • ohmydarlin :

      I saw a girl in the courthouse one day who had safety-pin-hemmed her pants… one of the ADAs called her out on it in the elevator and she turned beet red. I was embarrassed for her!

      • Anonymous :

        Haha, until you got to the part where she was called out, I was afraid this was me. I usually try to unpin outside the courthouse when I change back into my heels, but I’m definitely guilty of the safety pin hem. Yesterday I just left them in all day around the office rather than change into heels to sit at my desk.

      • I don’t get why anyone would call someone out on that – what a jerk! (Unless I misunderstand and that was actually her boss, but even then, don’t do it publicly!)

        • AnonInfinity :

          I agree. I have pin-hemmed in an emergency. It looks unprofessional, but I’d rather look unprofessional for one day than ruin my pants by having them drag on the ground. I’d also probably trip!

          • I used to keep fashion tape in my office for situations like a hem falling/a blouse gaping/etc. That along with static guard and a lint roller are office essentials imho!

          • AnonInfinity :

            Oh! Good call on the fashion tape, Anne-on. I think I will add that to my drawer of wonder (which also contains a lint roller, peanut butter, and mint tea).

      • I saw these on TV this weekend: https://www.buystylesnaps.com/?mid=908407&a=55959&s=495#order

        Anybody try these before?

        • I bought them recently (they sell them at Bed, Bath, and Beyond — don’t pay for the ridiculously priced shipping!), and so far they seem to be working well. I stuck them on two pairs of work pants that are hemmed for 3.5 inch heels — I can’t commute in shoes like that! (A pair of wide-legged pants required 8 pairs of the snaps, so the pack will do two pairs.) Although the packaging claims that they’re reusable, I have left them on between wearings of dry clean only pants, so I don’t now how well the wash-and-reapply method works.

          • Sydney Bristow :

            Those look awesome! I’m going to have to track down a BB&B this week.

      • Anonymous :

        That’s just ridiculous. Maybe the seam came undone, maybe she ripped her pants and had to buy a new pair late the night before and didnt get time to have them hemmed. This sort of attitute just sounds like mean girls and makes me really dislike some of the preachy, bossy, mean comments in this site. (I know you didn’t do it but there have been posts on this site where the lady would say it).

      • I don’t know why you’d call the person out either. How rude.

        And how could they even notice, assuming the safety pins were on the inside of the cuffs?

        A stapler will work in a pinch, too. Just be delicate when you’re removing it.

    • Oops, hope jmt isn’t talking about me! I’m super short and have to hem all my pants even if I wear them with heels and honestly, I’ve gotten really tired and lazy about it since my tailor closed. I tried style snaps hoping they would work but they didn’t really stick. Guess I will have to find a new tailor after all…

  15. One of the secretaries in my office works out every day at lunch. “Good for her!” you might say. Except that she goes traipsing through the office in her yoga shorts and sports bra on the way to and from the gym, and I suspect she takes the most circuitous route possible. Belly bare, arms bare, thighs bare. She looks really good for her age (45ish) but it’s not appropriate at any age.

    • Ooh — that’s bad! I can’t imagine being clad in gym clothes and walking through the office!

      • Me either, I change for the gym after my day is over into a t-shirt and sweats…and I put my almost-ankle-length coat on in case I run into someone. I have to figure out what to do now that the warmer weather is here.

    • Has she ever heard of a locker room? I’ve never been to a gym without one.

    • I see nothing wrong with walking through the office in your gym clothes, as long as (a) you are going direct to/from the elevator, (b) you change right away when you get back, and (c) there is no inappropriate flesh (belly, thighs) showing. Everyone goes to the gym from time to time and sometimes it just makes sense to change in the office. I haven’t found it to be a particularly big deal, even in Big Law (where, after all, you are lucky to get time to go to the gym in the first place so have to take what you can get).

      • Totally agree. I go for my run at lunch and go straight back to my office to change, no hanging out in workout gear. Couple of my colleagues not so much…

    • Yeah, our senior partner has said no gym clothes in the office. If you’re going to work out, change at the gym. He has a point, we frequently have clients in the office, and no one really wants to see any of our attorneys in shorts.

      • But, we are a small office, and if you’re walking from your office to the elevator, you pretty much over the whole office. No way to avoid people.

    • Anonymous :

      I once worked with a partner (!) who returned late from a workout while wearing a similar outfit and proceeded to join our already-in-progress team meeting without showering or changing. At least it wasn’t a client meeting.

      • I remember being startled one day when, early at the office, I saw one of the senior bigwigs walking around barechested but with his suit jacket on (or maybe he had his jacket AND his shirt on, but the shirt was totally open and untucked). Wet hair, too. Apparently it was part of his morning routine — he would work out hard in the morning, shower at the gym, and then head to the office — but he wanted to cool down a bit more before he put his shirt on. (Or something like that? Not remembering entirely now.)

        • Whoa — going to call him out: male gloating at its best.

        • Wha????

          This would scar me.

        • I cannot stop laughing about this story. It reminds me of something a male stripper would wear. The only thing that would make this funnier would be if he was wearing a bow-tie.

      • I go straight to track practice from work, so I change before I leave. I’m always worried that someone will see me, and take the shortest possible route out of the building. There’s no locker room at the track. I’d love to have a better solution (change in the car?).

        • I think it’s fine to change at work — and would not recommend changing in car — just wear appropriate layers if your work out gear is on the more revealing side. Obviously you don’t wear suits to work out but if you’ve got a lot of short / tight workout gear, cover up during your route out of the office. For example, if you wear short or tight shorts that you would feel awk. if co-workers saw you, bring some loose gym pants to cover up on your way out of work. Ditto for tight tops, wear an athletic jacket or hoodie over your normal outdoor gear.

    • Why would anyone wear gym clothes like that in the office?!? It is one thing to wear yoga pants and a hoodie out the door, but a sports bra and yoga shorts? Why not just wear a skimpy bikini!

  16. Does everyone agree with the restriction on “Sleeveless tops or dresses”? What do you do if you’re wearing one with a cardi or blazer but it’s really hot in your office?

    I’m afraid I was in that situation yesterday with the unexpectedly warm temps here in NY, and I just had to take off my jacket and (gasp!) expose my arms in my sleeveless silk shell.

    • Definitely a no-go in my office, except for one woman who hasn’t gotten the memo. I think it’s a know-your-office item.

    • I will go sleeveless in my office if I’m hot, but if I’m going to be in “public” walking down the hall (even just to grab from the printer) I will throw a cardi across my shoulders. Doesn’t have to be fully “on” (with arms thru sleeves), but keeps me from looking clueless re: our dress code.

      My pet peeve: not exactly a fashion issue, but people who drag their feet when they walk (maybe this is a corollary to only wearing heels you can walk in?). I can hear one woman coming from halfway down the hall — thonk-shuffle, thonk-shuffle, thonk-shuffle…

      • My office is extremely casual. We really do not have a dress code and very few people dress up on a daily basis if they do not have a meeting. My assistant wears heels to and from the office, but with all the running around she does, she usually changes into flip flops half way through the day. The only issue I have with them is she drags her feet when she walks. I have had to call her on it several times because it is so distracting for everyone to be able to hear her walking.

      • Anonymous :

        I rely on the shuffle to hear my boss coming and minimize corporette. Long live the shuffle!

    • anonymous :

      I’m in a biglaw NYC firm, and I don’t see a problem with a sleeveless top or dress, at all. This doesn’t mean that you should go traipsing around in a tank top, but I think that a sleeveless shell, shirtdress or sheath is fine.

    • I’m in Virginia where it regularly tops 90 degrees in summer and I work in a building where the AC is a little uncertain. As long as the sleeveless item is well tailored and you put your jacket on while seeing clients, no one cares if someone might be sleeveless while at their own desk.

    • Lawyering Mom :

      I’m a lawyer in DC and sleeveless dresses and tops in a nice material are totally acceptable. Tank tops and wife beaters are not ok, but a nice sleeveless blouse or nice sleeveless sheath dress are 100% acceptable.

      • Ditto for law here in the Midwest. I wear sheath dresses and nice sleeveless tops, but keep a blazer or cardi around for impromptu meetings or when the air conditioning is blasting.

    • anon for this one :

      True story: I was a WH intern during the Bush years, and attire was on the dressier end of business casual. I was strictly instructed that sleeveless was never okay. I was fine with that.

      Until there was a brownout, and everyone was sent home, except me, because I was on a deadline for a Congressional data request. I spent the day in the document room, which was in the attic, retrieving docs (it was all paper files), without air conditioning, in the summer, with temps topping 100 degrees inside…and had to keep my jacket on, because I was wearing a sleeveless top.

      • If you were the only one there, who would know if you took your jacket off?

    • If Michelle Obama can bear her arms while looking professional, so can I.

      • lawyerette :

        But Michele Obama is not acting as a “professional” when she’s wearing those outfits. She’s the First Lady.

        Do we think she wore sleeveless tops when she was an associate at Sidley? I highly doubt it. I think it’s way too much “evening wear” for me when women wear sleeveless things to business-casual and business formal offices. It’s not inappropriate per se, but if men around you are in suits or button downs and you’re wearing a sleeveless shirt, you’re calling attention to yourself, to your body, instead of calling attention to your intellect.

        • Total co-sign!

        • That’s what’s great about being a female – you get to wear a wide array of clothes to the office and still look professional. Dressing like a man would suck – I wouldn’t even visit this blog if that was my goal. I find nothing wrong with looking attractive at the office, so long as it’s classy. Might as well enjoy it while it lasts.

        • I used to work at Sidley (not at the same time as Michelle Obama) in the DC office, which is WAY snobbier than the Chicago office and I wore sleeveless dressse and tops.

      • Love it! I totally agree.

      • Anonymous :

        Michelle Obama does not have a job. Plus, she did not look professional when she went sleeveless and everyone in the room was wearing jackets.

        • this is hilarious. she has a very important job – and i’m a republican. she does a great job of keeping her fashion modern and appropriate.

    • I’ll go sleeveless, particularly if I’m just sitting at my desk working away. I always bring a cardi/blazer into the office on those days go, just in case, and I have an emergency cashmere wrap hanging over the back of my chair, just in case someone walks in and I need something in a pinch.

      I avoid anything overly strappy, but as long as the majority of my shoulders are covered and there’s no bra straps hanging out, I think I’m fine.

    • I had on a twinset on a really hot day, and had taken my cardigan off in my office, when one of the senior partners came in to ask me a question. My office seriously felt like an oven, but I really felt self concious, and the shell was skimpier than what I normally wear, although not quite spaghetti straps. Never wore that again.

    • I’m in FL and sleeveless with sandals is the norm in summer. Sometimes people wear shorts and flip flops, which seems to be a bit much.

    • Boston atty :

      Why is it okay for women to go sleeveless if men can’t? I suspect it might have to do with it being expected that women will go sleeveless in formal (evening) attire (where men would also wear sleeves, and jackets). However, the office is not a formal ball. I do admire women with strong arms (like Michele Obama) who aren’t afraid to show them, but IMO, in the office I just don’t really want to / need to be looking at your arms, whether they’re super awesomely toned, average size, or extra large.

      • Isn’t it because most men look better in sleeves? Don’t men want to appear bigger, more formidable, and suits give that impression? Suits make most unfit office guys look way better. Women, on the other hand, usually want to look more, well, womanly, and hence the more form-fitting looks.

      • I suspect it has something to do with women shaving their armpits and men having hairy armpits, but maybe that’s just me. I don’t really think people want to see others’ hairy armpits at the workplace.

        • I had a coworker who didn’t shave, ever. She wore sleeveless dresses w/ dark hairy legs and pits. I started working with her in the winter. She is a very attractive lady. I was totally shocked the first time I saw her in “summer attire.”

          • while i understand why it seems more professional or clean-cut to shave one’s legs and armpits it makes me sad that it’s expected that all women do it.

      • By that logic, why is it okay for women to wear skirts if men can’t? I do admire women with strong legs who aren’t afraid to show them, but IMO, in the office I just don’t really want to / need to be looking at your calves, whether they’re super awesomely toned, average size, or extra large.

        • I am kind of curious about this topic as well… I feel like I look professional in a pant suit, but I feel like it makes me look less “feminine”. Most of the more experience female atty’s I see seem to be wearing the skirt suits. I feel like I also heard that in federal court some judges used to only allow skirt suits on women? (This could be entirely wrong… just curious of peoples opinions on this… even if it isn’t true)

          What’s better for a female atty – pant suit or skirt suit?

          • Oh, this is a very touchy topic with many. You’ll get opinions ranging from “pants suits will never and can never be as appropriate as skirt suits” to “skirt suits make you look overly feminine and weak” (exaggeration intentional!).

            It is true that some judges want to see women in skirt suits. I’d add that in my state, I think that if a state judge (at least; feds might get away with it) tried to require that, it might result in a bar complaint.

            Personally, I have a horrible time finding pants suits that look good on me, as I’m short and don’t wear heels. So I always wear skirts. But I also rarely wear suits, so I’m probably not the most useful commenter on this.

          • Hm, that helps – thanks cbackson!

          • I think skirt suits are dressier, but I prefer pants suits because they are easier. I do wear skirt sirts in summer, but I hate hose. I think hose is necessary for interviews or court. For that reason, I will choose a pant suit over a skirt suit. For an interview, a pant suit is fine, but choose a subdued suit – black or charcoal. Maybe a subtle pinstripe. Subtle colored shell (or button down – I don’t wear button downs) underneath. For interviews and court, don’t wear open toes. Wear a mid heel. I don’t think flats are ever appropriate with a suit. If you don’t wear heels, go for a modest kitten heel (1″) over flats if possible. 3″ look best to my eye.

      • Anonymous :

        why dont you want/need to be looking at arms? what can possibly be sexual/inappropriate/etc about arms???

    • As with all thinks, I think it’s a know your office situation. I wear sleeveless and sheath dresses all the time, but as others have said, I usually have a cardigan or blazar handy. Cardigans can drape over your shoulders and do away with the casual feel. I also don’t wear spagehetti straps or 1 inch sleeveless – it’s the broad, several inches of sleeveless that I’m wearing.

    • Fine inside my own office, not fine in corridors or other people’s offices. In my own office, I’m just typing away alone and am entitled to be comfy. If I leave my office, I need to look professional.

  17. ohmydarlin :

    We had another paralegal who would wear 3″ platform flip flops… regularly. Not only were they ugly, they made a HORRIBLE “slap/flap/clomp” every step she took.

  18. I should note, too, that after reading the USA Today article, I wonder where the woman got the idea that her personality and individuality matters so much in the work place. Bear with me. I’m not suggesting that we should all be drones in uniforms and pretend that we have no lives or that we are all homogeneous, and that diversity in the workplace doesn’t matter. Because we all know it does matter and that it does make a difference.

    But she’s there to do a job, not to be cute or fashionable or comfortable to her liking. She’s got to look the part, and if her boss thought she didn’t then that’s her boss’s prerogative. This whole snowflake phenomenon that my generation and the ones coming up seem to hold dear is really obnoxious once it comes to work.

    Sorry, rant over. It’s just frustrating that she went on record, seemingly unapologetic and still confused about why the shorts and flip flops weren’t appropriate. I feel bad for her.

    • I agree. Someone (Ann?) was making a similar point very well a few months ago — that she was tired of women equating “being able to wear what I prefer” with being “empowered.”

      • Yep. My least favorite belief among younger women: “It is empowering to get to wear what I want! It shows I know what I want and am not going to let anyone stop me! I deserve a seat at the table no matter what I wear!” And yet…if there’s a big meeting and you aren’t allowed to attend it because you are dressed inappropriately…then to me, you don’t actually *have* a seat at the table…because you are not actually *in* the room…going to be very difficult to make your voice heard to the execs while you are out in the hall…hmmmm… :)

        I said it before and I’ll say it again. What is really empowering is actually having power, and I haven’t seen too many women running large companies while wearing tank tops, capris and flip-flops. I would dress in a chicken suit every day if it would get me promoted faster. Wearing shirts with sleeves, pants that go down to your ankles, and covering up your ta-tas, tattoos, etc. is a small price to pay for the rewards that come from advancement in your career – things like money, respect, reputation, flexibility, influence, autonomy, etc. etc. etc.

        • lawyerette :

          Totally agree. And it’s not like men get to wear whatever they want either! Why should women get special treatment?

          • This!! I have said this many times before. Men don’t rail against suit and ties and dress in athletic gear or hipster clothes or flannel shirts. If men are in suits, you should be in a suit.

          • skippy pea :

            See I hate this attitude! Why do we have to measure ourselves by the yardstick of what men do!

            We are women! NOT MEN!

            I really fail to understand this attitude some posters have about sleevless dress for work – why not? Arm is not a sexual organ! No one gets turned on by the show of an arm! I have worked at two of V10 firms and I have seen women attorneyes wear tasteful AND professional looking sheaths and blouses! No one would have dared called the look unprofessional or revealing!

            After reading this blog for a while now, I have to agree that women are women’s worst critics. The argument that women should not be able to get away with small divergences from men’s dress code is ridiculous. Do men wear stilletoes? How many times have posters here argued that heels are more professional looking than flats? Do men wear skirts? Geez!

            I think that posters with this attitude are the first ones to point, criticize and snicker at other women who do not conform to their ideas – not just in dress code, but with everything else in life!

            The most hilarious issue I have ever read on this blog is “toe cleavage”. Who’d have thunk! Makes me ROFL everytime.

          • Well, we look to what men wear in the workplace because that’s been the standard for professional dress since before women became common in the workplace. And, like it or not, it has set a bar for what people inside and outside of that profession consider “professional”. The trick – and part of the purpose of this blog IMO – is to figure out the female equivalent of what men are doing. Not to copy it exactly (hello 80s), but to find the feminine version of it. So, no, men don’t wear stilettos (although high heels were initially a male fashion conceit in Louis XVI’s France) but part of the discussion here is what is the appropriate feminine equivalent of a wingtip (or whatever the guys are wearing).

            As for arms/sleeveless debate – I think some of the concern is because “sleeveless” translates to “tank top” or casual summer wear for many people. Or, because people don’t like the chance of seeing other people’s armpits?

            Everyone is going to have their own opinions – you don’t have to please all of them. You just have to know your own office and figure out what works for you.

        • I think there’s truth to this to a large extent and I certainly play the game and try and dress appropriately to the office. At the same time, I worry that extrapolating these principles too far throws us back – we have to pick our battles and decide what we’re willing to compromise on, but ultimately we shouldn’t have to compromise on everything and say it’s fine because it’s getting us ahead and that’s where real power is. Because power gained only through adherence to other people’s terms isn’t real power. We all have (or should have) non-negotiables and, while we might sacrifice short term advancement to hold onto them, I think it will get us, or our daughters and grand-daughters, a stronger position in the long term.

          And while I think a lot of clothing things are presumptively not non-negotiables, I’m not willing to say everything related to clothing and appearance should fall into that category and certainly not for every woman. Sometimes, holding onto something particular about your appearance or presentation that doesn’t fit into the standard, accepted professional norm is empowering (and the fact that women before me believed that is quite literally why I’m allowed to wear pants today).

          • “Because power gained only through adherence to other people’s terms isn’t real power.”

            YES. Men made up these rules in the first place. I think women have to strike a balance between mirroring a man’s dress code and being our own. Just because a man’s professional wardrobe is limited to jackets, dress pants, button-down shirts, and ties doesn’t mean that women should limit themselves to wearing only these items. A sleeveless sheath or blouse (one where the sleeveless portion extends from the base of the neck to the near end of the shoulder) can look very classy. A white or beige capri- or ankle-length pantsuit in the summertime, paired with the right heels, can look very sharp!

            My point: a professional woman doesn’t have to mimic a man’s wardrobe to get ahead, as long as the overall look is professional. A powerful woman is–obviously–going to look differently and exercise her influence a bit differently than a powerful man.

          • “Because power gained only through adherence to other people’s terms isn’t real power.”

            I’m sorry, but WTF???? Where in the world would you get an idea like this??? ALL power is “gained through adherence to other people’s terms,” whether you’re talking about standards of professional dress, an organizational structure, or something like an election. Barack Obama is not powerful because he gained power through adherence to the United States’ political systems terms? I guess he should have taken over the country in a bloody coup to get real power, right? Let me break it down for you: you either gain power inside the system you’re in, or you sit on the sidelines as a fringe player. Feel free to wear anything to work you want, just don’t be surprised when you don’t get included on the big decisions because you’re thumbing your nose at the values other people hold dear. It has nothing to do with men vs. women, and I really wish some of the women on this board would go back and READ something like The Second Sex or The Feminine Mystique so they could understand what feminism is really about. It’s not about getting to wear fishnets to the office because a long time ago men made women get them coffee.

          • Ann, I never said anything about fishnets. In fact, I agreed with you about most of the dress things we discuss on this blog. While we’re talking about reading, read my entire comment instead of reacting to one sentence, which was clearly in the context of sacrificing core parts of your own personality or identity in order to gain power by fitting into a societally-dictated mold, not about taking power in bloody coups. Massive eyeroll.

          • (That “Katie” post was me – I changed the name on my home computer a while ago to ask an even more anonymous/sensitive question and didn’t change it back.)

          • Anonymous :

            Repeating some of what I said above: yes, men are turned on by toe cleavage. So if your job is to interact with inmates or patients or the mentally ill, then you really do not need to be sexy. Men like feet and we all have a pair of shoes that we know are smoking sexy! So, don’t pretend they are not.

          • “sacrificing core parts of your own personality or identity in order to gain power by fitting into a societally-dictated mold”

            I’m sorry, but I just don’t see how wearing closed toes shoes instead of peep toes, or sleeves instead of sleeveless, or a skirt that just brushes your knees instead of being a few inches shorter, or plain tights instead of patterned tights (just trying to toss out examples of more-conservative vs borderline-at-some-offices ymmv), is really “sacrificing core parts of your own personality or identity.” I would hope that any of us could show up for work every day in a blue button down shirt, black pencil skirt, nude-to-me hose, and black pumps, and be the same damn person we otherwise are. It is work. Wear whatever “uniform” makes sense for your job. There are lots of ways to let your personality shine at work apart from clothing.

          • “I would hope that any of us could show up for work every day in a blue button down shirt, black pencil skirt, nude-to-me hose, and black pumps, and be the same damn person we otherwise are.”

            I need to point out that we can’t all wear that outfit. I can’t wear heels – I have a family history of bunions, and was told by my doctor that if I didn’t switch to flats, I was in for a series of very painful surgery. I know how painful because other women in my family have had the same procedure.

            I also can’t wear buttondowns – also through the gift of genetics, I inherited a large chest, and buttondowns just look awkward on me.

            Having recently finished a biography of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, I was reminded about the dress reform movement – a large part of feminism was making it okay for women to wear clothing that actually allowed them to work, move, and be part of society, and that didn’t actually warp their bodies (look at pictures of the skeletons of women that spent much of their lives in corsets). So if society is making me wear shoes that are literally hurting my body, it is empowering to be able to wear flats. Buttondowns are based on men’s fashions, and, surprise, not really designed for bodies with large chests. It’s a small thing, and I still think I look appropriate and professional.

            I don’t think that this means I should wear my sweatpants or a tube top to work, but I do think that we need to think critically about the fashion “rules” we create, and realize that there may be a time to buck those rules.

        • Ann – I’ve said it before and will say it again – your advice is spot on. As usual. :)

    • Alex Mack :


    • This reminds me of the arguments I often hear from those who are in the same “I want to wear what I want and why should it matter” camp, where they try to argue that it’s not fair that people are judged by how they look, and they should only be judged by the quality of their work, etc., etc. The point of fact is, people ARE judged by how they look, by how they “fit in” and it’s been proven that human beings as a species are highly visual animals. It’s been proven over and over that managers (i.e. human beings) will promote and support those who “look like them.”

      As some of the others in this thread have noted, feel free to “wear what you want” and buck the corporate/office culture, but then don’t be surprised if you’re passed up for promotions, or worse, let go, because you’re not a team player and you don’t fit in.

      If you want to be iconoclastic, then go work for yourself.

  19. Corporate Tool :

    My old AA would wear mini-skirts with knee-high (stiletto, of course) boots, and no tights/stockings. I don’t know why that last one made it much worse for me, but it did.

    RE: Sleeveless blouses, I think that it varies by the industry and by the firm. I think that for everyday wear, if you have something to throw on top, it’s probably fine. I’d just check to see if you’re the only one doing it. If not, again, you’re probably fine.

    • Sheesh, even Julia Roberts’ character in Pretty Woman wore stockings with her miniskirt and over-the-knee boots…. :)

    • MissDisplaced :

      Sleeveless blouse… just keep a blazer handy!
      Don’t get at all why showing bare leg is considered OK, but not bare arm. Seems silly.

  20. Lawyering Mom :

    I have worked at 4 offices of 3 law firms (1 firm as a summer, 2 as an associate) and at all of those law firms, peep toes shoes and knee high boots were completely acceptable unless you had a client meeting and needed to dress business formal. Sleeveless tops were also acceptable, but you’d probably want a cardi due to the overactive a/c. I am currently at a branch office of an LA based firm, and I feel comfortable wearing cropped slacks/capris to the office (depending how it is styled), boots over slim pants, sundresses or jeans on Fridays… However, we all gossiped about the secretary with the white patent pleather thigh high boots and mini skirt.

    My main rule of thumb is to look around and see what the female partners are wearing. If THEY are wearing open toed shoes, knee high boots, or cropped pants, then you can too. I also think that a lot of the items on your list are acceptable IF you style them correctly. Cargo capris with flip flops? Not ok. Capri length slacks with a sweater twin set and kitten heels or slingbacks? Fine for work.

    • That’s a good guide. The female partners in my office love shoes, and wear lots of peep toes and dressy sandals in the summer, so I feel like I have a lot of leeway with shoes.

      • I agree. But what to do when you have no good female role models in terms of dress? I work for a large govt agency in the NE. For a variety of reasons, I do not want to wear suits every day as a “safe” default. I wear lots of pencil skirts, blouses, cardigans. Is this ok? I am filled with such doubt since I have no good role models.

        • Corporate Tool :

          I think that you’re probably fine. I work with mostly dudes, and I wear either a suit, a skirt and a blazer, or a button-down/tailored blouse with a nice (cashmere/silk/etc) cardigan. It’s a little more formal than traditional business casual, but I think it’s pretty safe.

        • Ugh. I hear you. Very few role models here. We only have one female partner in my group. She always looks professional but has clearly taken the comfort (no heels) route and I wouldn’t want to emulate her. I think pencil skirts, blouses, and cardigans are perfect as long as they are in decent fabrics, are well-maintained, and fit properly. That’s basically what I wear (except for button down blouses, which I detest) and I think I fit in pretty well.

          • Just to be clear — I just hate button downs on myself! I think they look very nice on other people. I’m just not built for them.

          • Yes, JC, there are women here senior to me but none have a style that I would like to emulate – really poor fitting suits, I have given up on life stretchy pants, or are waaay too trendy.

            Having women here but choosing to emulate none of them makes me somehow more nervous about my style than going alone in a total see of men.

    • “My main rule of thumb is to look around and see what the female partners are wearing. If THEY are wearing open toed shoes, knee high boots, or cropped pants, then you can too.”

      I disagree. The more you’ve paid your dues and proven your worth to the firm, the more you can disregard the rules and do your own thing. The more junior you are, the more you have to play by the rules. You want to be known for your work, not for your flip flops.

    • What the people wear in the office does not mean it is acceptable. What if you work with the mentally ill, prisoners, or children? Way too many teachers, investigators, social workers, lawyers are cavelier about the potential for their cute little toes, cleavage, tight ass in the jeans, or sexy arms to interfere with the relationship with the people they are there to serve. If your client is distracted, you are not doing your job. If the other women come to work looking all hot in a treatment center, that doesn’t mean it is okay for you.

      • Original Lola :

        This is exactly right. Just because your boss wears peep-toes, doesn’t mean you should wear them to visit your client in jail.

      • mrs_gberg :

        Not sure what you mean by teachers being way too cavalier about the potential for their cute body parts interfering with the relationship they have with their students. I’m a high school teacher, and though by no means a spring chicken, I am very conscious of the way I dress and how much of me I cover. In fact, I can’t think of a single female teacher on campus – no matter her age or level of fitness – who dresses provocatively. Attractively? Yes. Fashionably? You bet. Casually? Hey, YOU try directing hoards of teenagers all day in a power suit, heels and pantyhose… But we all know how to dress like our work comes first, not our cleavage.

        Come to think of it – I’m the only woman teacher on campus who wears more skirts than slacks; must be the influence of all those years I spent as an office worker.

        The descriptions of the more outrageous outfits worn by some of your colleagues, by the way, make me want to weep for those girls’ mothers.

  21. We’re fairly informal in the summer so long as no one is going to court. However, we have a receptionist who often wears skirts that look one size too small for her or short skirts paired with 5 inch heels. She also worked the desk wearing a low-cut floral bustier once!

  22. I work in a law firm that is pretty casual, but we do try to maintain professional standards. It’s more of a “you know it when you see it” atmosphere as to what is inappropriate. But universally, our biggest issues is flip flops–sparkly things on top don’t make them “fancy”.

    My assistant was sent home the other day for wearing a kimono style wrap dress. Too short, too too too much bust, large sleeves you could see in, coupled with stiletto knee high fake patent leather boots. When word got around the office that she had been sent home the immediate reaction from the men in the office was “Was she wearing that kimono dress?” That right there said it all. If they knew immediately what outfit she was likely wearing without seeing her (because she’d worn it before and it burned a hole in their brains!) that says to me it was over the line and inappropriate for the office. Alas, she still doesn’t understand what was wrong with the outfit, but at least that dress won’t be making another appearance.

    • Man, a lot of assistants getting called out. I feel like a weirdo because I rarely wear anything more than plain tops and pants.

      While I agree that her outfit was most likely inappropriate (I mean, I can’t actually see it), I am a little wary of the attitude that because it was noticed by the males in the office, it’s a bad thing. It’s like when I wear my contacts and actually do more than just basic makeup, or when I wear a skirt at all – the guys in my office notice it, but that doesn’t automatically make it inappropriate.

      • Contacts and makeup = totally different than wearing a hooker dress to work.

      • Anonymous :

        I don’t think the issue is that the males in the office noticed it and therefore it was a bad thing. I think the issue is that, upon finding out that she was sent home for being dressed inappropriately, the males all assumed that she was probably wearing a particular dress. That they clearly found to be inappropriate.

        Bottom line = it is not good if people in the office remember what you’ve worn for all the wrong reasons!

      • Men noticing something doesn’t make it inappropriate. Men noticing something because you look like you are going to a club and trying to get noticed, is a problem. A partner at a law firm once said “I like the, ahhh, color of your shirt.” I was wearing a simple, fuchsia top. It was appropriate for the office, but still looked good.

        • Hate to break it to you… but sometimes when men compliment the “color” of your top, they mean that it’s flattering in some other way. And possibly an inappropriate way.

          • I don’t think he meant it in an inappropriate way. It certainly wasn’t low cut and I’m not at all busty.

    • Anonymous :

      Yeah, right! Saw JLo on Biography claiming she didn’t get the fuss about the green dress that was open from the boobs down to the navel.

    • Hello Jodi :

      I think it would be really nice to explain to assistants exactly why their outfits are not acceptable. “When I’m looking at you straight on, I can see your breast tissue.” “When you lift your arm I can see completely down your shirt.” I think some people just don’t know – that’s not their fault if it’s not explained to them. Someone had to explain it to us, so maybe we can return the favor.
      My first job in an office was at 20, and I was lucky enough to work for a woman who had been in business a long time. She dressed fashionably but extremely professional. I’ve never dressed that formally again but it really helped me to understand the gradations of dress code.

  23. Praxidike :

    I feel like what’s appropriate office wear is going to differ from office to office. I also feel like this thread is going to become a judge-fest. Of the list Kat’s posted above, I will wear/have worn: 1) capris; 2) sandals; 3) tall boots; 4) corduroy pants; and 5) denim.

    One of the partners in my firm regularly wears cotton t-shirts with the arms torn off. Another wears too-short pants. Another wears jeans constantly. We all dress appropriately for court, depositions, and other situations where someone will see us. What’s clear to me is that even though all of the partners here have 30+ years of experience, you ladies would judge them because they dress too casually. Not cool.

    I figure as long as I keep winning Motions and I dress appropriate when required, what I wear to the office doesn’t really matter (so long as I’m not showing a boob or something similar). I’m not advocating for too tight, too short, too too; I’m simply saying that there’s more to being a professional than dressing like a professional.

    • AnonInfinity :

      What I took away from this post wasn’t that we should judge people who dress too casually, but that the culture in certain offices makes certain items (like capri pants, jeans, sleeveless tops) too casual for work.

      I agree with you that there’s more to being a professional than the way we dress, and part of that is knowing your office culture and whether a certain item of clothing would be inappropriate.

    • Great post Paraxidike! I work at a smaller casual firm and we dress similarly, however because I am newer and younger I always over-dress a little… But great point to say that being “professional” doesn’t JUST have to do with the way you dress.

    • “I’m simply saying that there’s more to being a professional than dressing like a professional.”

      Of course there is, but dress goes a long way. You say that in your firm, people dress how they want unless they are seen by someone else from the outside. So obviously, dress is not a completely neutral factor in your firm’s success or failure, or professional image. Appropriate dress/appearance matters to some degree – to both the people in your firm, and to people outside your firm. I wouldn’t “judge” you and your coworkers for dressing how you wanted when no one was around, but I reject any argument you may make that appropriate, professional dress is unimportant to the professionalism of your firm – clearly it is, otherwise all of you would dress how you wanted to all the time, with no regard to what the outside world thought.

      • Praxidike :

        I never, ever said that it wasn’t a factor. But the emphasis on what’s “Appropriate Dress” on this blog amuses me to no end. I mean, we’ve had hundreds of comments on the issue of toe cleavage. Have you ever legitimately looked at someone and said, “Wow, that is a nice tasteful outfit, but man… that is a LOT of toe cleavage that lady is showing. How inappropriate.” And that’s what I feel the majority of this discussion amounts to: one person’s judgment about what’s appropriate in their firm being applied across the board to everyone, everywhere.

        • “But the emphasis on what’s “Appropriate Dress” on this blog amuses me to no end.”

          Hello, it’s a blog about fashion in the workplace!

          • Divaliscious11 :

            While that is true, it is also a blog with readers from different parts of the country, different types of employers and different industries, yet
            There always “proclamations” about what is or isn’t professional based solely on an often very limited viewpoint. I have clerked for a judge, worked in big law, govt and been in-house, in different parts of the country and it never ceases to amaze me how some folks declare what is or isn’t “acceptable” because they have never seen it, done it or it wouldn’t fly in their office……

            I think we can unilaterally say certain items, such as a tube top, probably is unacceptable in the varying workplaces of the target group of this blog, but beyond that, it will be office/industry specific…

          • Divaliscious11 :

            Oh, and AIMS’ knee highs with skirt lady goes into the tube top category…just NO!

  24. My one addition:

    Knee highs. They are not stockings. We have an attorney who wears them whenever it’s getting warm or when she just runs out of reg. stockings. I think that she thinks it’s okay because when she stands straight, you can’t really tell. But when she sits or moves around, you can totally tell!!!! Black knee highs! It’s very Cabaret. And, frankly, just skeeves me out in a way that no pair of leggings ever could. So, fyi, definitely make sure whatever you wear, you’ve seen it from all angles!

    • That’s just not cool anywhere, office or anywhere else.

    • another anon :

      Wait, you mean she wears knee-highs with skirts? Wow.

      • Yep. Not cool. Black knee highs. Sometimes sheer, with the black band at the knee. Other times opaque. It’s terrible.

    • Whoa. It also irks me when women wear knee-highs with a longer skirt that has a slit. Just because you can’t see the knee highs when you’re standing still doesn’t mean they’re hidden when you’re walking or sitting.

  25. As a 23 year old recent college graduate who is entering the corporate work place, I really appreciate posts like this. I was raised by parents who told me to ALWAYS over dress, and dress for the job you want to eventually have, so I have never had too much of a problem following these rules… but I have a few friends who need to read this post. I notice my generation has a much more lenient view on what is acceptable as classy and business attire (maybe this comes from some of them trying to be “fashionable).

    Either way, reading posts like this give me a good idea on what is acceptable by most people, in a variety of work places. The transition from college appropriate attire to what makes you look like a real “business-woman” is a difficult one to say the least :)

    • I’m the same age as you (except I’ve been in the corporate world for a few years now, since college), but I love these threads too.

      I was often appalled during class presentations in college, when students had to ‘dress up’ or wear business casual attire. Some of the girls had no idea that ‘business casual’ does not equal ‘putting tights under whatever dress you wore to that frat party last weekend’. Holy cow – it made me a little frightened for our generation. I’m starting to wonder if a one credit class in dressing professionally should be mandatory in colleges now, as it seems sadly necessary.

      • HAH this made my laugh out loud… so true!!!!! It’s kind of amazing that all of the sudden its OUR generation that doesn’t know how to dress professionally… what happened?!?!

        • Eh, it always seems like the youngest generation in anything that’s dragging everything to hell in a handbasket. That’s just because their young and don’t know all the rules yet, not because they won’t learn.

      • During OCI in law school, I saw an acquaintance walking around in a suit, black pumps, and knee-high white socks.

        And this was at a law school that actually had a mandatory workshop pre-OCI that covered interview attire.

        • That doesn’t mean she wore that into the interview. Maybe she had blisters and she was trying to be able to walk without pain. I mean — absent some evidence of complete craziness, I bet she took those socks off before she walked near the interview room.

      • My college offered a “Real World Orientation” course for one credit. It was similar to Freshman Orientation, but for people that were graduating. We did cover fashion. I mainly took it because I needed a credit to round out my schedule, but it actually was helpful.

        However, I think if this blog ran 40 years ago, you would still hear “Young people don’t know how to dress.”

      • I’m also in the same age range!
        I was talking about appropriate business attire with a friend and he immediately recommended Express. I have yet to find a piece from Express that doesn’t show too much cleavage.
        It’s kind of hard to get the right guidance without blogs like this esp if your mom is stuck in the 80’s (over hemmed pants, boxy shoulder pads.)

        BTW threadjack. I tried on Stuart Weitzman Chicpumps and Cole Haan Thalia for the first time yesterday. Gosh! They are comfortable! I never thought heels could be that amazing. Now the only challenge is to find out where I can find $250-300 to cough up to make those purchases.

        Thanks ladies for pointing me in the right direction even if we do argue about what is “right” at least we’re getting closer to there than most of my peers steer me towards.

        • mrs_gberg :

          I’m not in this age range at ALL, but I remember the 20-odd years ago when I worked on the trading floor of an investment banking firm. The phone operators were often girls out of high school at their first jobs, and many of them dressed in what they thought of as formal wear – meaning party/clubbing dresses. (Fluffy, puffy, fancy, ruffles, bows, rhinestones! Please recall this was the mid-80s, and the Madonna the Material Girl ruled popular media.)

          The traders, almost entirely male and especially the younger ones, used to tease them unmercifully until the girls either quit, transferred or updated their wardrobes into something more appropriate for a fast-paced corporate environment. In their defense, their jests were MUCH more along the lines of “Wow! Are you going to a party or posing for a cake? or “Hey, the high school is down the street if you’re lost, ” than -” oh baby do me now.” But still – the guys really let them know if they were outside the corporate norms for style.

          The male traders, btw, wore suits & ties, but took their jackets off while working on the floor.

    • Makeup Junkie :

      Over-dressing has got me in trouble from time to time on contract jobs. There is always *someone* who thinks you’re trying to show her up, take her job, etc, if you’re dressed better than she is. The first day on a job is fine, but if you show up in a suit on day 2 when no one else is, you’re going to get a lot of “who does SHE think she is” nonsense.

  26. Great topic, Kat!

  27. Outerwear. We have a receptionist who protests against the excessively chilly lobby by wearing her white, puffy coat all day long, usually paired with too-tight, low-cut shirts, leggings, and heels. The whole look is inappropriate, but the coat in particular gets attention and drives several of her superiors nuts. She is not responsive to suggestions of changing her appearance, and seems resistant to the thought that dressing in layers, or covering up more in general, might prevent her from needing the coat in the first place.

    We are a business-casual IT company in the north-east, FWIW. I regularly wear knee-high boots, denim (Fridays), sleeveless, and occasionally a leather bomber jacket (also only Fridays, and only into work, not all day). I don’t think any of those are inappropriate in my office.

    • Chicago K :

      Our dress code actually states that we cannot wear our coats at our desks. Maybe you can suggest she buy a space heater?

  28. In addition to everything everyone else has already pointed out (though my office is ok with cropped pants and open-toed shoes), I’ll add anything that is too “themed.” At my previous office, there was a woman who often wore an outfit consisting of a dark blue “suit” with gold rope and coin embellishments, and matching blue suede knee-high boots with gold chain detailing (big chain links, too–not little dainty ones that might have passed as classy). Not even counting the fact that the skirt was too short and too tight, and her hair and makeup were more appropriate for evening than work, it was just wrong! It struck me as an approximation of pirate business formal.

    • I guess this is a know your office situation. On my pirate ship we are mostly business casual pirate wear which ranges from parrots to wood legs, but when we do a raid we are supposed to be in business formal since we are meeting with the villagers we are responsible for pillaging. Boots are the norm so that outfit would be fine for a day like that (though not suede because of the water situation)

      • Do you encourage people to have multiple hooks (gold, silver, etc) or is that an item that doesn’t have to match the rest of your jewelry?

        • I think a hook is like a wedding ring — it doesn’t necessarily have to match. However, I might consider having a “formal” hook for dressier occasions, because my everyday one tends to get a little dinged up.

          Love these comments! :)

          • Honeycrisp :

            For what it’s worth, I have found that taking my hook to the jeweler about every 3 months for cleaning and rhodium plating really minimizes the look of everyday wear and tear/pillaging/meet and confer sessions with opposing counsel.

        • NO GOLD HOOKS. I showed up with a gold hook the first day of my new ship because I wanted to make an impression and it ended up being so embarrassing. The metal is too soft for any sort of swordfighting. Lucking my mentor pirate let me borrow one of hers, and now I save it for holiday parties only.

        • Thanks! I am trying to plan what to wear to my trial pillaging session, so I will wear my silver hook and save the gold one for once I am hired.

          • mrs_gberg :

            Apropos of almost nothing, Tycho Brahe, a famous astronomer in the early Renaissance, lost his nose in sword fight in college and kept several false noses of metal for normal wear. He saved his gold nose for formal dinners and visits to the court…

      • academicsocialite :

        Amazing. There definitely need to be a separate pirate-only workplace dresscode.

        I once had a gig with a formalwear-only ship. It was exhausting keeping up with everyone else’s 24k gold thread eye patches and Hermes scarves. Not to mention we spent everything we pillaged on YSL pantaloons.

      • hee hee

      • I am also wondering about eye patches. I have a plain black, but I want to show some personality. Do you think it would be OK to have some of those patches covered in a fabric that complements my suits, or is that going to be to “matchy-matchy?”

        • I think if men can wear flashy pocket squares, than any self respecting pirate can have a flashy eye patch.

        • Perhaps a nice charcoal gray or navy. Navy looks good on everyone.

          • You could match the patch to the color of eye shadow on your other eye — it will make your eye color stand out.

      • I cannot believe I didn’t see this thread when it was first posted. I haven’t laughed this hard in a long time.

    • In all honesty, I would love to attend a pirate business formal. Maybe for the NYC Corporette meetup?

    • My pirate ship has business casual Fridays. Will I look overdressed if I wear a shirt with ruffles?

      Best. Corporette. Thread. Ever.

    • I just read this entire pirate sub-thread out loud to my husband. Thanks for the laugh, ladies!

  29. I work at a law firm in DC, and we are business casual with denim days every Friday (a concession to our LA colleagues who wear jeans every day). People generally don’t do sleeveless without a blazer, cardi, or wrap to cover themselves with when they leave their offices. I think sleeveless is too casual. (That said, I think it’s completely overboard to suggest that baring your arms is somehow “showing off your body” as a PP said.)

    Sandals and knee high boots are just fine, but to reiterate a theme going on here, it’s more about style. I’ve got sandals I would wear to work, and sandals I wouldn’t.

  30. My pet peeve is open toed shoes without a professonial-looking pedicure (I’m in Biglaw in NYC). At least here in NYC a pedicure in the warmer toe-baring months is very important — and this is coming from someone who is extremely down-to-earth in terms of makeup, hair, etc. A summer associate two summers ago would constantly wear open-toed slides (which by themselves were borderline) with no pedicure whatsoever — just ungroomed overgrown toenails. Not good.

    • Anonymous :

      Out of curiosity, do you consider polish to be mandatory for open toed shoes?

      I don’t wear them to my office (they wouldn’t fly) but I live in flip flops for summer weekends, and I don’t polish my toenails. I do, however, take care of my toenails/feet (cut/file my nails, take care of my cuticles, buff, pumice stone etc). Basically everything you’d do as a part of a pedicure, minus the polish. I think this looks fine, but I’m curious if others are secretly criticizing my lack of polish.


      • AnonInfinity :

        I think that no polish is fine for flip flops, but could look weird if you were wearing peep toed dress shoes. Maybe it’s because the peep toes are kind of shiny and would highlight the non-shininess of unpainted toenails?

      • I think it depends on your shoes. If they’re not patent, I think no polish is probably fine. If you are wearing open-toed patent shoes, then maybe polish would look better.

      • Anonymous :

        Sorry, to clarify, I don’t ever wear dressy open toed shoes or sandals, only casual ones (flip flops, Born flat sandals, etc).

        • Then I think you’re fine. I’m from NYC also and as long as you’re groomed, it’s all good.

      • I think proper buffing takes the place of polish, regardless of the shoe.

      • Anonymous :

        Oh, I think feet without polish look gross. I know they may not be gross, I know the polish isn’t a forcefield that will protect me from feet germs, but still, I think it’s soooo gross. I don’t know why. Slap some Sally Hanson on.

        • Anonymous :

          i agree. but thats just my opinion and i know others disagree. i also cant stand the french pedicure.

          • I also find the french pedi very off-putting. I am also incredibly skeeved out by long (or long-ish) toe nails of any kind, even polished. I think short and neat is the way to go with toes. It’s actually probably the reason I find the french pedi so off — the white tips make it look like you need to cut your toenails!

            I am of the peep-toe is fine opinion, but with that goes the obvious caveat that your toes should look neat, and to me long toe nails even if polished just don’t look neat.

      • I consider polish to be necessary in the summer, yes. But you can easily use a light pink/natural color if you’re not into bright-colored polish.

        The great thing about a pedicure is that it lasts for such a long time. I never get manicures because I chip the polish within two days. But a pedicure lasts me nearly a month.

        • Agree

        • Wow – a month? I’m incredibly envious. I don’t paint my toenails because I teach and train in martial arts and nail polish will get scraped/smudged literally every class – not worth it. I do keep my feet baby soft and nicely pedicured though (sans polish!).

        • Second that. A flesh/natural toned polish (or even a coat of clear) is better than nothing; and good grooming is necessary. I like Essie’s flesh-toned (for me) colors like Ballet Slippers and Mademoiselle. They are very sheer and don’t stand out–which is better than standing out in a bad way!

        • I hate pedicures because I hate people touching my feet for that long. Manicures are okay because everyone will see my hands. In general I just do it all myself. If my toes are not painted, but I’m wearing flip-flops or something, it is just because I’ve been unusually busy.

      • I don’t think polish is required. But if the piggies are gonna be out there for everyone to see, they should be clean, neat, and groomed. A coat of nail polish usually helps in getting this image, but I don’t think is per se necessary.

    • My two cents – I think nail polish is necessary for open toed shoes/sandals…

      • Anonymous :

        Original Anonymous with the pedicure question, here. Seems the consensus is showing your toes = get a pedi. My follow up curiosity question is whether the respondents also think that a manicure is always necessary, or are feet somehow different?

        • I think it’s necessary to keep your nails neat and your hands looking nice, without ragged cuticles, calluses, etc. Basically the same as for your feet, but for the feet, you need a pedi to accomplish this.

        • Sadly, the older one gets the more likely a pedicure starts to be “necessary” — whether because we have screwed up our feet in heels or because we can’t quite bend or see well enough to do it ourselves :)

        • We aren’t allowed to wear nail polish on our hands in the OR (or fake nails, or have nail whites more than a 1/4 inch long) so for me, pedicures are a must (as much for the 45 uninterrupted minutes to read trashy magazines) but manicures are a no-go.

  31. Anonymous :

    Random observations FWIW:

    HR here won’t do anything about dress code violations unless there’s a complaint (no anonymous complaints allowed). Most of the complaints are from women about other women.

    Some of the IT department look like filthy hobos but they’re young and very competent.

    Some of the women from Asian countries wear really short skirts and club-worthy outfits.

    I truly ached for the one male manager (nicest guy in the world) who had to tell a young intern she had to change because her bra was visible through her shirt.

    Some of the women-of-color can wear bright suits and they look absolutely conservative and incredible. On white women the same suit would never fly.

    That’s all.

    • Say what? :

      Why would a bright suit look conservative on a dark skinned woman, but not on a white woman?

      • This is not race-baiting, if that’s what you’re thinking. Think bright fuschia pink. I am a woman of color and when I wear this color, I don’t get a single comment about it. When my (white) cubicle-mate wears something similarly “loud” she would get at least one non-pliment (you know, like, “That’s an interesting [blouse, top, etc…]”).

      • i agree that some colors are easier for women of color to wear than white women (and also vice versa!).

        i think it has less to do with one’s race/ethnicity and more to do with what color flatters your complexion – and skin tone is definitely a big part of that equation. bright pink (like in Pollack’s example) might read as “lawyer Barbie” or too “loud” on a fair-skinned or white woman, but on a darker-skinned woman might be a flattering pop of color.

        • True, and this is coming from sometimes loud-color wearing (sometimes) woman of color…

  32. All the assistants not dressing properly makes my skin crawl – and are all reasons why I am nitpicky about what I wear to the office.

    Some of the ladies in my office wear flip-flops, t-shirts and capris as often as they can get away with it. We are in Houston, and I understand we’re business casual, but it just looks sloppy nine times out of ten. (We’re retail, and western retail at that, so jeans and “bling” are worn by our buyers, but not me.)

    When I worked in more formal offices (always as an assistant) I try to keep the basics just that, basic. If I want to “express myself” I find a neat piece of jewelry or a scarf or something like that. Granted my idea of “neat” is a lot more understated than some, but that’s kind of how I get my occasional need for color without feeling like a peacock in the penguin exhibit.

    • And just because you *can* dress is flip-flops at work doesn’t mean you should.

      • I feel bad for lawyers who have assistants that don’t know how to dress. I’d never send my assistant to bring a client to a boardroom or want her to interact with a client in any way face to face if she was dressed inappropriately.

        The worst offender I worked with was a woman who purchased everything second hand. Her philosophy appeared to be that as long as it fit, it was acceptable.

  33. I run a small software company in the Midwest, and our dress is very casual (flip-flops are fine, and our CEO regularly wears a sweatshirt and jeans unless he has an outside meeting). So I’m not in the same culture as most of you by any means. But I had to share this story: several years ago, I had to take a young, gifted programmer to an insurance company client site (fairly conservative). He very much did not want to go, and he expressed this by showing up in kakhi shorts and a t-shirt. Once on site, he immediately removed his sneakers and walked around in his athletic socks for the entire visit. Seriously.

    Luckily, he was able to quickly fix whatever problem the client was having. He is also very funny and charming in his own way, so the client chalked it all up to the eccentricity of brilliance.

    • khaki. you knew what I mean :)

    • Eww. Walking around without shoes is just plain gross.

      • chicwithbrains :

        Jay, I hate to break it to you, but among programmers in silicon valley, this is incredibly common.

    • Thank you!!! I was reading all these comments and was wondering if anyone from the software industry posted their thoughts! It is VERY common in the software industry to wear jeans, sneakers, and flip flops. The most innovative startups and mid size companies in New York City usually wear jeans, sneakers, and flip flops. If you wear a tie the whole office teases you the entire day – so where are you interviewing today? The motto is come be yourself and be comfortable because we have to dive on in and get this work done. Of course if you are representing the company to a major client you may have to show up in full corporate suit attire – but it depends on the client and situation. Personally I have found the companies with dress codes were less exciting less innovative places to work. They don’t really invest in the IT department nor deeply care about the software they create. As such I tell recruiters one of my requirements is that any company they present to me must allow jeans and sneakers. As a result, I get the calls for media, entertainment, e-commerce etc and I don’t get bombarded with the calls for the jobs in industries I find lets just say less interesting. Also, if you work in NYC, you will probably walk a portion to work. One day it will be pouring out, your umbrella will flip inside out, you will be wearing flip flops because you have done this so many times that you know your shoes and socks will never dry before the end of the work day – boots never seem to work either – and you just hope your pants will dry out because you are soaked up to your knees. I am not in my 20s. I believe America is behind the times in the dress code and vacation policies.

  34. Tired Squared :

    At my internship, we had an administrative assistant who was in her 40s/50s, who felt like she was still “perky enough to go braless.” She was also fond of strappy tank tops (not just camisoles, but the low-back and cross-strap-back types)… and in pale colors, like yellow and white. So you know, not only was her tummy and back flab hanging out, but you could also clearly see her … outlines.

    I’m not sure what the appropriate term is … perhaps “headlighting?” Either way, it’s definitely not okay to show … outlines in the office!

    • Tired Squared :

      Oh, and obviously this isn’t as bad as the “Braless Wonder” problem, but she also was fond of platform flip-flops. So you could also hear her coming from miles away.

      … at least it gave you time to stick your nose (and eyes) into a filing or something!

  35. Body glitter

  36. When I started working I heard a good rule of thumb: If it doesn’t need to be dry cleaned, it is not business casual. Obviously the rule can’t be too rigid, and I have a few pieces of clothing that don’t fit this rule, but I find it to be a good rule of thumb.

    Also, I think that fit, fabric, and the rest of your outfit determine whether a specific piece of clothing is appropriate. I have a pair of capris that I will wear with flats sometimes, but I make sure my “top half” is even more put together and completely covered up. A nice shell and cardigan sweater with good jewelry, for example.

    • By this measure, almost none of my wardrobe would be business casual. Then again, I push the limits of what’s dry-clean-able.

    • I don’t get paid well enough to follow that rule; my office is welcome to implement it if they want to increase my salary commensurately.

    • I think the point was that if it’s something you can just throw in the washer and dryer, normal cycle, with your jeans, it’s probably not nice enough. Maybe a shell for under a suit but not pants, jackets, or sweaters. Cotton just doesn’t look that nice once you’ve washed it a few times and there aren’t that many other fabrics you can throw in the washer.

      I also live in New York and I think we tend to dry clean more stuff here because so few people have washer/dryers. I have a few things that I would throw in the gentle cycle instead of dry cleaning if I had control over my laundry, which I don’t.

      • My washable Tahari suit is one of my favorites! The fabric is great and you can’t tell it’s washable until you look at the label.

        • I have a great pair of grey trousers from BR that can go in the washer…

          The rule I’ve heard is: If you could wear it to the beach, don’t wear it to the office. (Bye bye, flip flops, capris, short bright skirts, t-shirts…)

  37. Charlotte :

    Suits that are clearly from another era, and not in a good way. I work in a gov’t office where we have to appear in court frequently, and one senior lawyer here wears no clothes that have been purchased after, say, 1990, if that late. In addition to them being severely out-of-date, they are worn and shapeless, giving her a haggard appearance. She just generally looks more unprofessional than she probably realizes.

    One particularly memorable outfit was the “festive” one she wore to a Judge’s Christmas luncheon party: [bright!] tomato red heavy-knit sweater with matching knee-length skirt; light pink, too-long lacy skirt peeking out from skirt hem; large green-wreath necklace with matching earrings. I was a bit embarrassed to be there with her.

    She wore the worst outfit in recent memory during an intern interview which I attended: old, worn chambray/denim-type pants, a “themed” turtleneck and a woolly cardigan with cats on it. Inconceivable. Denim is not allowed in our workplace, period.

    The worst thing I have seen an attorney wear in court was a woman who wore a black polo shirt and long, gauzy hippie skirt — and the judge said nothing.

    • Now I really want to see this woman. Court attire has gone downhill. I see too many female attorneys in court who wear cardigans instead of jackets and cutesy dresses, even in trial. I don’t get it.

  38. freddie_my_love :

    I’m a law student, and this might be just to obvious for anyone to mention, but is it always necessary to wear hose when you’re wearing a skirt? I’m working at a US Attorney’s office in the Pacific Northwest this coming summer, and I’m completely willing to wear hose if it’s expected, but I just can’t tell if it is or not because I’ve only seen men in the office (who are obviously all wearing pants). Thanks!

    • I don’t think so as long as other women in the office don’t. Women partners in my office don’t, so I don’t — when it’s warm. I do think it looks weird if it’s 50 degrees out.

    • Wear them the first day and then look at what other women are wearing. I hate, hate hose. I think they are incredibly silly (why wear something that is the color of your legs and designed to look like you have nothing on your legs?). But, I will always wear them when I need to be safe and feel out a work situation (interviews, trials, etc). But on a regular basis, I never wear them and I have found that here in the Northeast most women my age (early 30s) and younger tend to not wear them except in special work situations like the above.

      I think there have been a bunch of other posts on this over the years. Other tips on bare legs in the workplace include not going bare if you’ve been bug-bitten or have anything else going on (cuts, scrapes, etc) that would attract too much attention to your legs and make you look less put together.

      • I agree – you can wear them on the first day, then then take them off once you arrive and get the lay of the land.

        I too hate hose, but in situations where you’re not familiar with what the dress code is, it never hurts to “overdress” (and I would include hose in the “overdress” category) and then tone it down a bit once you see what’s acceptable.

      • Anonymous :

        Because my legs are red, veiny, and blotchy, and pasty white. :( That said, I look better in skirt suits than pants.

    • I practice in a large city in the PNW, and can’t remember the last time I saw a female attorney in hose (other than heavy tights for the winter).

    • I never wear them. They’re uncomfortable, don’t conceal anything and I rip them within one wearing. If I have bruises from sports, I just wear pants.

    • Get a sense of what the women in general are doing, rather than a (potentially rogue) woman or two. When I lived in SD, not wearing hose was par for the course. At my current Midwest office, there are a few women who go without hose in court – and a lot of women who talk about their lack of decorum later.

      Not much you can do for the backstabbing, but make sure you are looking at the general dress code rather than a few exceptions.

    • downtownist :

      Freddie – I clerked with a US Attorney’s office in the Midwest. Hose were a must. My suspicion is that the same will not be true in the Pacific Northwest. However, I’d plan on wearing them for the first day or week until you can get a sense of what is appropriate.

      • You’ll have to feel out your own office. I know the USAs in Houston all wear hose, from what I’ve seen (a former office shared an elevator bank with them).

        FWIW, most women here don’t wear hose to court anymore — even federal court.

  39. I’m in law, bf is not – he’s in government. He rags on me for my need to dress up for work while he can show up in anything! He lives in ratty t-shirts and jeans and -gasp- in the summer he wears shorts! In his industry (tech) he explained that it’s the people that don’t look like they have anything to prove that have the most “street cred.” If someone in his field showed up in a suit to work, everyone would assume he is overcompensating for a lack of skill.

    The nerve! I wish that’s the way the rest of the world worked – when clothes didn’t make others guess your competence level at first glance! (And I totally realize there are folks out there that are awesome at what they do in the corporate environment but dress against code, and I imagine it takes others much longer to trust them/their work). Sigh…

    My bf also said that if the government had shut down and he was considered essential enough to go in, he would have – but if they weren’t going to pay him, he wasn’t going to show up in pants :)

    • This attitude is rampant in the sciences – if you appear to care about how you look, you can’t possibly be serious about your work.

      I had asked a while ago about attire for a meeting that was going to skew heavily towards basic scientists/computer people, was thinking about bringing a couple of casual (think nicer end of Athleta) style dresses. I didn’t, but as it turned out, I totally could have. I figured out the “dress code” for women in that situation – just about any type of clothing is fine (dress, skirt, pants, boots, whatever), but you must look as if you didn’t do more than wash and comb out your hair in the morning. No overtly visible make-up, either. So it’s a fine balance between looking nice but looking like you don’t care if you look nice.

      Sometimes this attitude is more exhausting than the hose/no hose, sleeves/no sleeves, and peeptoes: Yes or No? situations.

      • I frequently find myself in similar situations, and I totally agree with you.

        One of my co-workers has a story that I found amusing. She was at a training on presentations and public speaking, given by a male public speaking instructor. As I posted elsewhere on this thread, my agency is very casual, so for trainings, nice jeans and a solid tee and jacket are the norm for women, nice jeans and a button up are the norm for men. Most of the people in the meeting were scientists.

        The public speaking professor berated the group for 20 minutes on not being professional, not wearing suits or ties, etc. He told them that no one would take them seriously if they weren’t wearing a suit.

        His suit was horribly wrinkled, and he came back from lunch covered in food. He also spent a good part of the day talking about audience analysis, and adapting to the situation you’re in. Needless to say, if he was after credibility, he got very little of it.

        I think the key in situations like that is to look comfortable and put together. I often layer in a way that I can quickly dress up or dress down an outfit if I’m not sure what I’m heading into. I don’t normally wear a lot of makeup anyway, but when I know I’m on the way to a casual meeting, I’ll skip the eye-liner and make sure that the rest of my eye makeup is neutral.

  40. It looks like, at least in part, a failure in employee management. I don’t imagine the woman in the article dressed more formally every previous day of her employment and that this was the first instance of her misreading her office. I wonder if a heads-up when she started working there would have nipped this in the bud. (That said, I wasn’t impressed with her defense in which she sounded self-righteous, not surprised, by the standards.)

    • I agree – depending on your industry, “business casual” can mean almost anything. Reminds me of a wedding invitation I got that said the dress was “dressy casual”. In both cases, if read literally, those words mean the opposite of each other. It also varies wildly by region. If I were dressing inappropriately for the job, I would want someone to pull me aside and tell me – before we were walking into a meeting that I wasn’t properly dressed for.

      I’m actually a fan of written dress-codes, or at least guidelines that have examples of appropriate dress. My agency’s dress code is just “dress appropriately for your office.” Um, thanks.

  41. Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law– “Dress for Success Chapter” (this is literally the entire chapter).

    “I don’t care what you look like as long as the brief is good.”

  42. Because everyone’s outrageous stories seem to be about assistants, I’ll share one about someone who is superior to me. As context, we work in local government where people dress all over the board. This is more, “I think she got dressed in the dark” than inappropriate:
    Hair, obviously greasy
    Light blue button down
    Light yellow cardigan, poorly fitting
    Dark green and blue plaid pants. Seriously.

    I was sitting in a meeting with her and couldn’t stop staring. While she is not someone who’s style I would ever emulate, it’s usually not this bad. And for the sensitive: yes, I am being catty and judgmental. :-)

    • Anonymous :

      Wonder if this is a depression or psych issue. In all seriousness, maybe her life is rough and she’s given up.

      • Oh, I don’t know. There’s more than one senior female partner at my firm who dress in ways that would have Stacey and Clinton on What Not To Wear using a backhoe to dump their wardrobe into the garbage can at the beginning of the show. They’re not depressed, though; they’re just senior in their profession, don’t care about clothes, and are good enough that they don’t actually have to care. They’re at the point where their reputation, seniority, and work speak for themselves.

        • Plenty of chaired, tenured profs dress like this: elastic waist pants, polo shirts, baggy mid-length skirts with sneakers, wildly striped socks, crazy hats… and sometimes all at once! They’ve made it, and now they’re gonna do what they want.

          I was *amazed* when one of those profs gave me advice about dressing for my new job. She told me that in the early days, she always wore skirt suits with heels, hair in a bun. Now you’re more likely to find her in a tie-dyed t-shirt.

    • Anonymous :

      We have one employee like that. She’s very high level and has twin toddlers, so some days she will look like she just rolled out of bed and threw on the first thing she found. It’s not that she doesn’t know how to dress or is depressed, but sometimes she just doesn’t have the time.

  43. business hanging out :

    The worst I’ve seen is a woman with a very generous hourglass figure wearing a spandex dress that hit mid-thigh in the front, and about 2 inches below derierre (sp?) in the back! Every step she took swooshed the back of the dress up another half inch, and I just worried that at any second her “business” would be all over the office! Why, WHY would you think this is a good idea? To be fair, this same woman also wore the type of strappy tank top one would normally wear under a completely buttoned shirt (in case of gaps) as her shirt for the day. She had a thin jacket over it, but you could see EVERYTHING. Again, “business” all over the office!

    • sounds like you’re talking about my boss!

    • Anonymous :

      I’ve seen pencil skirts where the slit is cut too high in the back and The Business is clearly on display.

      • This very much needs to become a Corporette meme. For business, you must dress to cover The Business, at all times.

        • I would say, unlike everything else that is a relative contraindication and the sage advice of “know your office/culture,” covering The Business is something we can all agree on. This thread has made me giggle more than once today.

    • downtownist :

      I actually have seen The Business once. A coworker wore a skirt suit with much too short pencil skirt to work and subsequently to a patio happy hour. The pencil skirt barely covered her butt, and when the wind picked up the right way, I saw buttcheeks more than once. I was mortified (kept thinking – what if she wore that suit to a client event?) but didn’t know how to tell her that the booty, it was a-showing.

  44. Huge pet peeve:
    I’m not a “real” corporette. I manage a dog daycare, and when I have office and marketing days I get to wear my nice grown up clothes. All other days I’m a uniform diva.
    BUT…just because the uniform for my employees is jeans and logo tshirt, doesn’t mean you get to be covered in dirt or holes. I work with a lot of 18-20 year olds, and they honestly don’t know what professionalism is. Part of my job is to teach them, so when they’re done with college and start their jobs they don’t embarrass themselves in the corporate world.

    • Hey Anonnynonny :

      If you’re achieving anything…you’re a real corporette.

    • You are living my dream. I debated opening a dog daycare before they became popular. There was only one in my state and it was just $5 a day at the time! I decided to go to law school instead. Now every major city has 5+ dog daycares and they charge $20+ per day per dog. Sigh.

    • For some reason, dropping my dog off at daycare makes me reevaluate my life choices every day…why am I working a job I hate so I can pay other people to spend all day with a dog I love? I am totally envious of you, Atlantia. Rock on.

  45. I work at a bank, and we had someone get injured. She showed up for the next little while bra-less, and with no shirt under her jacket. Other times, she would wear a cut-to-the-sternum sweater and no bra, and she couldn’t get away with the no-bra thing any more than my grandmother could have. I was completely astounded.

    • Oh, I forgot to mention she had her arm in a sling. Apparently that was her excuse for showing up without her clothes on.

      • It sucks, but I can kind of see it – if you live alone and your arm is hurt badly enough that you can’t get on a bra or a shirt, your options are limited (though there must surely have been some sort of shirt she could have gotten on the same way as the jacket or sweater . . . .)

      • When my arm was in a sling, my roommates dressed me and my boyfriend washed my hair. I never thought about how impossible it would have been if I lived alone. In retrospect, I probably would have asked a friend to stay with me or asked a coworker to meet me at the office early to help me button up.

  46. tranquiljd :

    I used to work for a firm that set an all-time low in terms of appropriate dress for the office. The dress policy was “business professional” during most of the year. However, on non-court/EBT/client meeting days during the summer, we could dress casually, the interpretation of which was left to the individual. The associates and support staff handled things well. Men tended to wear either khakis or dress jeans with polo shirts and blazers. The women wore sheath dresses, knee-length skirts, dress jeans, dress pants, nice tops, with cardigans or blazers. Then, there were the partners. One partner, who was the oldest in age yet the youngest in terms of seniority, always dressed nicely. The others? Shorts. Bermuda shorts. On men over 50. With the worst legs you’ll ever see inflicted on human beings. My supervising partner was the youngest (46) and had a penchant for madras shorts, topsiders, and Yankees team player shirts, all of which were apparently purchased in his sophomore year in college, judging from their condition. Worst thing about it is that they dress casually ALL YEAR ROUND – they consider it a perk. When I was interviewed, my partner wore a faded checked shirt and jeans that looked as if he’d spent the previous day wearing them to clean out the garage. I honestly believed that he was an HVAC repair guy when he first walked into the room.

  47. Another no-no: unwashed hair! This should be obvious but I’m amazed at how many otherwise well-dressed attorneys have greasy, unkempt locks..

    • Would be a bird nest with daily washed hair :

      I think unkempt is the key word here. I don’t wash my hair more than once or twice a week in winter (more often in summer), but I style it every day/keep it neat and I doubt most people would ever know I didn’t wash it every day.

  48. I’d agree with you on the flip flops and any gym wear. But aren’t jeans what everyone means when they say “casual Friday?”

    • Not everyone. I think it’s a know your work place kind of deal. “Casual Friday” for my job means a dress (non-suiting variety — can be wrap or shirtwaist, etc.), or a skirt + sweater, or plain pants (*not* jeans or cords) and a cardigan, etc. Never ever jeans.

  49. Sydney Bristow :

    I saw a woman wearing a tie-dye floor length dress and another woman wearing black suede pumps that had clear lucite heels to our swearing-in ceremony. We were explicitly told that business formal dress was required. The woman with the shoes didn’t stand out until we were lining up to sign the book. The woman wearing tie-dye however, stood out right away. Definitely not in a good way.

  50. For those of you the other day who were looking for maxi dresses/skirts – I ordered this long skirt from old navy, and it is AMAZING. Very soft, flowy, and the cut is unbelievably flattering. Don’t know how long it will last, but I plan on wearing it to death. I do wish it came in more colors… I usually only wear Old Navy for tees to wear as cover ups/to work out, but I’m really pretty impressed with this skirt. As a bonus, hubby loved it too!


    • Ohhhh I’m so tempted to buy that green print maxi dress! Probably can’t go wrong with $35!

  51. 2 fun interview stories.

    I once interviewed a guy who showed up in flannel sweatpants and a fleece jacket. The impression I got was that he rolled out of bed, put on a fleece jacket and his glasses and went for his interview. Ew.

    Another time I interviewed a woman who wore a very low-cut blouse. It was a very pretty blouse, and she wasn’t very well endowed so there was no cleavage visible; nevertherless the whole interview I found myself wondering if she was wearing a cami underneath, and whether I had just caught a glimpse of her bra. I can’t imagine how distracted the guy interviewers must have been. As I closed the door when leaving the room, I saw that the top of her thong was showing – not just peeking out, but a good 1.5 inches above the top of her pants!

  52. operaghost :

    In college, I used to work at an uber-conservative law firm where I got sent home almost daily for wearing “inappropriate” attire (no nylons under a skirt, a top cut too low – even though I was wearing a camisole under it – etc.) Now, I work at a more laid-back firm where we can wear sleeveless tops, open toed shoes, and best of all NO NYLONS. I love it. I could never work in a place where I can’t wear my peep-toes!

  53. A couple things – I work in government in DC, so we’re business casual unless we have a meeting that requires a suit. Our field office staff frequently has to actually go out in the field (one day I spent 5 hours hiking through a ranch), so our field offices are very casual – hiking boots, jeans, t-shirts, etc., and a lot of the DC staff started in the field, so that definitely influences the office culture.

    So nice cropped pants, the kind that are made out of the same material and cut similar to slacks, pumps or ballet flats, and a nice top will fly here. There are also women that wear boots here. So will sleeveless tops, although our building has wildly varying temperatures, so I always make sure I have a jacket or sweater, either for when the AC kicks in or if I get pulled into a meeting I wasn’t planning on. Unannounced meetings are generally more casual, but not so casual that sleeveless is okay. When I say sleeveless, I mean a top that fully covers my bra straps, not a tank top. Visible bras are always a no.

    I’ll also add that I’m about the same age as the woman in the USA Today story. I can “express” myself through my dress without being told I look inappropriate. Fun jewelry and colorful (but appropriate) tops, or a lot of printed skirts all get me compliments, including from supervisor. But I also know that there are some situations where I want people to focus on what I’m saying rather than on what I’m wearing. Your outfit should never be a distraction. Your fashion sense should enhance your credibility, rather than force you to compensate for it.

    I do think that clothes help express who you are. But just like I wouldn’t walk through my office cursing and then explain it as “expressing myself” if someone called me on it, the clothes I wear need to be appropriate for the office, since I want to “express” that I’m a professional.

    • Anonymous :

      USA Today PR-Exec seems to think it’s all about her. Her needs, her comfort, her feelings.

      Wait until she finds out it’s not all about her. It’s about what’s best for the company.

    • If I’m “expressing myself” through my fashion choices at work, I’m “expressing” that I’m a smart, sophisticated professional woman.

  54. I’m coming into this discussion late, but I think a beautiful tunic of the right length plus leggings can look wonderful in any setting – this year. Maybe not last year or next year, because it’s in style right now. Preferably a tunic with buttons down the front.

    • I could only wear that if I came into the office on the weekend. Otherwise, that’s a total no in my business casual office. What’s in style or trendy at the moment really only affects the cut or embellishments on what is appropriate here. For example, a pencil skirt versus an a-line skirt — but both would be to the knee or close to it, in a good fabric, and fit well. We have someone here who tries to wear trendy weekend clothes like tunics and leggings and people definitely count it against her.

  55. I work at a finance firm on the west coast, it’s definitely more casual than east coast financial attire, and very rarely do we have client interface. Only 2 of the top 4 men in the office wear ties or jackets regularly, and there are only about 5 women who are NOT in supportive roles. For the men in the office, its generally rolled up sleeves, open collared shirts, etc. But a lot of them wear fleece vests over their shirts – it’s casual.

    But for women the rules are a lot wider, especially since there are so few of us – we’re all generally fashion forward. I am a big fan of dresses – always in a dark hue. They are comfortable, easy, and I can be confident that they look good. I try to avoid anything too tight, as I am in shape and I do get comments/oogled if my body shows too much. My biggest concern is usually skirt length. Occasionally, if I have dark tights I will go 4-5 inches above the knee, but more or less I never want to risk it, so I stick to 2-3 inches above the knee – any longer is hard to find! Most of the Banana, Jcrew, Ann Taylor skirt/dress lengths are too short in my opinion, and I don’t consider Express “real” business attire. Same with VICTORIA SECRET’S “business attire” – give me a break.

    I don’t have any problem wearing open-toed or tall high heels. It has become almost a conversation piece – my shoes. I feel that with a conservative and less fashion-forward approach to my attire, I can be trendy and young (23) with my shoes. Its the only thing I allow myself – and a 4 inch shoe with platform doesn’t make me amazonian – rather it makes me fit in with the rest of the men – I’m an average 5’5″ in height.

  56. busy&happy :

    I still vividly remember the assistant who wore a sateen shorts warm up suit (matching silky short shorts and a little zippered jacket) in bright blue with yellow piping. Not only was it “something you’d wear to the gym”, it was also crazy noisy — you could hear her outfit down the hall. And not only was it shockingly inappropriate for a corporate law firm — she wore it with great pride, as if she thought she was the cutest girl at the firm that day.

  57. My perpetual struggle: What clothing both looks professional and accommodates my ADD. I can only focus by frequently shifting physical position …. so that highly professional wrap dress and blazer doesn’t look so classy when a coworker sticks his head in and I’m sitting half cross legged with my knees up. I have very classic feminine sensibilities, but I’m done with wraps and A-lines. Pleated skirts and Katherine Hepburn-esque wide leg trousers , please, for the twitchy among us.

  58. First, I wonder if men are having these types of discussions right now…

    Second, I am disgusted by the choices that clothing designers give to us. Blouses are being made too low-cut, and I do not want to add another layer underneath a blouse. I should not have to. It takes forever to find a suit with jacket AND pants pockets (they would not dream of doing that to men) Why is it that clothing designers assume that women WANT to walk around with a purse into their business meetings? Almost all oxford blouses have a bit of spandex in them now, which makes it near impossible for me to wear since I am large-chested – all blouses pucker so that you can see my bra when I turn to the side! Stupid, stupid, stupid. I am also awaiting the day when they will add enough padding AND toe room into our work shoes. I have yet to find a man who gets ingrown toenails because of the shoes he is required to wear with his suits.

    The sad part is that if I were to wear comfortable loafers to my job (and I am a Type 1 Diabetic highly prone to many foot problems) then I would be be shunned by not the males of the company….but the catty females who abide by these foolish fashion rules.

    Good for the men for not falling prey to idiotic fashion trends.

    • I recently had a conversation with an male analyst who works for one of my male customers. My customer is older and generally formal. He told me that he overheard a conversation between my customer and another employee. The conversation was about the type of point on a collar, basically saying that the following items were totally inappropriate: a button-down shirt with a forward pointing collar. a wide collar, no undershirt beneath a shirt, a skinny tie and a tie with a wide knot.

      I didn’t even know collars came in different styles on men’s shirts. So I guess some men talk about it.

  59. The only thing I would add is pigtails. I know it’s not clothing, but still… Not acceptable.

  60. Ting Ting :

    Is it really horrible to wear those “professional” or “Dress” bermuda shorts?

  61. Wow. I’m glad I didn’t go to law school.

    I work for a great company in the Southeastern US. I own one trouser suit (which I never wear), no skirt suits and LOTS of capri pants and sleeveless tops, and wear open-toed shoes almost exclusively from May until October. My boss wore white “short shorts” to work the other day and a sun dress cut low in the back on another day (a little too revealing even for me!) and she’s 50. Lots of folks around here wear shorts, flip flops, jeans, summery dresses and we frequently show our arms!

    I am in the software industry, which is much more laid back than law I guess, and our “customer-facing” employess dress it up a bit more but definitely southern business casual most of the time, with suits if really needed. My company is consistently at the top of the great places to work list – maybe it’s because we’re so comfortable!!

    Another thing…what’s wrong with un-painted toenails, if you’re nails are neat, clean and feet are cared for? It’s natural!

  62. FriedGreenTomatillos :

    My BigLaw firm was meeting with a ReallyBigLaw firm to discuss merger of firms. One nearly 40-year old female partner came to the meeting with long stringy blonde hair not styled, beige short skirt suit with cleavage showing, cork wedge sandals with shiny gold uppers. Even I (20 years older and known to wear casual/comfort items to work on occasion) was shocked. Other partners said she looked like a working girl, and, frankly, she did.

    I have been in the process of upgrading my wardrobe to get back into really great dressing, and I must admit, it feels great to be dressed well! I am appreciative of the advice, discussion and shopping tips on Corporette!


  63. I’m working as accountmanager and wearing this winter leather black thigh high boots to the office. Í wear these under a black dress lenght just above the knee. Ladies what do you think about these?

  64. vonniebell :

    I have been on my current job for 7 mos. my immediate supervisor which is a male had no issue with me wearing leggings under my dresses, once he started sleeping with his business partner, new dress codes have been established go figure?

  65. At my office.. pretty much anything goes except shorts. On causal Fridays, I’ve seen jeans, tshirts, and flip flops, and no one thought twice about it. Regular days, there are plenty of open toed sandals/heels, cropped pants, khakis and twill and cords. There is no defined dress policy as far as I can tell, and no one really cares how you look. I assume this is mostly because there are no clients visiting, pretty much ever. One of the interns last year used to wear boat shoes and mini skirts on a regular basis, even to give a presentation, and she was quickly offered a job. I think its pretty obvious that they only care about work performance, not appearance, and that is really how it should be.

  66. I am joining the discussion very late but I would like to say, like others have already, that business attire really depends on your kind of work place. I worked in an international organization for many years and so you would see all sorts of colors, fashions and what not. Many African women (myself included) wore bright printed traditional attires while some Asian colleagues wore saris with their traditional blouses which ocassionally left the belly exposed. As for business casual, oh my goodness, almost anything went and noone could say anything to anyone. I like that kind of environment.

  67. WAY late to this thread but loving it!

    I work for Ze Olde Aeroplane Company out here in Seattle; it’s your standard office environment, but given that it’s the PNW and it’s engineering, you ladies would not BELIEVE what passes for appropriate office wear here. We do have a dress code, but it consists solely of No Jeans except Casual Fridays, and most people aren’t held to it. I don’t even know if there is a dress code for women–some buildings don’t even have women’s bathrooms, still!

    So, yeah: I see a lot of men’s examples, and there’s so few women here that there isn’t really a standard. Mostly the engineers and techs aren’t TOO bad–they wear standard old-dude khakis and non-starched polo shirts, or non-starched button-downs if they’re feeling fancy. A sports coat counts as a suit jacket here, and definitely generates the “What, are you interviewing today?” remarks. No ties. Plenty of them get away with standard old-dude faded jeans on a regular basis, with the big old wallet tumor in the back. Of course, a lot of people use the “I might have to go into the factory today!” excuse to wear jeans and comfortable shoes when we think we can get away with it, myself included. (Factory shoes: Serious Guidelines.)

    That said, some standouts:

    1. Mid-forties lady who sits by me who wears her gym stuff in every day. Too-tight exercise shirts, yoga pants, flip flops. All. Day.

    2. Used to work with a guy who was 50 at least, 6’7″, and wore…a beret. Every day. THE SAME BERET. He used to have to bend to get through doors at meetings and you’d see his beret *just* clearing the door every time. Ridiculous.

    3. Agree about loud shoes–I can’t stand them! Sounds so unprofessional. I actually had to change out of my heels when I was younger because I couldn’t walk in them properly (and wasn’t as good about re-heeling as I should have been) so you could hear me coming all the way down the hall: CLACK CLACK CLACK. My mentor at the time, a nice 45-yr-old dude, made a few gentle jokes about it to me and I caught on pretty quick.

    4. And the crowning glory: 50-yr-old dude who showed up at my desk wearing a white short-sleeved button down shirt, too-short necktie, and tan polyester pants that were (but of course!) too short, so you could see his sporting white socks and black ergonomic shoes. Complete with pocket protector–really–and square-framed bifocals. I remember this because it happened to be April Fool’s Day and I thought, “Please tell me this is a joke!” Nope, no joke. He wears that stuff every day. Welcome to engineering, ladies!

  68. I’m a statistician with a large non-profit research firm. I’m low man on the totem pole, but overall the office is super casual… it’s also in North Carolina, and the South has different rules. Flip flops are absolutely trashy, but Jack Rogers work fine. However, I’ll say… what about ponte cigarette pants like from J.Crew? I get that they aren’t appropriate for yalls law jobs or whatever… but I crunch numbers all day or do research in front of a computer. When I wear them, I always always always wear a long shirt. I mean there are men in my office who wear cargo shorts and t-shirts with sneakers… I think it’s only fair I can wear my ponte leggings. I’m also not really that big, I wear a size 4. I mean I have no intention of continuing to wear them as I get older, and I don’t really wear them when I have important meetings. Are they really that terrible?

  69. Willow Sunstar :

    I work in a very casual office. We allow jeans, as long as they are clean and nice, as well as sneakers. In the warmer months, polo shirts are the norm. I would agree with most of these. I have seen tank tops on some women during the summers, and they were totally inappropriate. Just because it’s warm does not mean that you can go sleeveless in the office. Wear a short-sleeved blouse instead.

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