The Sleeveless Professional: Body Types, Bare Arms, and Expectations

sleeveless-professional-2Is it professional to go sleeveless at the office — even if you don’t have perfect arms? When you want to bare your arms at your sleeveless-is-acceptable office, is it worth considering other people’s potential reactions if you don’t exactly have Michelle Obama arms to show off? Do people adjust their expectations of what’s “appropriate” when considering coworkers of different body types? Reader C wonders…

Some of the women in my department (including those who outrank me) wear sleeveless dresses and tops in the summer months, and I’d like to as well. However, from what I’ve seen, my arms are a lot flabbier and dimplier than those of the women who usually go sleeveless. I don’t want people to be grossed out (though I don’t think they should be and I am NOT ashamed of my body) but I was wondering if you think there are different attire expectations for different body types.

Hmmn.  We haven’t talked about going sleeveless at work in a while — in general we’ve noted that you should know your office when it comes to bare arms, and when we talked generally about what not to wear to work, many of you mentioned in the comments that sleeveless tops and dresses are acceptable at your office. I’m really, really curious to hear what readers say here.  (Pictured: Classiques Entier Colette Sleeveless Dress, available in green and black, marked down to $142 (from $235).  Here’s an awesome plus-size sleeveless sheath dress available in three colors, also on sale.)

For my $.02: I think that if sleeveless dresses are appropriate for some in the office, they are appropriate for everyone in the office — so listen to your own comfort level, and go ahead and wear them if you want to!  Note that in general, sleeveless tops and dresses are more professional when they have a thicker strap, a very high armhole (so there is no underarm… spillage, shall we say), and (obviously) no peekaboo issues with the bra.  The more formal the item of clothing (blouse vs. t-shirt, sheath dress vs. maxi), the more likely it is to be appropriate.  

As someone who has always had flabbier arms as well, though, I will note that sometimes a fake tan helps a bit, as does having a lightweight (cotton, linen) sweater or blazer to wear when you’re arriving places.  Even if you end up removing the sweater or blazer to be more comfortable, the initial impression is more formal.

Ladies, what are your thoughts on going sleeveless at the office?  If you have flabby arms, do you go sleeveless?  

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N.B. These substantive posts are intended to be a source of community comment on a particular topic, which readers can browse through without having to sift out a lot of unrelated comments. And so, although of course we highly value all comments by our readers, we’re going to ask you to please keep your comments on topic; threadjacks will be deleted at our sole discretion and convenience. Thank you for your understanding!

Being Confident at Work vs. Being Arrogant

confidence vs. arrogance What’s the difference between being confident and being arrogant? How can you tell if you’ve crossed that line at work? Reader A wonders…

I’ve got a sensitive subject that I haven’t seen discussed about discipline at work. I was recently hired at a law office where I’ve summered the last two summers doing litigation.

At work I was called into the hiring managers office and told the following. Hiring Manager is one of my biggest supporters. He thinks my career can take me far beyond where most people go in their careers into the top division. However, a couple of my evaluations from supervisors from the summer thought I sometimes acted arrogant. He said he didn’t think I was arrogant but that some things I said at my interview danced the line between confident and arrogant and raised red flags. He said he only brought it up because he didn’t want to not say something in case it became an issue in the future.

Any insight on responding beyond thanking him for telling me and thanking him for supporting me?

Interesting question, reader A. We’ve talked about how to be professional without looking like you think you’re in charge, as well as stressed the importance of being humble and grateful when you’re networking with older people — but we haven’t talked about what to do when you’re told you’re arrogant. (On the flip side, we’ve talked about how to take a compliment, as well as a lot about a lack of confidence; we had a discussion about the book The Confidence Code and we’ve shared posts on facing fear and low self-esteem, imposter syndrome, and doing work you feel unprepared for.) I have a few thoughts, but I’m curious what readers will say.

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Are Crossbody Bags Professional?

Are Crossbody Bags Professional? Are crossbody bags professional?  Could you wear one to a business lunch, or a networking event?  Reader C wonders…

Is a crossbody bag considered professional? I’m tired of carrying a ton of bags to work (briefcase, pump, lunch bag, and purse) and am trying to downsize my handbag. I’m considering purchasing the Lo & Sons Pearl bag. But would it be odd wearing a crossbody to a business lunch or networking event? Thanks!

The crossbody bag is SO HUGE right now. I think they’re cute, even if I wouldn’t wear one myself (busty girls, are you with me?). I would say this is a case of “you do you” and go ahead and wear it if you want to. I particularly think the crossbody is the new wristlet — perfect for grabbing something quickly to run to pick up lunch. (Pictured: another popular option, the Marc Jacobs Natasha, available at Nordstrom for $108-$398.  The pictured leather bag is $365.)

BUT — there’s always a but, isn’t there? — I might caution you in two possible regards that might invoke negative judgement about your professionalism.

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What to Wear to an Alumni Lunch Event

Should You Wear a Suit to an Alumni Lunch? | CorporetteIf you’re planning to attend an alumni lunch for your law school — and you’ll be taking the opportunity to network there — how should you dress? Is wearing a suit a must in this situation? (Pictured, Boss Juicy 6 Jacket, $575 at Nordstrom — check out our full guide to women’s suits for more ideas.) Reader K wonders…

I am starting to network to look for a new job and have decided to attend my law school’s annual alumni lunch (I am a lawyer). It’s on a Friday in a hotel ballroom. Should I wear a suit or is a professional business dress (with sleeves) sufficient?

Interesting question, Reader K!  For my $.02, I would say SURE, wear a suit.  Why not? You have one, and you want to look professional.  If anyone at work asks why you’re in a suit, there’s nothing suspect about attending an alumni event — and at the event if anyone asks why you’re in a suit, you can just say you have another big meeting.  (I doubt they will — my guess is that 95% of people there will be in suits.  But I’m sure this depends on your geographic location, as well as your law school.) Particularly given the fact that this is a lunch — and the law school alumni lunch at that — I would say that a suit is the easiest, no-brainer answer here — throw it on and be done with it.  (Read some of our best business lunch tips here, as well as some of our thoughts on alumni networking here.)

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When You’re the Boss: Being Liked vs. Being Respected

likeable-business-bitchI’m curious, ladies: have you struggled to find a good balance between being a boss (or coworker) who is well liked and one who is respected? Did you have to unlearn the idea that you have to be a “bitch in business” to get ahead?

Let me back up a bit. I was interested to read about Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Next Gen Summit a few months ago — particularly some of the best advice the women leaders ever received. This one quote struck me, from Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Investments, chair of DreamWorks Animation, and a director at Starbucks and Estee Lauder:

Smile a lot. People want to work with people they like, people who are happy. … You’ll be dealing with a lot of hard issues, and they’re going to come across better if you have a smile on your face.*

I happen to agree with this advice — one of the things I’ve learned in business is that people definitely prefer to do business with people they like. (I’ve even advised readers to look friendly in their corporate headshots.) It seems obvious, but this flies smack in the face of the mythos of the Bitch — younger women in particular seem to revere it, like it’s a goal. Case in point, pictured above: the amusing, but frustrating video Bitch in Business, produced by the student club, Columbia Business School Follies.

Interestingly, Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office has two chapters on this — one titled “Mistake 16: Needing to Be Liked,” and the second, “Mistake 17: Not Needing to be Liked.”  From Chapter 17:

Like many women, [the woman in the example] had to learn to allow her human, more stereotypically feminine side to emerge while at the same time capitalizing on the best of her more stereotypically masculine style of management.

So readers, I’m curious — how do you balance being likable and being respected? Did you have to unlearn a stereotype that successful women are bitches? What was the best advice you’ve gotten along these lines — or what advice would you give younger women? 

* I can’t find a link to the quote online, but it’s from Fortune Magazine, January 2015. Here’s an awesome video of Hobson speaking at the same conference about how she stopped apologizing for being a black woman.

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N.B. These substantive posts are intended to be a source of community comment on a particular topic, which readers can browse through without having to sift out a lot of unrelated comments. And so, although of course we highly value all comments by our readers, we’re going to ask you to please keep your comments on topic; threadjacks will be deleted at our sole discretion and convenience. Thank you for your understanding!

How to Interview in a Snowstorm

snowstorm-interviewWhat should you do if you have an interview — in a snowstorm?  Reader A wonders:

Can you do a post on what to wear to an interview during a snow storm?

I have a few interviews set for this week, but with the approaching east coast storm, I don’t want to walk into an office with my winter coat, scarf, hat, laptop, etc. plus a huge bag just for snow shoes (not to mention awkwardly changing into heels nearby or in the lobby).

Do you recommend just bringing an extra bag to change shoes or do you have another trick or solution?

We’ve talked about general interview tips, as well as how to look professional in cold weather as well as a New York winter, but not this particular situation.  Note that “professionalism” includes your own judgment about how to dress appropriately for the weather, so I wouldn’t worry about wearing “normal” interview attire TOO much — if you have to leave a bag with snowboots at the hiring office (or bring it with you to the interview), it isn’t the end of the world.  That said, I did come up with a few tips for you:

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