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.

For my own list:

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  • 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.