Going-Out Clothes and Young Professionals

Going Out Clothes for Adults | CorporetteOnce you get to grad school, can you stick with your “going out” style from college, or is it time to make some changes? Reader C wonders how to dress for a night out on the town when she’s out with new friends from grad school…

I have a strange request/question. I’ve begun learning all about clothing for work, interviews, etc., and now know the difference between business casual and chic casual. My problem is that during my undergrad, “going out” almost certainly meant tight shirts, tight pants or leggings, and high heels, as well as blow-out hair and smokey eye makeup. Jackets were a never, and cleavage was a must.

I was recently invited to go out with from friends from my new school, and pretty much realized that I don’t know how to dress like a grown woman when I’m doing something super casual with friends, like going out for a few beers or even out dancing. I still want to look the part in some ways (these are, after all, my future colleagues — I don’t want to be remembered as “cleavage girl”), but still dress to have fun.

Please teach me to be a respectable adult, even while I’m supposed to be out having fun.

Great question, and I’m torn between a few thoughts. First: you’re in school; if you’re going out with friends it shouldn’t matter too much. On the flip side, I think it can make an impact on how people remember you, and the bigger the dichotomy between your work or student persona and your “weekend persona,” the more people will remember it.

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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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Beauty Wednesday: Makeup Combinations

Makeup CombinationsHere’s what may be an odd question for you: Which are your favorite makeup products to combine? On the flip side — which are your favorite makeup products that are great by themselves?

For my own $.02: in the past I’ve layered applications of two different kinds of mascara (because I liked one for coverage and another for separation or staying power of a tube mascara like Blinc), I’ve layered multiple kinds of lip products (my new favorite is using MAC’s lip primer, using a MAC lip liner on my entire lips, and then sealing with a top coat of YSL’s Glossy Stain in the one of the Rebel Nude shades), and of course different kinds of cheek products (some days I use bronzer, blush, and highlighter). When I’m using pencil liner I also tend to layer a dark eye shadow on top of it with a smudge brush, both to make my eyes a bit smokier and to help the liner stay put.

In terms of products that are great on their own, I just got a new stick of Clinique’s Chubby Sticks (in Graped-Up), and love it by itself — no lipliner, gloss, primer, or anything else needed (pictured above; available for $17 at Nordstrom). It’s actually hard to think of another product that is great by itself, with no help needed from another product… hmmmn…

Readers, what are your thoughts? Which are your favorite products to combine — and which are your favorite to wear by themselves?
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Offensive Clients: How to Deal

Offensive Clients:  How to Deal When Your Client Suggests Your Bag Is Too Expensive | CorporetteHow do you deal with men at work making derisive comments about the expense of your bags, shoes, and clothes?  I’ve been thinking about this one ever since she sent it in. Reader O wonders…

After a recent exchange, I’ve been thinking about my preferred strategy for handling inappropriate/sexist comments from male colleagues/clients: making a joke that disarms the offender while sending a message about boundaries and respect. What are your thoughts on this strategy? Here’s my recent example:
Greeting the team pre-meeting, client looks at my shoulder and says “remind me when we’re done – I have a great Louis Vuitton story for you!! Don’t let me forget!!” Post-meeting (where per the usual I am the only woman in the room), client remembers & proceeds to tell this great “story” to me. And the team. “I’d never been in the store before and went to find a purse for my wife. I’m looking at this bag and can’t find the price anywhere, I finally find it – $2500! For a purse! I guess we know where those legal fees are going.” Another male team member seems particularly amused.
Me, looking at their wrists: “So, I see that you’re both wearing Rolexes. This is my Rolex.”

Like I said, I’ve been thinking about this since Reader O sent it in, and I can’t quite pin down my thoughts.  We’ve talked about sexist clients and sexist coworkers, but I’m not sure the advice there totally applies here.  Here’s what I know: I’m pissed on Reader O’s behalf.  But I’m also not sure she handled it well, considering this was a client.  More specifically:

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How to Respond to a Good Bonus

How to Respond to a Big Bonus | CorporetteHow do you respond to a generous year-end bonus? Here’s Reader C’s question:

I am a young lawyer, and have worked at my current firm for 1.5 years. This year, I got a generous bonus. I’d like to know what the etiquette is for responding to the bonus. Is a thank you note for the 5 partners appropriate? an in person thank you? or nothing? The envelope the check is in says “Merry Christmas -The Partners”. It is a small firm (10 lawyers, 5 partners) and I have a good relationship with the partners but would feel a bit awkward going into their offices and closing the door, just to say thank you. What about a small gift from the senior partner and his wife, (think chocolate)?

I looked in the archives for an answer to my question, but wasn’t able to find anything on point and would really like to hear any tips on this!

You and me both! I still remember the big BigLaw bonuses before the recession, and I will always remember getting my biggest bonus (back in January 2008).  We all knew the number before our individual reviews — bonuses were lockstep with class year, and a memo had been circulated to say my firm was matching the going market rates.  Still, when my reviewer said, in a very cursory manner, “Your bonus is $80,000 this year,” and I tried to graciously say “thank you,” it was followed by an awkward, cringe-worthy pause from both of us.  It just felt SO little-girl/feminine and not at all what a Captain of Industry would say. I imagined men saying something like, “Well yes, I earned it!” or “Wonderful, I can make the next payment on the yacht!” or perhaps, “Bully, let’s all go play golf!” But not “thank you.” [Read more…]

How to Throw a Dinner Party… for Work Purposes

How to Throw a Dinner Party... And Invite Your Boss | CorporetteWhat are the rules regarding dinner parties — and do they change if you’re inviting a boss or an existing or potential client? Reader M wonders…

Idea for a post/thread during the holiday season: what is the modern-day dinner party, and how can it positively/negatively affect your career? I’ve had a couple situations where I’ve thrown dinner parties for older colleagues or bosses, and I’m afraid that I don’t really know the all the “rules.” Is there still a stand-around cocktail and appetizer time when your party is work-related? Do I need to have all the food done by the time guests arrive, or can I still continue to cook a bit? What do I need to wear – jeans and a sweater, or do I need to upgrade to business casual? I’m specifically talking about smallish (6-12 people) dinner parties where a boss, partner, or existing/potential client is on the invite list.

I’d love to discuss the best way to do this for working women who don’t necessarily have a ton of time to cook or clean, and how I can portray myself, my home, and my family in a positive and professional way (that still stays true to who I am).

Wow. We’ve talked about what to wear to your boss’s holiday party, as well as what to talk about at parties, but we’ve never talked about throwing your own dinner party for your boss and clients.  I can honestly say that I have NO idea on the rules here, and am fascinated to hear what the readers say. Having lived in small NYC apartments for the majority of my adult life — and being, personally, about as far from Martha Stewart as you can get in the kitchen — I can say that on the rare occasions I’ve thrown a dinner party, it’s been with friends close enough that we could all laugh about it when the kitchen catches fire and we order pizza (should it happen, which, knock on wood, it hasn’t… so far).  Having to cook for a boss or a client sounds like my own private version of hell.  (Weirdly enough, though, we have thought about having my husband’s boss over for dinner with her husband, but just the four of us.  I can’t find the right words to explain why this is so different in my mind than the prospect of inviting my own boss over, for a dinner party, but it really is — something about not wanting my boss to see me as just a good little wifey, perhaps?)  [Read more…]