Are Skirts and Dresses Unprofessional?

Are Skirts and Dresses Unprofessional? | CorporetteAre skirts and dresses unprofessional? What if you have a boss who has a firm opinion, one way or the other? What if you have a boss who forbids YOU from wearing dresses and skirts, when other women in the office can and do? Reader A wonders…

I recently started a new job in a creative industry, and our offices are officially business casual but usually just regular casual. My boss hates that I wear dresses and skirts. She told me that looking feminine in the workplace is bad for careers and she only wants me to wear jeans or khakis if she’s in the office and I can only wear skirts when she travels. I’ve abided by it for a couple months since she was really persistent about it, even though other women in the office wear skirts. I’m confident that my skirts are not inappropriate length wise, they’re standard work skirts from Macy’s and Lane Bryant. Nothing ruffly or lacy either.

Anyway, my manager is leaving the company, but now I feel insecure about my clothing. Is it a bad move to wear skirts and dresses several times per week?

Wow. Honestly, your former manager sounds super annoying — particularly given that other women in the office wear skirts! I can only assume it’s a personal problem with you (something about your style irks her) or she is being sizeist, whether consciously or unconsciously. (The other possibility I thought of after Googling Reader A’s email address: The manager felt threatened professionally by Reader A, who already has an established, successful career — and wanted Reader A to look less managerial.)

Whatever the issue: I’m sorry you had to deal with it, and I’m glad the manager is on her way out. We’ve talked before about when feminine clothes are unprofessional, as well as how to look professional in a business casual environment where the guys are in jeans and hoodies, but not all at once. So let’s discuss.

  • Know your office. You say other women in the office wear skirts — how are yours different, if at all? Are you wearing them with much higher heels that you wear with pants? Are the women who wear them in different roles than you are (for example, much more senior or much more junior/administrative)? Reading office culture — and fitting in — is an important part of your job. You don’t have to give up your entire personal style, but you do have to learn when to play it safe — years ago we had a successful goth lawyer guest post on this very topic; we also recently discussed how clothes are only “empowering” if they actually help you get power. Without seeing your office it’s hard for me to make suggestions, but when I hear “creative business casual” I think of a shirtdress with flat boots, for example, or a sheath dress with a jean jacket and a scarf instead of a cardigan. We’ve talked about how to transition a conservative wardrobe to a casual office before.
  • A feminine style is one thing; being in costume is another. This doesn’t sound like it’s an issue with Reader A, but I’ll mention it briefly. If you tend toward a more girly style — A-line skirts, high heels, full makeup — you may be crossing the line from “dressed up” to “in costume.”  Particularly be wary of more vintage styles for the office.
  • Start slowly. Since you’ve been abiding by your manager’s weird “rules,” the office may perceive this as a style change — so start slowly. Wear one dress a week, not all dresses. See how people react, what comments you get. On the days that you aren’t wearing skirts or dresses, dress up your pants outfits as well — wear a blazer with jeans, or a feminine cardigan with khakis. (Some of our advice on dressing for a promotion may help bridge the gap between your jeans wardrobe and your dress/skirt wardrobe.) If you have a favorite pair of shoes you wear with your skirts or dresses, wear them with your pants and see how it goes.
  • Get an honest second opinion. If after a few times of wearing a dress you still feel uncomfortable, talk to your HR department or a more senior colleague you trust to give you an honest opinion. They know your former manager, your office, and you, so they may be able to give you better insight here.

What are your thoughts, readers? How would you handle this (now, as well as with that manager) if you were in Reader A’s shoes? Do you think dresses and skirts can be unprofessional?  

(Pictured: Hollywood 819, originally uploaded to Flickr by Jessica Hartman Jaeger.)

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The Corporette Guide to Stylish Cardigans for the Office

stylish-cardigans-workWe shared our first Corporette Guide to Cardigans way back in 2010, so we figured it was time for an update — and the timing is just right for those of you who freeze in your air-conditioned offices during the summer, or are shopping for easy layering pieces for the fall.  We’ve talked about how how to button cardigans for work in the past, as well as how to buy seasonless cardigans.

Ladies — which is your favorite KIND of cardigan to wear to the office? Do you have a favorite brand or style that you keep buying, or have stocked up on recently?  What are your biggest struggles with finding stylish cardigans for work, or styling them to look appropriate for work? 

 

stylish cardigans for office1. Banded. These cardigans have some banding at the bottom and (usually) on the sleeves, which makes their shape a bit blousy or boxy. They can come with a matching shell for a twinset look, or be worn by themselves with, for example, a button-front shirt or blouse, or a nice tank or tee (such as the cardi pictured, Saxxon Wool Cardigan, available at Brooks Brothers in nine colors for $148). Because these kinds of cardis have their own shape, they’re less than ideal for wearing with dresses, and, for our $.02, best with pants. Ideally you want full-length sleeves so that you can easily wrap it around your neck if you need to — that said, three-quarter length sleeves are very popular, such as this Halogen cardigan (20+ colors, regular, petites, and plus sizes, for $27-$56). If the twinset is very boxy (think a more Jackie O cut), then they can be worn over your shoulders, almost like a cape. Other examples: reader favorite Supima Cardigan at Lands’ End ($19-$89, a zillion colors and prints, regular, petite, and plus sizes), reader favorite Charming Cardigan at Talbots, $19-$99, this merino cardigan in 12 colors for $39 at Uniqlo, or this J.Crew cashmere cardigan (16 colors!, sizes XXS-XXL; pictured at very top). One of my budget favorites has always been August Silk — look for them at spots like TJ Maxx, but Amazon also carries them, as does Macy’s.

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The Next Step: Upgrading Weekend Clothes

How to Upgrade Your Weekend Clothes | CorporetteWelcome to what is probably our final “next step” feature, where we explore how to take the next step up in work clothesoffice heels, stylish work bags, and professional jewelry; we also explored the middle upgrades for services (e.g., you can cook for yourself or get a professional chef — but what’s in between?). Today: how to step up your weekend clothes game. (Pictured: Vince Gathered Shirtdress, on sale from $385 to $230 at Nordstrom.)

Here is my theory on weekend clothes: there are very few classics. At the rate that fashion moves these days, the quickest way to look and feel frumpy is to have an outdated off-duty style. I speak from experience here: I refused to buy in to the skinny jean trend for <cough> way too long, arguing that bootcuts were classics and fit right in to the style for weekend me. So what if I’m still in bootcuts when everyone else in skinny jeans, you may say — it’s just denim, and I’m in suits or sheath dresses five days a week. But I’ve noticed that a lot of elements of your workwear wardrobe can flow from weekend choices.

For example: a fitted t-shirt looks great with bootcuts, but you need a drapey, tunic-y, asymmetrical top for skinny jeans. The slouchy, more boxy tees and sweaters (or, gah, the crop tops) look better with boyfriend jeans. Once you get used to doing the half-tuck with your jeans on the weekend, your office style changes as well — to more drapey blouses with slimmer-cut pants. Similarly, once you get used to rolling your jeans to wear with your booties, wearing knee-high boots with skinny jeans feels almost antiquated — which means you buy fewer knee-high boots or don’t replace the ones you have, and then it’s less of an issue whether it’s appropriate to wear knee-high boots to work with dresses, and instead we start talking about whether booties with skirts are work-appropriate. It’s very interesting to me how all of the pieces interact.

This is all just a theory, and I’m curious to hear what you guys think about it. I’m still perfecting my own weekend game, but I think this is where the capsule collection really comes in — you buy a few of-the-moment pieces that all work together in terms of color, silhouette, and vibe, and try to keep your new purchases to a minimum. I also think that if dresses work for you in your off-duty life, they’re one of the best ways to stay as close to “classic” as you can get.

Anyway, here are my tiers for weekend wear — readers, where do you shop for weekend clothes? Do you also feel like casual fashion is moving far more quickly than it has in the past — and how do you address it? Or, is all of this less of an issue because you’re either in a suit, workout clothes/sweatpants, or a date night slinky dress, with very little in between time?  

Tier 1 — These stores are easily accessible, and you probably shopped at them in your teens. The pros: they’re affordable and always on trend. The cons: a lot of their cuts and trends may skew a bit younger than you prefer; the clothes are not made to last (generally speaking); and you may want to consider the ethics of buying a ton of “disposable” clothes.

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How to Cool Down in a Hot Office

Staying cool in a hot office -- seersucker dressSo you’ve switched from a freezing office to an office that’s too hot — and going sleeveless at work may not be an option. How can you stay cool and comfortable at work? Reader C wonders…

I’ve read a lot of your posts, and in my old office lived by your advice regarding staying warm in a freezing-cold office. However, my new building has the opposite problem. Much of the time, especially now as we approach summer, my area of the building is very warm. As in, I-wish-our-dress-code-permitted-swimsuits warm (we are unfortunately business casual with an emphasis on the casual, but sleeveless isn’t allowed). Some women, including higher-ups, wear sleeveless anyways. I’ve done this a few times, but feel awkward when I have to talking to our VPs (I do this fairly regularly) although nobody has ever said anything about my clothes. Any advice?

We feel for you, Reader C! It’s been about a year since we talked about how to look professional when it’s hot or professional clothes for summer; we’ve also answered readers’ questions about “comfortable casual” workwear in a heat wave and staying cool when the heat is blasting in the winter. More recently, we’ve talked about summer makeup and summer hairlightweight pants and lightweight blazers, and pantyhose in the summer.

To help Reader C, we’ve collected some helpful tips from Corporette readers on hot weather/hot offices — and added some of our own. We hope they’ll help you stay cool (well, cool-er, at least), even if you don’t go sleeveless.

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Lightweight Pants for Work

lightweight pants for officeWhich are the best lightweight pants for a business casual office? For some of us, the warmer months mean biking, hiking, kickball, competing in triathlons, and many more activities that are likely to leave us with a few scratches, bumps, and bruises. If you aren’t crazy about putting those bruises on display at work, and prefer to wear pants to cover your legs, which are the best for business casual summer workwear? Reader M wonders…

With all the sports and activities I do, I need to reconfigure my work wardrobe to be trousers-only. I bruise way too easily to wear skirts often, especially in the warmer months. I need to start almost from scratch with a business casual summer wardrobe, any suggestions? Thanks!

I bruise easily, as well, M, so I’m sorry to hear that. I think you’re right to want to cover your bruises for work — they can be a distraction for your colleagues as they start wondering how you got them. (This mountain-biker was even cornered by her boss who worried she was being abused.) If you work in such a small office that everyone you come into contact with knows that you’re bruised from sports, that’s one thing — but that doesn’t sound like the case for M.

So, some thoughts on summer pants for a business casual environment:

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The Hunt: Lightweight Blazers

Nina Ricci Printed Stretch-Linen BlazerSure, we all know what basics professional women are supposed to have in their closets, but if you’re buying one for the first time or replacing one you’ve worn into the ground, it can be a pain to find exactly the right incarnation in stores. In “The Hunt,” we search the stores for a basic item that every woman should have.

Linen! Seersucker! Cotton pique! Eyelet! There are a million varieties on the lightweight summer blazers — we thought we’d round up some of the best. (Here’s our 2014 roundup of linen blazers, our 2013 roundup of white blazers, and our 2012 roundup of summer blazers.) Ladies, what do you look for when buying a blazer for a hot summer? (For my $.02, these kinds of blazers are perfect for casual days at the office, as well as summer associate outdoor events where you know not to wear a suit but aren’t too sure what else to wear — use a lightweight blazer to top a basic sheath dress and look professional at an outdoor cocktail party; bring it along to an event where you’re only 90% sure jeans and a t-shirt are ok.)

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