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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Summer Tweed, Winter Tweed — What’s the Difference?

summer-winter-tweedWhat are some guidelines for wearing tweed in the spring and summer?  We talk a lot about “lightweight tweed” — but what the heck is it? (For example: our most recent Suit of the Week.)  Reader C wonders…

I was wondering if you could do a post on tweed — maybe a “Guide to Tweed” or similar. I frequently see you mention “lightweight tweed” for summer, but I’m not sure I actually know what that means. Can light/bright colours bring an otherwise heavier weighted tweed into the summer months? On a more specific note, I recently bought a cropped black and white tweed jacket from BR a little while ago, and I’m wondering if I can wear this well into the summer, or if it is more of a late winter/spring piece. (I couldn’t find a picture of the exact one, but it’s similar to the jacket at this link, just cropped.) Thanks!

Interrrrrresting question, C.  We’ve talked a lot about dressing professionally for summer, including how to avoid looking like a doctor in a white blazerwearing pantyhose in the summer, and fabrics that are good for hot weather … but we’ve never really talked about what makes a summer tweed a “summer tweed.”  (On the flip side, we’ve talked about the propriety of bare legs in winter, and I agree with what I said there re: wearing winter tweed in the summer — it can be seen as a judgment call by your coworkers.)  Now is a great time to talk about it because as spring starts to turn to summer, which tweeds you wear start to matter more and more.

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How to Look Stylish and Professional at a Business Casual Office

business casualWhen you’re used to dressing conservatively for work and your new office is much less formal, how do you put outfits together to look casual but still professional and stylish? Some women would react to a dress-code switch like this with a “Score! Jeans and comfy shoes EVERY day,” but others are bigger fans of dressing conservatively in a casual office, like Reader J, who wonders…

I just started a job as an in-house attorney at a tech company. Before this, I worked at a big law firm with a conservative dress code. Now I’m in the dilemma of having a closet full of clothes that are too dressy for my job. I enjoy dressing up, but I don’t want to look too stuffy in this new environment. My boss wears hoodies everyday, and I was told that I’d be teased if I dress up too much. Any suggestions for where to shop for casual outfits that are still cute and classy?

In the past we’ve talked about wearing jeans to work and what to wear for a big meeting at a casual office, as well as the stories linked above.  Now let’s revisit some of that advice and take a look at several examples:

(Pictured: Nordstrom’s very popular open front cardigan by MOD.lusive by Bobeau, $25-$42 in lots of colors and regular and petite sizes.)

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What to Wear to a Big Meeting at a Casual Office

big-meeting-attire-casual-officeWhen you work at a company with a casual dress code, how should you step it up for a board meeting — or for other important meetings — when you want to look professional but don’t know what others will be wearing? Reader A wonders…

I have a fashion question: How does one dress for the board meeting of a “casual dress” company? We are a start-up — this is our first board meeting — so I really don’t have a precedent to call on. During a normal work day, my boss (the CEO, age 45+) and I typically wear jeans and a sweater or T-shirt, as we only have phone/email contact with clients. However, it seems like the board meeting calls for a more professional look. I asked my boss about it, he said “What you’re wearing is fine.” (Faded jeans, a long-sleeved Tshirt and a scarf.) He is not the type of guy I would normally take fashion advice from, and I’m not sure he fully understands the nuance of female dress! Most of the other officers and board members are lawyers, lobbyists, or CPAs. I don’t want to show up in jeans, but I don’t want to be the only one in a suit either. Is there something inbetween? Dress slacks and a cardi? I am age 35+, and a size 14 (XL), so I don’t want anything too clingy or “young”. Suggestions?

We’ve talked about how to do business casual without looking overdressed, a casual-but-professional uniform for womenwhat to wear to a casual office on your first day, shoes to wear with jeans at work, and more — but not this.

Interesting question, A, and I’m curious to hear what readers say. For my $.02, I would avoid the “dress slacks and a cardi” look when everyone else is in jeans because you inevitably end up looking like the mom of the group. So I’m going to offer you two suggestions and suggest you go with the one that feels right — but again, I’m curious to hear what the readers say.

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How High to Button Your Shirt for Interviews

blouse-buttons-suitsWhen interviewing, must you button your shirt all the way to the top? How many buttons are acceptable to leave unbuttoned? Reader S wonders…

I am going for an interview at quite a conservative organisation. I have a navy skirt suit and was going to wear a white button up shirt. Do I need to button up all the buttons up to the top?

I have an immediate, initial gut reaction here — but I’m curious if the readers agree. Before we start, note that the WSJ just discussed this very topic for men’s attire; in the past we’ve talked about whether shirt collars should be tucked into a blazer or splayed on top, as well as where to get the best button-front blouses. Here’s my gut reaction $.02:

NO! Don’t button it all the way to the top! That would look weird, and fussy, and… and… I’m thinking of a hitman in a movie but can’t quite put my finger on which movie. (Also: Rainman.) I dug up a few pictures for inspiration, though, and my opinions shifted as I studied it. So I’m really curious to hear what readers say.  Here are some notes:

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Trends and the Conservative Office

trends-for-conservative-officesWhat trends can a younger woman safely wear to work?  You don’t want to dress too “old” — but you also doesn’t want to appear too trendy and/or in styles that are inappropriate for workwear. How do you find a balance so that you look professional without feeling like you’re wearing someone else’s clothes? Reader K wonders…

Would you be interested in doing a feature directed at the youngest of your audience? 23-26yo females? This would be regarding the interface between young/trendy and office appropriate. While a lot of the items TPS features are great-looking, I can also see a way in which it might be premature for a younger demographic to be shopping in those styles. I would like to look dignified, for example, but not necessarily older than I am.

This is a great question. The conservative office is all about the classic, chic look — you will always be well served to have a crisp white blouse, a simple sheath dress, a pair of great pumps, and a well-tailored blazer and matching skirt and pants. That said, there do exist trends within those relatively narrow boundaries, and THOSE are the trends that I think you can experiment with, without too much fear that they make you look inappropriate. So let’s dig in.

First, let’s define the kind of trend we’re NOT talking about for a conservative office:

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