What “Business Casual” Means for Students Who Are Networking

Shirred Side Cowlneck SweaterA lot of companies and networking groups have parties for students over the holidays — I can remember attending more than a few in my younger years.  The perennial question, as Reader N wonders:  what do you wear when it says “business casual attire”? Perhaps more importantly, what things shouldn’t you wear for winter networking events?

I’m a college student who is interested in finance, and go to a lot of information sessions for banks. The dress code is usually business casual or business attire. Other than just wearing a suit, what can be appropriate in these situations? A dress like this Metallic T-Shaped Tunic Sweater from Express (picture) or this Merona Sleeveless Empire Dress (picture) with tights and a jacket? Black slacks and a nice sweater?

This is a great question, and I want to start by saying, again, that when you’re networking — at least for a conservative job — the goal is is for your clothes to be muted enough that people remember your brains (or your words or your resume), NOT your outfit.  A few basic rules, just responding to your question: [Read more…]

Poll: Ankle-Length Pants and the Office

So here’s the tricky thing about office style:  it changes from time to time.  We’ve talked before on this blog about how I’m a big fan of bootcut trousers because I think they’re the most flattering look — and how I think “shorter” pants (capris, floodies, pedal pushers, whatever you want to call them) are unacceptable for the office.  (Ain’t No Mom Jeans — totally unrelated to office style! — had a highly amusing post on them recently.)  But.  But!  There are a ton of gorgeous ankle-length pants out there right now, and I’m seeing them more and more often with suits — from both conservative brands and not so conservative brands.  Take, for example, this gorgeous Elizabeth and James suit (which was very nearly yesterday’s Suit of the Week).  One of my guest posters last year even said she thought the J.Crew Minnie was a wardrobe staple! (Is it just me or is J.Crew showing the Minnie pant ridiculously tight on the models this year?)  So ladies, I thought it was time for a poll:  do you think ankle-length pants are acceptable for a conservative office, where (on any given day) 50% or more of the people may be in a full-on suit?  Do you think they’re great for a more casual (pants and blouse) look, but hate them with suits?  Do tell.

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Maxi Dresses and the Office

maxi for work.indexedCan you wear maxi dresses at the office? I’m hoping Reader J is joking:

Are maxie dresses appropiate at the office in the Summer? I’ve seen two ladies, one younger in her 20’s perhaps, the other older, 40’s maybe, wearing maxie dresses in the summer. The younger girl wore one once that was bright orange and strapless like the one in the link with nothing over it. The other lady has worn halter top and spaghetti strap maxie dress and will ususally wear a sweater or wrap with it. Either way, is a maxie dress ever okay for the office in the summer? Thanks.

You’re pranking me, right? My only thought is: NONONONONONONONONONONONONONO. No. N. O. I mean, look at the model — do you think “oh, how competent,” or “I think I’d like her on my team”?  Not really, right?  And bear in mind this is a static image; in real life she’d probably be itchy from the smocking and obsessively yanking that neckline up.  (For the record, I’m also against halter tops or spaghetti straps of any kind in the office.)

Let me take a deep breath and step away from the strapless, smocked monstrosity above, and say that I actually have thought about talking about “how to wear maxi dresses” to the office on here a few times because, many moons ago, I saw a column in Lucky Magazine where Jean Godfrey-June styled a brown maxi skirt with a white shrunken blazer and I actually thought, oh, how cute, that might be appropriate for the office. Sort of similar to the below: [Read more…]

The Hunt: Work-Appropriate T-Shirts

best t-shirts for work 4.indexedSure, 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.

Ever since I found The Limited’s highly-rated t-shirt, I’ve been thinking about that perennial summer question: which are the best t-shirts for layering under suits and otherwise wearing to work? In my mind, the perfect work t-shirt:

  • is opaque
  • is thick enough to not see the outline of your bra
  • keeps its shape throughout the day (and after several washes)
  • retains color evenly after numerous washes
  • looks like a perfect basic — not too memorable or trendy

I’ve rounded up some of my favorites below — but readers, which are your favorites?  (Psssst: check out The Corporette Guide to the Best Tops Under Suits if you haven’t already!)

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What to Wear to a Company Picnic

What do you wear to attend a company picnic and watch a baseball game — particularly when this will be one of the first impressions you make? Reader E wonders…

I finally have a unique fashion dilemma that I need help on. After working as a government attorney for several years, I have landed a job at a biglaw firm starting in the fall. I have been invited this summer to the firm’s trip to watch a baseball game and the picnic beforehand. It’s a family event to which SO’s and children are invited, and it’s on a Friday right after work. My dilemma–what to wear?? This will be the first time I meet many of the attorneys and support staff, so of course I want to make a good impression. Are jeans appropriate? Khakis? Do I need to wear team colors/jersey? Ack! (Also, I wouldn’t mind any tips on socializing at this type of event–I’ve never been to one and my SO can’t attend, so I’m really nervous about showing up alone and meeting people for the first time!) Thanks for any advice you have on this!

Ugh. I know firms think these things are fun, but the sartorial conundrum never is. Honestly, I would suggest calling the Hiring Department and asking them what people have worn to the event in the past. (In general, ladies, this is ALWAYS the right answer — call the HR department.) If they give you a vague answer (“oh, you know, pants or a dress”), I would ask what the men wear — if they’re still in suits from a day at the office (perhaps sans tie, or with shirt sleeves rolled up), I’d go for something more formal, like a sheath dress.  If they’re in shorts, polos, and sneakers (or team jerseys), welcome to Situation Casual — and perhaps consider jeans. [Read more…]

Back-Handed Compliments at the Office

How do you deal with back-handed “compliments” in the office? Reader B wonders…

I am a 30 year old lawyer working in Washington, DC. My late 20’s/early 30’s professional female friends and I have experienced a strange and disconcerting dynamic amongst women in the workplace: getting negative comments from other women for being smartly/well- dressed. These outfits, I believe, would objectively be considered professional, age-appropriate, and well-fitting: tailored suits in feminine cuts, pencil skirts to the knee, or pumps with a modest heel. They would certainly be similar to those depicted on the Corporette website. The comments often take the form of backhanded compliments, such as, “That shirt makes you look soooooo thin.” They may also be cautionary, like “Wow, you had better be careful not to hurt yourself in those heels”. This feedback comes from women at a similar professional level and more senior employees. It most often comes from women whom are a generation older and seem to be, at times, more about our size and age than what we are wearing. It also seems to be more of an issue in government and non-profit environments, as we haven’t noticed it to be a problem in the private sector. How should we respond to this type of feedback? At what point should we give in to workplace pressure to dress in a more bland way versus continuing to wear clothing that makes us feel sophisticated and professional?

This issue comes up a lot, and as your friendly blogger I see both sides of it: the younger women wondering why these older women are giving them these back-handed compliments, and the older women asking me how in the world they tell someone they’re dressed wildly inappropriate for the office in a casual way. I’m curious to hear what readers think about this. [Read more…]