How do you dress for a work-related black tie — on a budget? Whether you have a formal holiday office party coming up, or you’ve been invited to a charity black tie on behalf of work, you now probably have two primary questions: a) how to dress in a formal dress and still maintain a professional demeanor, and b) how to do it without breaking the bank. We’ve talked about what not to wear to a black-tie event for work before, as well as how to do black tie on a budget, but not for a while, so I thought we’d discuss. (We also recently did a style guide for the more low-key, weeknight holiday office party. Ladies, what are your best tips for doing black tie on a budget? Any amazing scores to share?
WOW. Staci Zaretsky over at Above the Law has collected some amazing sexual harassment at work stories from women lawyers, and the collection is too… revolting, I guess?… to not discuss over here. (My first reaction to the post was of a mental roundhouse kick, but the fight scene from Mr. and Mrs. Smith will have to do to illustrate the post.) What stories do you care to share, ladies? Here’s one story of the several they share:
I wore dark purple suede heels to court. Opposing counsel asked, “Where are you dancing now?” in open court. Later that morning, he came to my office with cash in his mouth.
PURPLE HEELS, LADIES. Purple heels. For my $.02, I remember recognizing that people were being inappropriate around me in my legal eagle days, also, I suppose — older male lawyers I worked with would occasionally make negative comments about some of the secretaries based on how they dressed (usually implying something regarding clubbing), and one of the partners I worked with said something once about my “long, flowing hair,” like I was a princess or something. (I was growing it out for my wedding!) But mostly I remember there being an invisible thin line that seemed to be present in every interaction I had — that was definitely not there for my male coworkers, who were free to drink, joke, have meals, and share personal stories with partners. Vivia Chen at the Careerist had an interesting post a year or two ago where she scoffed at the perception that older male lawyers couldn’t take female associates out for a meal, and in response got a ton of emails from older male readers saying YES, the fear of being accused of sexual harassment absolutely did limit their interactions with younger female attorneys. In some ways that’s worse, because sponsorship and mentorship are essential to move up the career ladder.
Above the Law is suggesting women lawyers band together to speak up and say something — do you know who you would speak to in your workplace if something came up? (Or, in the above example where it was opposing counsel — do you know who would you speak to regarding that kind of behavior?) Do you feel like there would be retribution — or at least judgement, such as “she can’t take a joke” — for speaking up?) How do you think workplaces should walk the line between discouraging sexist behavior and encouraging senior workers to sponsor more junior workers, regardless of gender?
Here’s a fun question: what to wear to an holiday office party? We have six ideas below, all great whether it’s for your holiday company party, your SO’s office party, or some other holiday networking party. (We talked about holiday office party etiquette a few days ago!) As a general rule, pick two from the categories below and mix with regular workwear, unless you are 100% sure cocktail attire (or black tie!) is appropriate. A good clue: if the party is on a workday and all employees are invited (not just management types), take our suggestions here. As always, I suggest young businesswomen avoid showing cleavage, as well as what I’ll call “unexpected” skin (think cutout dresses, etc). Even bare arms may not be appropriate — know your office!) You should also be wary of anything requiring a special bra.
We’re shared some of our top picks for your holiday office party below. (Note that the pictures are clickable, and if you’re uncomfortable clicking a mystery link you can mouse over both the picture and the text link to see the destination.)
I’m working on a monster post about what to wear to your office holiday party, and in the meantime found all these great articles about office holiday party etiquette, which we haven’t discussed in forever — so I thought we should discuss today, as a bit of a precursor to the “what to wear to your office holiday party” post. (Although of course feel free to share what you plan to wear to your party this year!)
For my $.02, it comes down to some simple rules:
- If it’s your first holiday party, don’t assume — talk to others so you know what to expect, because there can be a huge variation in office holiday parties. Some offices have a midday Santa hat+suit kind of luncheon; others have a Friday night affair at a hotel ballroom. (One of my old offices did the hotel ballroom for the low key affair, and another black tie ball in January just for attorneys.) If you can’t ask anyone, look for clues — if it’s a Friday night after work, odds are good that people are going to be still wearing their office clothes (with one small tweak like a party blazer or statement necklace). If it starts at 5, it may be over by 7. Another way to gauge the formality: where the event is held. If it’s chosen for locality (the closest hotel ballroom, the closest restaurant, etc), odds are it’s going to be more low key than an event a bit further from the office.
- Do not get tipsy, let alone drunk. Save it for the office after party or when you’re at an event that isn’t affiliated with work. (Many moons ago, we also talked about what your drink says about you at the office cocktail party.)
- Make it about the people, not the food or drink. That’s a good hallmark of any party attendee, but it goes doubly here.
- Talk to everyone. Fight the urge to huddle in the corner with your friends, or only try to network with the VIPs. It’s a great time to smile and laugh with your subordinates, as well as support staff. A corrollary:
- Don’t just talk about work. If your boss comes over and needs to discuss a project, that’s one thing — but assume that people want to talk about anything but that. Politics and religion are still dicey topics, of course, but there are a ton of other party-appropriate conversation topics.
- If the next day is a work day, it’s business as usual.
What’s the best way to network in your niche and with experts in your field — but outside your company? How can you find these experienced professionals, and how should you reach out? Can you find a mentor outside your own company? Reader M wonders:
I just landed a job in a field I’m excited to be in, and am looking to make the most out of it. However, I am the only one in my office who is responsible for this specific subject matter. While my managers help me out whenever they can, the only other person who has similar exposure to this type of work is based at our overseas office. There are a number of professionals based in my city who are experts on this particular subject matter, and I would love to meet them and perhaps find a mentor in this field. However, since my office is based a bit outside of the city and I work long hours, I’m not exactly in the position to meet up with someone for a weekday lunch or coffee. How can I start to form relationships with experienced professionals in my field when my only free time is on nights and weekends? There are only a very limited number of conferences and events that I know of, so I thought it might be worthwhile to reach out to someone directly. Thoughts?
What a great idea, Reader M — networking with other people in your niche is going to allow you to accelerate your learning, have someone else to bounce ideas off of, and even give you some visibility in the field and hopefully the means to move to other companies if and when the time is right. Networking when you’re junior takes some finesse, and maybe I’m overcomplicating your particular situation — you can always just call the local experts you know of and ask to take them to breakfast, of course! — but my concern is that a cold call would seem either like you’re job searching, or possibly (depending on the field) like you’re trying to get intel on how Company X does its work so you can copy it for your own company. However it’s interpreted, it might raise eyebrows with the expert you’re calling as well as with your company. (One option that might bypass this: ask your overseas colleague if they have any local-to-you contacts in your field who you should know, or what local groups they recommend joining and who is in charge of them — and then ask if you may reach out using your colleague’s name.) So, instead, my approach would be to focus on getting involved in associations and clubs within your field — this will put you in the right position to meet the experts at an association event. If there are no local events, your involvement in the association still gives you a good reason to reach out to the experts — interview them for the association’s newsletter, or set up a local event yourself. (It also gives you a good reason to leave work early, within reason — having an industry meeting once a month or once a quarter is generally accepted and encouraged by employers. I’ve also mentioned my love of breakfast meetings for networking — it’s often more acceptable to come an hour late to work rather than leave two hours early, but obviously, you have to know your own office here.) SO: Some ideas on how to get involved:
We haven’t had a talk about conferences in too long — so ladies, let’s discuss! What are your top 5 things to bring to conferences? What are you looking for most in a conference — networking, inspiration, or education? Any fun stories (successes or failures) of conferences to share?
My own list of the top 5 things to bring to a conference would include:
- A tiny wall tap to expand the power outlet situation (this one or this one both look great — nice and lightweight). Everyone ALWAYS needs to charge their devices — and there are never enough outlets. Not only will you be able to charge when you need to, but you’ll be the belle of the ball (both at the conference and the airport, if you’re traveling).
- Business cards. Don’t forget your business cards — and have them somewhere accessible, such as in a pocket. Even though a business card sometimes feels a bit antiquated in today’s day and age, I totally forgot to replenish my supply when I went to my last conference and was kicking myself the whole time.
- A wrap. It sometimes feels like you can never get the temperature exactly right — so dress in layers. A wrap is great because you can wear it around your shoulders over a blazer, around your neck as a scarf if the weather outside is cold (or you miscalculated the level of cleavage showing that day), put it on your lap if your legs are cold, or fold it up and put it in your bag. (Bonus: it can be a travel pillow in a cinch.)
- A snack you can carry in your bag. My go-tos would be a Luna bar, a KIND bar, or a small bag of almonds. After all, there are usually limited opportunities to refuel with food, and you never want food to be the driving focus of the event. If you have to wait around because you want to talk to a speaker after an event, or even run an errand
- A lightweight bag, preferably a shoulder bag. For some conferences or networking events, people feel safe ditching their bags and coats at the table, or at coat check. Other events, though, are either in public spaces, or with new, extremely large groups of people, and you won’t feel comfortable ditching your bag. You may or may not know how you’ll feel until the moment — so make sure your bag isn’t going to hinder your networking. Lighten your load. Don’t carry a bag that interferes with your ability to hold a drink, such as a satchel. (Am I the only one who’s most comfortable talking to other people if I’m holding a drink? Very odd.) Finally, rethink that super expensive bag, if you tend to be obsessive over it (is it scratched? is it touching the floor? did she just KICK my BAG when she passed behind me?!?) — keep your focus on the conference instead.
Ladies, what are your top 5 things to bring to a conference? What’s been the best conference you ever attended — and what made it great?