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. 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!

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

    • 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.

  6. Great topic, Kat!

  7. 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?

  8. 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!

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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…

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

    • 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.

  14. 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!

  15. Body glitter

  16. 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…)

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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.