When Do Girly Clothes Become Unprofessional?

dressing-too-girlyIf you wear girly clothes, will you be seen as less of a professional? Reader A wonders…

I recently parted ways with a company where I was being micromanaged, like my boss didn’t trust me to do anything without his help and supervision. He never said why, but he kept treating me like some incompetent child. At the same time, I’m really into mid-century fashion, and I would wear really girly things that wouldn’t really been seen in most traditional offices – polka dots, shades of pink, lacy headbands, and even bows. I knew it was unorthodox and I may get some weird looks, but in hindsight I’m wondering if my clothing made my manager see me as a little girl, and maybe that’s why he wasn’t taking me seriously as a young professional. Do you think there was any connection between my fashion choices and my boss’s micromanagement?

Yowza. Ok. We’ve talked before about being feminine, as well as wearing vintage to the office, but we haven’t really discussed how going Extremely Girly affects how colleagues perceive you.  I do think  A few thoughts:

  • In general, wearing the occasional girly item is OK.  For example, something pink or polka-dotted will not make you seem like less of a professional, particularly if you otherwise act like a grown-up. Similarly, a bow here or there is fine, provided you don’t look like a present waiting to be unwrapped.  Personally I’m not a huge fan of headbands, but I think that sedate ones (solid ones, if not ones that match your hair color) are occasionally OK at work.
  • That said, it’s a bad idea to wear very girly things exclusively — Elle Woods was comical because she wore pink ALL THE TIME.  If you only wear one color and it’s bright pink, yes, there does seem something childlike about that to me.  (Yet, for some reason, wearing almost any other color exclusively just seems creative to me, perhaps because of this old NY Magazine article.)
  • Costumes are never a good idea.  Reader A says she’s “really into mid-century fashion” — if anything in your working wardrobe would be interpreted as a costume, or if they would be acceptable as a Halloween outfit, then you’ve gone too far.
  • Office culture is HUGE here.  You say that you “knew it was unorthodox and [got] some weird looks,” which says to me that you knew that you were breaching office culture.  That’s not really a good thing, whether we’re talking wardrobe or otherwise.  At that point, I think the professional thing to do is to tone your wardrobe down, at least until you can get another job that fits your personal style.  We talked about this before in our discussion of tattoo sleeves — sometimes you have to mute (or at least dampen) personal expression to fit in with office culture.  If you knowingly and repeatedly breach office culture, don’t be too surprised if you’re treated with disdain by your coworkers.
  • Finally: Lacy headpieces are almost never a good idea for work.  For some reason I’m seeing a floppy bow a la Madonna in her “pantyhose as headbands” era in Reader A’s description, but even if it was a tasteful lace headband, I have a hard time thinking it was more appropriate for work than, say, a bridal shower.

Readers, what do you think about Reader A’s situation — what should she know going into her next job?  Is finding the right office culture key for her?  In general, what girly clothes should be avoided at all costs at the office?

Comments

  1. This is good advice. I was like reader A for a long time, and tried (failed) to incorporate my street clothes into my work wardrobe because I thought I would lose a part of myself if I didn’t put on my “flair” at work. What helped me was to view each workplace’s dress code as a uniform, as if I were part of a sports team. Generally everyone looks the same, but there are certain elements you can play with to let your personal style shine through without detracting from the mutual respect a dress code creates (jewelry, shoes, etc). Sure, I felt a little boring at first, but it also made my non-work wardrobe a lot more fun.

  2. Woods-comma-Elle :

    Interesting. This hit home for me because I wear a lot of things that could be considered ‘girly’ – pink, bows, frills here and there. For context, I work in a Big Law (US firm) business casual in London.

    My wardrobe is a lot of bright colours, including bright pink. I do realise the perception people will now have of me based on my moniker, but what can you do, Elle Woods is my heroine ;-). But yes, I wear bright pink (fuschia, not baby pink) a fair amount, but because I wear a lot of bright colours generally, not all at the same time, it seems to blend in a bit more so I don’t have like a ‘pink lady’ reputation. I get a lot of compliments for wearing colours from people in the office who say their greys and blacks are ‘boring’.

    When I started here (4+ years ago) I didn’t dress maybe as boldly as I do now, but I have built in the colours over time and even when I may be wearing a suit or something, I would always wear a bright blouse or shell underneath. However, now I’m very comfortable in my pink shift dresses, pink blazer, pink peg trousers, but I wouldn’t pair them with, say, my emerald green jacket.

    I have never experienced any weirdness about what I wear, but I think this is because of (i) office culture (ii) I am generally quite a confident person and (iii) my work product speaks for itself – I built up a reputation for being a good lawyer first, before I started turning up in a pink shift dress etc. Yes, there may be a connection with your boss’s micromanagement and what you wear but some people are just like that and it may be totally irrelevant and it may be easier to avoid preconceptions by toeing close to the line and then moving further from it after you have been somewhere for longer.

    Ultimately though, the best option is an office where nobody bats an eyelid. If this can’t be done, then remember that there is a difference between going all out and still having your own unique style while respecting the dress code. So maybe a statement necklace, earrings, scarf, shoes that are more in line with the culture, instead of a 1950s ball-gown with polkadots. I would start slow, then build up the wardrobe as you build your reputation and your capital in the company.

    • Cosign…this is excellent advice. And Elle, I got tons of “why do you wear so much color?” comments when I lived in London and NY too–I’m from CA, and we just do color. I owned very litte black, navy or grey (aside from bottoms) when I lived there. I love British fashion and am wearing an Austin Reed micro-polka dot button-down shirt today with a bright blue pencil skirt and royal purple sweater :)

    • I wear a lot of color too, lots of crazy shoes, and big jewelry. One of my favorite non-maternity outfits was a white button up, a huge Kate Spade turquoise statement necklace, an orange and white printed pencil skirt, and navy and white striped heels. In my opinion, color and pattern work when done in professional shapes like that. And I think you can get away with a lot when you wear a crisp white button up. A friend of mine has a full skirted silk red and navy J. Crew skirt that she wears with a white button up and fun heels, and she looks awesome and still very professional. (We’re both in big law in Houston, by the way. Houston probably embraces color more than other places.)

    • another attorney :

      I agree with this. I was going to say before I read this that the Kats advice is good, but like many things, it all goes out the window if you have already established yourself as very good at what you do. I can get away with a lot more, dressing wise, as can a number of other women i know, becasue people already know we do good work, and for those that dont know us, we have learned to carry ourselves well. You may remember my clothes (in a good way) first, but then you remember what a good conversation we had, or what a good brief I wrote, etc.

    • Agreed. It is much easier to dress “more feminine” after establishing myself. I do think that if you want to wear pink or polka dots or other “girly” colors, the tailoring or style of the piece should be very professional or very simple. I like ruffles as much as anyone but pink ruffles or bows are not going to fit in at most offices.

      It’s really all about balancing a very feminine piece with less-feminine pieces. For example, I am wearing a floral dress to work but balancing it out with a leather blazer and black heels. If I wear my pink dress, I wear conservative shoes and dress my hair more conservatively.

  3. I think there is also something to be said for earning your way into dressing outside the norm a bit. I spent the first 3-4 years as an attorney dressing to blend in (and age myself up a bit) then I started to break in the more creative pieces. I’m now nearly 9 years out and have given almost fully into my own style. Jury trials and other court appearances aside.

    • This. I also started bit by bit. First it was bright colors under conservative suits with pearls and black pumps, then I added fun shoes, then my chunky jewelry. And I generally stuck with only 2 out of three. So conservative suit plus plain, more formal top meant fun shoes and jewelry. Bright shirt and fun shoes meant I wore pearls.

    • Anonymous :

      Funny thing is, I took 4 years off and would have 9 years experience but for the extended maternity break. I dress in my own style in order to convey that I have the experience and confidence to do so. The younger less experienced set is the set that is always in the conservative suit. I don’t want to be in that group. My work product is just as good as anyone else’s.

      • I agree with you that as an older woman (42), I dress in my own style more now after taking a decade off to have my kids than I did when I was younger. I have a red suit that is wow, but it is perfectly cut and tailored and paired with a cream shell and black pumps and it works. I’ll wear a bright shell under a charcoal grey suit. I love T Tahari jackets – the slight edge of a zipper instead of a button front, or a different detail here works for my style. I often wear a vintage necklace too but small and subtle. Go too far and they notice the dress and not the woman, to paraphrase Coco Chanel. It’s okay to be an individual, but you still need to play with the group. I love pinterest because I can really play around with my own style and discover elements that I love within fashion. Take a look at the clothes that are worn by the Olivia Pope character on Scandal – she has her own unique style, but she still blends in on Capital Hill. It’s all about balance.

    • Wholeheartedly agree.
      I started out on black pants and conservative, plain colored tees when I was working my first job and had no (as in zero) female staff apart from admins to look for guidance. As I grew more comfortable and finally worked at a firm with more women who enjoyed dressing, I dove into more daring color blocks, colored bottoms and overall slightly more adventurous combinations.

      Take your time and know your office.
      And call me conservative, but in my book headbands that are wider than a quarter inch and serve any other purpose than hold in otherwise unmanageable hair don’t have a place in a semi formal office.

      All that said, without knowing more about a situation it is still just as likely that the reader’s boss might just be a micro-manager or he might have had some personal beef with her that he carried out unprofessionally, their working styles might have just not clicked or he might just be like that towards females in general. But the fact that she is uncertain enough towards the root of his behavior to question her appearance at the office is telling. For the next job I would dress in a manner that would make that the last thing I have to question should the job not work out.

  4. Well well well :

    So — I have an interview this afternoon. Context: I currently work 4 days per week at a job I really, really love. It’s close to home, I have a ton of flexibility, I’m in charge of my area and adore my staff. However, I don’t love my boss — he’s by far the most frustrating thing about my current work situation. My salary is decently good but needs to be better, and I plan on asking for a raise in the next few weeks (when I have my review).

    Interview is for a job that’s more PT than my current gig, which would allow me to spend more time at home with my kids (ages 3 and 0). That part is HUGE for me, but I know that I would enjoy doing NewJob a lot less than CurrentJob.

    Poll: is it worth taking a not-as-good job so you can realize other benefits? And if you dialed back your time in the workforce, do you think it’s better to be around your kids when they’re little or to work like h3ll while you’re younger (I’m in my early 30’s) so you can retire early? Right now my husband thinks we should both keep doing what we’re doing — he’s even in favor of me expanding to 5 days/week at CurrentJob to get more money — so we can retire at 50 or 55. But at 50 my now-baby is going to be 18 and just leaving the house…? Color me confused and in need of advice.

    • Famouscait :

      I am also interested in the results of your poll.

      Your question about working hard for early retirement reminded me of an interesting segment from NPR the other day:
      http://www.npr.org/2013/05/20/183910777/seeing-the-northern-light-a-temporary-arctic-retirement

      Apparently the man in the segment was inspired by TED Talk which is linked in the NPR piece.

    • Mom on the Run :

      Just an FYI from a 50 year old–college costs a boatload of money no matter how much you save for it, so don’t put your eggs in the retire at 50 basket when you’ll have an 18 year old just heading off to college. You can’t get those years when they’re little back, so is it really going to be worth it to work that much so you can “retire” early? You can only travel and play golf so much (and remember, you’ll also be paying for all the things you didn’t realize you’d need money for when you were saving for college in the first place) and think of how much money you will need to make now to fund a 40 year retirement that begins when your kids are in college. Not trying to throw a wet blanket on your husband’s plans, but sitting in the middle of that right now….well, it’s mighty unrealistic. Spend time with your kids if that’s what you want to do.

      • Everything Mom on the Run says plus: do not underestimate how much supervision your kids will need as teenagers. THAT is a full time job! I always tell new parents that your worst day with a toddler will pale in comparison to an average day with a teenager! (I have great kids and love them to death, but they have their moments!)

        • Plus how much teenagers need emotionally. They area constant mess of emotions and its hard to be there when they need you (because they are so awful to be around so much of the time), but nothing beats when you’re driving them to practice and they suddenly unload.

          And also you should consider how many freaking places your 13-15 year old will need to be driven before 6 pm and the fact that there is no afterschool care for that age group so sometimes it’s a juggle to leave work, drive past the school, pick them up at home, and drive them right back to the school they were at an hour ago for a practice/game/etc.

          I’m not advocating one way or another because ultimately, YOU have to be happy with the decision or it won’t matter anyways. Just pointing out that kids in school full day does not necessarily make juggling kids/working easier, at least in the afternoons.

        • What is PT? :

          I was thinking the same thing. There are so many issues that present themselves at that age and I think I will be more needed then compared to now with preschoolers. I know people who have early-retired or went seriously PT (so only gone during the school day and not sure what they did during the summer) with teens so that they could supervise them (esp. one with some MH issues and another with a child with some medical issues and another who was concerned with some drugs / other bad choices). Aiii!

      • It’s nice of you to want to contribute to your children’s college fund, but why is it an automatic “must?” My parents told me very early on that if I wanted to go to college, it was on me. I made it all the way though law school all by myself. I can see opening one of those educational savings accounts (I think it is an IRA) and maybe maxing out the contribution on that, but whatever it is, you should not think about retiring later / working harder for a college education your children might not even want!

        You give them everything they need to be successful, then at 18 it is up to them. Maybe I was just raised differently.

        • Frou Frou :

          It’s a must for some parents because that is what they want to do for their child and they see it as their responsibility. My parents did not save or pay for my college or graduate education, but I fully expect to pay for my childrens’ undergraduate education, because I see it as my responsibility to educate them. Different strokes.

        • Whether the parents contribute or not, their financial information is considered (by FAFSA and the school) as if they will be contributing.

      • Both of my parents nearly had nervous breakdowns when they retired. They had both worked a ton and had careers that mattered to them and they honestly had no idea what to do with themselves when they retired – and then they promptly figured out that both of them stuck in the house together 7 days a week was disastrous, and briefly separated. They got back together but they both got part-time jobs to keep themselves busy, plus my mom volunteers and my dad is a marshal at a golf course when he’s not working. I have seen several people get divorced, have mental-health crises, go through something akin to a midlife crisis in their 60s, and even commit suicide after retiring. I am really coming to believe retirement is not at all what it’s cracked up to be. I would say anyone who is desperately hoping to retire at 50, and focusing their financial life around that goal, maybe needs to look at whether their job/career is not satisfying and whether that’s something that can be fixed. One of my grandmothers worked until age 70 because she loved her job. She was excited to get out of bed in the morning and go to work. I think ideally that would be where we’d all want to be. And ditto everything everyone else has said about college savings, and also about being home more when kids are small. I’ll add, you can balance the two. I worked part-time for awhile and we were still saving for my son’s college and our retirement – not a ton of money, but something. We made small discretionary sacrifices to stay focused on the big picture. It is doable.

    • Wannabe Runner :

      It would be worth it to me to take the new job.

      But this has the risk of becoming a “mommy war” discussion. You can only do what’s right for you and your family.

      But for me, I’m planning to take a crappier job that is part time when my kids are young.

      No one on their death bed ever said, “I wish I would have spent more time at work!”

    • Diana Barry :

      How much more PT is it, and what kind of a salary hit? I am really glad I went PT so I can spend more time with the kids NOW when they are babies and little – I still feel like it goes too fast, but I do get quite a bit of time with them and really enjoy it, other than when I am playing bedtime whack-a-mole. LOL.

      • What is PT? :

        When you say PT, what do you mean exactly?

        E.g., In at 7, leave at 3, no nights, no weekends, 80% salary?

        I’d love to be PT, but a problem I’ve had in law is that the work comes in when it comes in and then it needs to be done. And govt jobs in my field seem to have been on hold forever and in-house everyone’s always worried about getting laid off when earnings are off.

        • Diana Barry :

          I am 80%, 9 to 5, 4 days a week. I do log on in the evenings but not for long (1 hr?), never on weekends. My area never has emergencies so the work is fairly steady, and no rushes.

          • What is PT? :

            I would totally take a deal like that. There is nothing like swinging from 0 hours billed / day to 15 hours billed / day.

    • I went through this same calculation: Job A that was a lot of hours and a cr@pton of money, and Job B that was 9-5 and much, much, much less money, just as we were trying to start our family. In considering Job A, I thought that I could bang out 10-15 years and we could retire at 50. In considering JOb B, I thought that I could be present mornings, nights, and weekends, and have the flexibility to attend the occasional midday school and athletic event. I went with Job B.

    • I’d take a job I love and that also pays more over a job I don’t like as much and pays less to boot. It would be a slam dunk for me. You can’t count on retiring early but it is good to build up savings for several other reasons. Your kids will not be scarred because you work.

      • Do you have kids? Just curious. I’m pregnant with my first and love to work, but I wonder if that’ll change when the little guy gets here.

        • I can only give my experience but I felt the same way: love my job and when I was pregnant, so many people told me that I’d never want to come back to work. Fast forward to coming back to work after 3 months on leave. I felt terrible leaving my baby to go to work, but after a week of depression, I got back in to my routine and back to enjoying my job. And by 3 months of pretty much just me and the baby during the day until my husband got home, I was starved for adult conversation and intellectual stimulation.

          I choose to believe it’s more important for my sons to grow up with a mom who enjoys her successful career and shows them that women can work just as hard as men, than with a mom who (for me, personally) would not be as happy staying at home.

          • From my own experience (as someone who loves to work and had a little guy 9 months ago), you will likely not feel significantly different later, just more conflicted because you will love your kid SO MUCH. I don’t feel guilty, because I need to do what makes me happy to be the best Mama I can be, which includes working full time.

        • No, no kids. Not sure if I ever will. But my parents both worked FT+ (ran a small business so had to take care of things around the clock) and I like to think I (and my sisters) turned out ok.

        • I have two kids, 7 & 9, and just went back to work FT this year in an executive role. I worked part-time as a university instructor when the kids were younger, making hardly any money but I had pretty flexible hours and could do a lot of my prep work at night when the kids were asleep.

          My career took a hit but I have no regrets. I couldn’t have worked full-time when they were younger. Some moms can, some moms must. We scrimped on everything – cut everything – so we could get by on one income and my measly part-time pay. Now I leave at 7 and I’m home at 7, I see my kids for an hour at night before bed and they spend more time with the housekeeper than they do with me. I love my work, but I miss my kids.

          You never get these years back. I had a good chat with an old friend who is a very high profile sports commentator for ESPN, and she told me that the mommy guilt never really goes away. My colleagues have said the same, whether they are admins, or execs. The key is not to ignore it, and to recognize that having kids will change you, and your spouse – as it should. You’re building a little life, and every bit matters, but you can’t obsess about it because you’ll go nuts. Trust your gut, and don’t listen to working mom or SAHM magazines/websites. Both “sides” are full of it!

    • darjeeling :

      if I were you I’d stay put since you love the job and it seems like you have good work-life balance even if it could be better — although I definitely wouldn’t give up a part-time gig for full-time just for the purpose of possibly being able to retire at 50 or 55.

    • Does taking the more part time gig burn any bridges for you in regards to future career? Your kids are little and need your time and energy for sure, but if Job B takes you far off track in regards to your career you may want to consider the non-financial consequences 10 years down the road. Not that I’m an expert, but keeping one foot in the career world, even with small children, will likely allow you to return more fully as they age. When they are in elementary school and beyond you may want similar flexibility for family priorities, but that may be easier to get with the capital you’ve earned staying in Job A

    • We make family life a priority, especially now that our boys are a little older (7, 10 & 13) and so, instead of investing quite as much into retirement, we’ll go on a family vacation. Instead of dh staying in a job he HATES and makes our lives more difficult, we’ll put less into savings & have him work as a p/t contractor so he can be available for all the kid running around stuff that seems to multiply as they get older.

      We had our kids young and will still have time to save before retiring once they have left the house, but retiring at 50-55 has never been a goal of ours.

      My advice is to not make money the most important consideration of your decision. Definitely consider it, but also consider your home-life balance as well.

      Good luck deciding!

    • mousekeeper :

      I took a government job in a particularly family-friendly section so that I would have a predictable schedule and not feel like I had to be in the office evenings and weekends. When your kids are little, they are very needy and miss you when you’re not around. It’s also nice to be able to go to athletic events, school plays, concerts and Halloween parades. With my kids now college-age, I am very proud of myself that I never missed a single school Halloween parade for either child when they were young. You had to see the sad faces of the kids who had no one there for them at the parades to realize how important something like that is. I work a lot of late hours now because even though my kids are still home, they don’t need me to be there and won’t be sad and teary if I’m not there. Good luck in your decision.

      • For what it’s worth, my parents both worked full-time when I was young, and I have no memory of expecting – or being sad – that they weren’t at all of my school functions. I think it’s possible for parents to overestimate their own importance in those situations – school costume parades and poetry recitals don’t have to be about performing for parents; they can just be about enjoyment for childen. I didn’t need my parents at every middle-of-the-day Thanksgiving play, cross-country meet, high school musical performance, etc. The key is making sure that your children don’t conflate physical absence with absence of love.

    • Flying Squirrel :

      Timely question, since I’m trying to decide something similar. I’m expecting our first, and have to relocate no matter what b/c DH and I are LD and I don’t earn enough to support us both with baby.

      I have a very good offer in my DH’s current city (like twice my current salary and an amazing career opportunity)…but neither of us really like the area. We’d rather move to another city closer to his family where he can transfer easily, but my job prospects would be very limited. This city is much cheaper COL, so we could easily live on his income while I look for something…but I may hate whatever it is. That may change if I get more experience elsewhere that might open doors for me in the smaller city we’d like to go to, but who knows.

      So I feel a bit like I have to decide between a fulfilling professional life and a more ideal personal life. Maybe that should be a no brainer, but I struggled with finding the right job for a few years after grad school while my personal life was great…but I was still unhappy. DH is open to either option, he just wants me to be happy…and I don’t know how much the baby will change what I want!!

      • Well well well :

        I love this group because basically all of the things you’ve brought up are items I’ve thought about. In no particular order:

        + I agree that it’s dangerous to work more now thinking early retirement is a gimme. Stuff comes up, college costs a lot, etc.
        + Obviously there’s always an opportunity cost of “mommy tracking” but I work in a very flexible, female-friendly field so I think my OC would be less than most — I’d have lost wages, sure, but I could get back in the game. I don’t think PT work would kill my career.
        + I’ve gotten some conflicting answers on how much MORE pt NewJob would be. For me, it wouldn’t be worth it unless it was a true 3-day-per-week job, and I’ll find out more about that tonight.

        I think that for me this comes down to the fact that I have a pretty sweet gig right now, but I’m basically a FT employee getting paid PT salary/benefits (because I’m only in the office 4 days per week). So some of my seeking a new position is because I’m tired of trying to squash a FT job in to PT hours/pay. I guess the bigger question is whether I’d rather dial it up at CurrentJob and get a higher salary/benefits (so do more work but get paid for it), or say “eff it” and dial back significantly while my kids are little.

        I would LOVE to work a real 3-day job. But I also adore CurrentJob (except for CurrentBoss) and am wondering if I’d be kicking myself (and resenting my kids) if I took a not-as-great position so that I could be with them more. No answers, only more questions!

        • In making this decision, I’d consider the following:

          1. How little will you like NewJob? Even if it’s part-time, you’ll still spend a lot of your time doing it. If you find it boring or otherwise tedious, that could have a big impact on your general happiness, which could certainly affect your relationship with your kids. I don’t know that you’d resent them, but you might not have the same positive energy to bring to your parenting.

          2. Kids benefit from your time at all times in their lives. In my own experience (my kids are now 9 and 13), I wouldn’t say the preschool years were the most important. My kids were very happy in an excellent full-day daycare/preschool program. They were less happy in elementary school when they had to attend an afterschool program, while many of their friends went home with Mom or Dad. In our community, where there are many SAHMs, this was a social issue for them — they were left out of the after school playdate network.

          3. Are you sure that scaling back now won’t limit your opportunities (and income potential) later? In most fields, I think it definitely would. How would you feel if this did happen/ how important is professional accomplishment and earning power to your self-esteem and life satisfaction?

          4. How is your current situation working for your kids? It sounds like it’s already quite flexible. How much better would NewJob be in this regard? Would it be enough better to outweigh the fact that you seem sure you won’t like NewJob nearly as much.

        • I had the same thought, although full disclosure–I have no children. Being at a crappy job can seriously interfere with happiness at home and life in general, which can definitely be a negative for your children.

    • Would I be a total Debbie Downer if I said that,like, nobody gets to retire at 50 or 55?

      I think for dual income, affluent families retirement itself is a blessing. Especially if it happens before 70.

      • It's Not That Grim! :

        I think it just means that the income vs expenditures balance is out of whack. People can retire early – they just have to not buy an expensive house, expensive cars, expensive schooling, etc. Read Mr. Money Mustache – he’s a bit zealous but his point is clear, if you can’t retire until 70 and aren’t happy about it, you can do something about it as long as you are willing to make hard choices.

        • My husband and I could retire in about five years if we were willing to accept a certain low standard of living for the rest of our lives. We are not, so we won’t do that. I actually know a couple of people in their thirties who are, for all intensive purposes, “retired,” in that they are urban homesteaders and live VERY frugal and simple lives and make what little money they want/need from selling eggs or goat cheese or whatever. They have no intention of ever going back to work for anyone else, ever and are totally OK with eating what they grow and wearing whatever they can get from Freecycle. There is a way out of the rat race for each and every one of us. It may involve living in a shack, wearing thirdhand clothes and never eating in a restaurant again, but it is a way out. That’s what I hang on to when I get sick of working.

    • I’m in law, work 70% 7 am – 3 pm Mon-Fri. I took a moderate pay cut for this schedule, but love my work and the firm I’m at. My kids are teenagers and I wouldn’t trade my schedule for anything right now. I would focus less on when you are going to retire and more on saving for retirement because who knows what tomorrow will bring.

    • I think a big factor here is that the Option 2 (new job, more time with family) is a job that you won’t enjoy more. So going to Option 2 is not a total happiness win. You may love the family time, but completely be miserable with the work part so end up net less happy. If you were net positive happy, you might be able to overcome the change in finances part.

      Personally, I came back from maternity leave last June to a job offer for My Ultimate Dream Job that has been my career target for the last decade. BUT it requires me to travel about 25% of the time at a moments notice, which is tricky to juggle with a baby. I took it, and from here think that because I am fulfilled at work that it makes me a better mom to my one-year-old, even if I have to travel some times.

      • Hello, it is Ruby, after a year hiatus with my personal chaos of baby, surprise divorce, and job change. So- one factor to consider is that you never know what’s around the bend. I hate to be the debbie downer but I did not see my major life changes coming (stable loyal husband of 10 years split the week the baby arrived despite wanting it more than anything supposedly). My finances have been cut in 2/3- whole household, one income, plus kid. It is brutal working full time. Brutal. But I don’t have the option to afford part time. I have no idea what preparing for the unexpected means in your situation (illness, job loss, etc.) but for example- would the lesser pay job hurt your earning ability later? If not, it is a wonderful advantage to have the option and worth strong consideration to have those precious hours with your kids. It breaks my heart that I just run, run run all the time and rarely get to enjoy any of it, even though I love my kid and job- too exhausted/stressed/ill almost all of the time. (Year One ends next week.. we’ll see if Year Two is any better).

        • ps I don’t know when I’ll be able to retire, and now can’t quite afford a home in a decent neighborhood in my city… only a year ago on dual income, that was all the opposite. we were on track to pay off our home in a few years and retire comfortably. seriously you never know what might happen. again though- no idea what that means in terms of what people should do… squirrel away cash and work too hard vs. enjoy what you’ve got. The choices we have to make are not easy.

  5. saacnmama :

    How one dresses (as long as clothes are clean and street-legal) shouldn’t influence other people’s evaluation of one’s competence at work. That is absolutely true. However, there are frequent examples on this site of people evaluating people’s capabilities on the basis of appearance–shirt came untucked, inappropriate peep-toes, dye job growing out, no watch, wrong bag (too expensive comes up than more casual)… None of that has anything to do with whether a person is paying attention to her work and doing it well. This example comes from the opposite direction, a person whose dedication to her work some might question because of the inordinate attention she pays to her appearance. Should judgements be made about her work based on her attire? No. Will judgements be made based on her choice to dress in ways associated with young girls not yet competent to do her job? Probably.

  6. Sydney Bristow :

    I have no idea how to clearly express this, but I think if you’d define the overall look as “girly” instead of “feminine,” then it’s less likely to be professional. Super-feminine elements on an item of clothing (bright pink, ruffles, a bow, lace, polka dots, etc) seem fine to me as long as its only a piece of the overall look. The more of these elements you add to the look, the more it veers into “girly” for me and less professional.

    I definitely wear bright colors including pink and purple, ruffles,etc but try to balance them. My ruffled shirts are black or gray and I wear them with a pencil skirt and cardigan. If it was a bright pink ruffled skirt with a frilly skirt and polka dot sweater, then I think that is less balanced. A lot of this also probably has to do with how you’re perceived at work. Someone seen as great at her job definitely has more leeway, so while I’d wear feminine items from the very start, I’d only get more bold about them after proving myself.

    • TO Lawyer :

      I agree with this – I love feminine accents on my clothes but balance them. So I may wear a bright pink silk blouse but I’ll wear it with black or grey or something. I think you can get away with more once you’re slightly more established – I’ve been at my firm for almost 2 years now and definitely express a lot more of my personality through my wardrobe than I did when I started. (I tend to do this through accessories and colour).

      And not to be mean, but it’s possible that Reader A’s boss micromanaged her because she didn’t prove herself as competent – it may have nothing to do with her wardrobe. I think the way we dress is important but especially at work, people will quickly determine who is competent and not and will treat those people accordingly.

      • Reader A posted a similar question in the comments last week that revealed that she wasn’t making her numbers and was somewhat disdainful towards her boss. So it seems like her clothes may have been on part of the reason she was micromanaged. I haven’t read all the comments yet, so apologies if someone else pointed this out.

        • I didn’t say I wasn’t making my numbers, in fact my manager told me they were fine. I’m just not writing off the idea that my manager was lying to protect morale or not clearly communicating his expectations.

          And disdain was the wrong word. The way he managed me was annoying, and did breed resentment toward the end, but I disdain was too strong a word to use in that context.

    • I dress conserveatively b/c the manageing partner will not preapprove thing’s that are too riskee, even tho FRANK want’s me to wear low cut blouse’s and short skirt’s b/c it give’s him something to look at. FOOEY on him b/c he has a wife and kid’s so he does not need my clotheing to show him something he should be seeing at home. DOUBEL FOOEY!

      I do think that dresseing professional is a good thing b/c you will be respected more on the job. I am sure that if I dressed in COVERALL’s that the judge would NOT take me serious. Dresseing with nice clotheing makes me think more like an attorney at law, even tho I wore jean’s when I took the bar, but still passed it. YAY!!!!!

      I am getteing worried about my billeing, b/c Dad told me I should only bill for ACTUEAL HOUR’s Worked, when that is NOT what the manageing partner taught me. I learned that I am to bill 3000-3200 hour’s each year, irrespective of ACTUAL TIME SPENT. The manageing partner gave me a chart, outleining how long each task should take, which I am FREE to modify in MY discretion. For example, every telephone call should be billed in 6 minute increment’s. So if I talk for 1 minute, I bill for 6. Every letter should be at least 1.6 hours, includeing drafteing, proofeing, and sending. On top of that, I have to uplift each task by 35% for paraleagal suport, even tho I have NO suport from any paraleagal. The manageing partner said I am my OWN best paraleagal. YAY for billeing, but bad for ethiceacal purposes. I will find out after I take the ABA Webainar soon, but now I think that the manageing partner may be over billeing. FOOEY!

    • I really like this summation of it. I don’t think color, in the abstract, is anything to be afraid of at work. For instance, today I’m wearing navy trousers, a turquoise/teal dress t-shirt and a plain orchid cardigan with nude for me wedges. It’s a lot of bright happy color, but it’s also all pretty plain and tailored in its shape. I could imagine that adding a lot of frilly shapes or feminine details could make it veer into costume. Partly, it’s about office culture and looking at your peer group and those above you to help you decide. If you looked at all the female physicians in my town, I’d fit in within the spectrum of what people wear. When you choose to be a significant outlier within the office culture, whether by dress or behavior or schedule or whatever, you have to be prepared for the consequences, good or bad.

    • also agree. I think by definition girly can’t really be professional because it implies something childlike. Feminine is a different story. And, yes, I know that they’re just words, but if your goal is to dress “girly” I think it is easy to veer into not work appropriate territory.

      • Sydney Bristow :

        The word “girl” being used to describe an adult woman has just been grating on me lately so it leaps out at me in things like this. I had an interview earlier this week and the woman who was interviewing me referred to “the girls in staffing,” and it just irked me.

  7. I dress by the advice I heard on this site a few years ago: Start with two neutrals. Add a bright color or print. If you feel comfortable, add a contrasting bright color. Don’t add another bright color without another neutral to balance it out.

    So today I’m wearing a brown top, navy trousers, and a bright orange cardigan, a bright green bracelet, and a mustard yellow belt that doesn’t really show. Other than the bracelet, my other jewelry is muted. My shoes are pretty muted. It’s navy and brown, with orange, and a bright piece of jewelry.

    This could apply to girly pieces v. more conservative pieces, too. You need balance.

    I think you also need to look the part if you want to be taken seriously, particularly if you’re a younger woman. If you are at the top of your field, and you don’t need to impress clients or anyone, you can wear whatever you want. But until you are there, you need to convey that you deserve respect.

  8. Famouscait :

    I’d like to ask, “When Do STINKY Clothes Become Unprofessional?”….

    Does anyone have any experience getting stinky armpit smells out of an Ann Taylor triacetate suit jacket? I’ve tried Febreezing the jacket’s pits (both inside and out) to no avail… Additionally, I’ve read through past threads on this site and have tried putting it outside in the breeze/sun. I have not tried the vodka and water spray because I thought it would simply be equivalent to Febreeze (and I don’t do alcohol). Am I mistaken there?

    I’m about to try actually (gasp!) washing it in soap and water. And advice before I take the “plunge”? (HA! I crack myself up.)

    • I make a paste of baking soda and water and rub it into the armpit, let it dry over night (or until I want to wear the jacket again…) and then brush the remaining powder away. so far I haven’t ruined anything but I’ve only done it on dark colored jackets. I’ve experimented with vinegar, and also with vodka, and I find the baking soda works best.

    • Anonymous :

      I think Febreeze masks. I do vodka and seem to have some good luck with that. If you do take the plunge, try something like SportSuds. . . it worked GREAT for my synthetic shirts with a good soak (it rescued several I would otherwise have trashed).

  9. I don’t have much to add to this conversation, but I had to chime in to say OH MY GOSH that old NY Magazine article about the people who wear exclusively one color?! I think about and reference it all the time. I’m always surprised when others don’t know what I am talking about because it has been completely burned on my brain.

  10. Anonymous :

    Should people be able to wear whatever they want and look however they want to be judged only on merit? Yes. Are people judged by what they wear and how they present themselves? Yes. If your stylish is so outlandish at work that you have to categorize it by a time period, then it was probably distracting. It probably tells people that your priorities lie with picking out your outfit rather than your job. You may LOVE the 50s. But you can embrace that with one detail per day, like a polka dot blouse with black ankle length pants. Still professional. People do lace professionally all the time. They do pink professionally all the time. But from what you wrote in it seemed like you veered into “Mad Men costume party”. Your clothes should not be distracting, nor should they be “unorthodox” compared to what everyone is wearing at your office. You can save your really fun clothes for after work and the weekend. Fill your entire apartment with mid-century modern furniture (it’s my favorite!), but tone it down in the workplace.

    • This is exactly correct. I’m an in-house lawyer (VP level) in a relatively conservative business casual environment. I want to be able to wear my own personal style in my work clothes, but I definitely do recommend that you err on the side of conformity. I wear more and more bright color than I ever used to, but when I do I try to keep the pieces very tailored and simple (like the other day I wore bright pink chinos with a navy-and-pink striped sweater and simple ballet flats). If I wear a chunky or higher heel, I try to pair it with pants or a lower skirt length and keep to solids or simple prints. A frillier dress gets simple shoes and accessories. Adore my tattoos, but keep them covered. If I wear a bold lip color, the rest of my makeup is very neutral.

  11. I really empathize with the insecurity Reader A feels about her sartorial choices. Back story for the unfamiliar, I wear hijab and sometimes salwar kameez and abaya to work. I also wear bright colors and work in engineering. When I first started working, I would definitely get the odd looks. There was really nothing I could do about it. But I put my head down and got $hit done, gaining a reputation for doing good work. And the looks eventually went away, even from people who weren’t working with me and had no clue about my work product. I was never going to fit in enough to fit into the office culture – I would have to be a man for that. Confidence and gradual show of more personality goes a long way. Random compliments on the elevator for hijab colors were nice, too.

    • Perhaps I’m wrong, but I think the rules are slightly different in regards to clothes that are worn for religious or cultural reasons. As a Jew, I would hate to think that a woman was dinged at work because she stuck to Orthodox standards such as longer skirts and long sleeves. Similarly, I feel as though if you are adhering to religious standards but still dressing within the expectations of decency for work, that you really exist in a different category. To me, it isn’t directly comparable to wardrobe decisions that are made strictly for style.

      • I don’t think that these are similar at all.

        You dress a particular way for religious reasons. The original poster dresses this way because she thinks its cute. Not the same at all.

      • While I think many would agree with you, there are many others who think religious observances should be private, including clothing and jewelry choices. I deliberately choose to outwardly observe my religion and it does get glances. It’s true that people do get judged on based on appearances. I definitely had to battle a few cold wars at work.

        What’s nice is that when I started working here, many people would say hi to me just because I dressed so apparently different. And an orthodox Jewish woman who wore long sleeves and skirts started covering her hair once I joined.

        • I think there are sort of two pieces to this –
          1. Someone who wants to dress in a kitschy, or gimmicky, or high-fashion-y way (where that is not the office culture, i.e. they’re not working for a magazine or a vintage store) shouldn’t think that because “X gets away with dressing ‘unusually’ because she is religiously observant” they have the same free pass to wear whatever they want. Religiously observant women have accepted an obligation to dress in a certain way and usually make a strong effort to meet those requirements as well as normal office dress requirements. (For myself, I always wear sleeves and skirts to the knee, although I haven’t taken upon myself covering my hair on a daily basis.)

          2. Religiously observant women may face some backlash or questions from others at work who treat their dress choices as just a personal style thing/think they should stop looking so weird and start dressing like everyone else. A lot of people tend to think that religious women who dress modestly are just longing to break out of their sleeves and longer skirts and can’t wait for an enlightened secular lady to tell them that it’s ok for them to wear shorter skirts and sleeveless dresses. (Thanks, I wasn’t aware I had personal choice.)

          Ru, high five to you for having the courage of your convictions (as Julia Child would say) and sticking out those judgments. I always think ladies who wear hijab look so lovely and often want to compliment particular styles but don’t want to make people feel they’re sort of public property to be commented on..

          • Anonymous Poser :

            I worked for a while in an environment where there were more wonen who were Muslim than I had been around before (it was a college, if you are wondering). I was not sure whether it was okay or not to compliment them about their clothing. But I took a chance and started complimenting women when I particularly like a piece of their clothing, usually just saying “That’s a beautiful scarf!”

            It seemed okay and once or twice I even got a reply about how or why she had chosen that particular scarf, that day/with that outfit. But I do compliment women I don’t know on their clothing, so I view it in the same way, and YMMV.

      • This is a tough one, some apparel is recognizable to most people as having cultural or religious significance where what your are describing as orthodox I may have just thought was dowdy as I was not familiar with that tradition. Maybe we are accidentally prosecuting someone who is a devout member of the Cult of the Pink Poodle Ladies? (hope no one takes offense or feels like I am making light of their situation, just being silly here)

  12. Someone at some point said in the comments thread here that work isn’t a fashion show and your work wardrobe isn’t really about self-expression. Now, I don’t completely agree with this – I think one of the only good things about being a female professional rather than a male professional is that we get a lot more room for experimentation in our wardrobe, but I do think its true that generally its fair to ask ourselves to constrain our work wardrobes within certain metes and bounds of appropriateness – even if they are boring or don’t “express” our inner beings.

    In this case, I have to think that if you can describe your work wardrobe with an era *other* than the present one and if you actively wonder if your wardrobe is too girly then its probably too much for the office. I.E. – if you have to ask, you probably already know.

    But, what none of us can answer for you is whether it was actually your wardrobe that impacted your relationship with your boss or whether it was your work or your personality at work (or his personality at work) that did it. This is kind of important to know because, when you start your new job, you might be able to avoid these problems pretty easily by toning down your wardrobe if that was actually the problem. But if it wasn’t, you might have to dig a bit deeper to find solutions. But, I guess I’d start with the wardrobe; if nothing else, its simpler. Maybe cut down to one mid-century piece per outfit (and probably eliminate the lacy bow headbands entirely). Also – add more structure (I’m envisioning a lot of A-line and fit and flares). Blazers are your friend – they can take even a questionable outfit and bring them into the business segment (though this is not universal – there are some outfits that can’t be saved.)

  13. I definitely wore a lot of pink to my old job, and in addition had a lot of pink items- I think my water bottle was pink, and maybe a bag or something. One guy latched onto it as a joke (which I was fine with, because I’m actually friends with him outside of work) but it sort of blew up into somehow all I liked was pink and I was a huge girly-girl, which is not even true. Even for my going away present they gave me something pink, like that was my defining characteristic! Or someone would make the font pink in a document and be like, “This is for Snowy haha!”

    At my current job I was a LOT more careful about wearing pink, having pink post-it notes or pens or water bottles, or whatever. No one ever has made the association.

  14. Subscribing to read comments.

  15. Something about the Reader A’s tone makes me think that perhaps the real problem was with her attitude and demeanor, and that her fashion choices perhaps punctuated an immaturity she was already conveying. I can’t put my finger on it, but the first few sentences gave me the impression that she perhaps uses the word “like” too much, and that she opted for an, “I’ll do what I want, let the office culture be damned” approach. Again, this is just the impression I got from the email she sent in, so I could be totally off. However, I find I get the same impression from emails some of our first years and summer associates send, and that I inherently trust them less for it. A Zooey Deschanel full skirt/cardigan combo and a headband with a bow would definitely not help that impression if I already thought the person’s demeanor fell on the immature side of the line.

    Full disclosure–I am 30 (so not young, but not ancient), and completely understand the desire to dress as oneself.

    • that was my sense as well

      • Pretty sure Reader A posted the same query in the comments section not too long ago, adding that before she was fired she could barely conceal her contempt for her boss’s micromanagement, so I also think that it was her attitude, and not her kitschy style, that led to her dismissal.

    • Reader A commented on this site when she was fired and she got a lot of responses that it was probably her attitude that caused her to be fired.

      • Yes, it was my attitude, but that attitude wasn’t there from the beginning. I was in a great mood most days, until I got paired with a new manager who’s management style slowly wore me down and really bothered me. Helpful is fine, but I got the sense he didn’t trust me to do the work well on my own, and that is where I’m calling my wardrobe choices into question. Did he, at least subconsciously, see me as a child, thus prompting the constant check-ins and giving me a schedule of how I was supposed to spend each hour of my day (which he didn’t do for anyone else and wouldn’t give me a straight answer why he did it for me).

  16. I think that it’s important not to become gimicky. The other day I was in the elevator with a woman. She had a totebag with large monogrammed initials – totally fine and actually cute. Then she took out a phone case, also monogrammed – again totally fine. Then I noticed that her water bottle, her necklace and her bracelet also all had her initials on it. And as much as I was not trying to think about anything to do with her, I couldn’t help but think, “wow, this lady sure likes to put her name on things!”

    Now, I don’t know this woman and I am not judging her. Maybe she got all these items as presents or it was some kind of weird online deal to have everything you own engraved and monogrammed. But I think that it’s probably better to stick to just one or two of these items at a time, lest people start thinking you’re too possessive or something. Same for the OP – feminine items are fine. But it’s probably better if the people you work with can’t describe you as the “unorthodox one who’s really into mid-century fashion…” and instantly have everyone know who they mean.

  17. For me, it’s about creating a professional image that channels – but does not mirror – what I wear outside of the office. On the weekend, I might love a belted dress with a full skirt and a sweetheart neckline, along with sparkly earrings and peep toes. But at my law firm, I would opt for a belted dress with an A-line skirt and a cowl neckline, along with artsy silver stud earrings and pumps. Like many others have commented, there’s a way to reflect who you are within the confines of professional dress. And this blog has been a great resource for me!

  18. Calibrachoa :

    Hey now, tax auditor is one hella scary Halloween costume! ;)

  19. Penny London :

    Remember what Joan said to Peggy in the second season of Mad Men: “You want to be taken seriously? Stop dressing like a little girl.”

  20. Total self-congratulatory TJ:

    Today is Day 9 without cigarettes for me! It is getting easier every day :) And it means I can start trying to make babies real soon! We will probably not start trying for real until the end of summer, as we just moved into our house and there are some projects that involve chemicals – eg. scraping lead paint off the floors – that need doing that I shouldn’t really be pregnant during, but YAY!

    This was a post that definitely required ELLEN-esque capital letters and excalamation points.

    • As Ellen would say – CONGRATEULATION’S! That is a huge accomplishment. Good luck with the house projects, and I’m glad life is sending you some happiness these days!

      • LOL! Thanks :)

        Yeah, things are finally looking up. My mom is settled into her new place nicely (actually, she moved into a larger unit in the same place and she loves it! AND the facility covered the costs of her internal move, including packing/unpacking! amazing :))

        She texted me the other day to tell me that there was a fire alarm at her building, but DON’T WORRY, she didn’t cause it this time. Ha. I was *almost* ready to laugh.

    • Congrats, Jo! I am an ex-smoker myself (going on 10 months smoke-free) so I know how freaking hard it is to quit. I can tell you that it does get easier, so keep it up!

      • Good on you, Leigh! I’ve never made it 10 months. I’m so ready to be done, though. Frankly, I’m even more ready now than I was 9 days ago, if for no other reason than I really don’t want to do this again :p

    • just Karen :

      Hooray! Congratulations!

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