Looking Professional, In the Factory

Reader D has a unique question: what to wear in the field?  More specifically, to visit a factory (and ride in her client’s plane!)

I am going on a site visit to a factory near Seattle.  The visit includes riding in a small plane and then visiting a large factory so I will need to be casual, wear flat comfortable shoes, yet still look professional.  Any advice?  Although I am a senior associate I will be the sole representative for my client and want to make sure I come off as professional as possible.

Congratulations on the opportunity — it sounds fun (riding in a private plane is on my Bucket List) and like a good career opportunity. As far as fashion goes, I think my answer depends on one question: can you wear denim around your client? If so, I think a pair of dark (preferably black) jeggings skinny jeans, tucked into flat boots, topped with a button-front and blazer, and accessorized with your normal work jewelry, would probably be my best guess for an outfit. (Update:  There’s a lot of disagreement with me in the comments, which is fine, but just to be clear: when I say “jeggings” — I mean skinny  jeans that have a bit of extra Spandex in them to make them more comfortable, but are still primarily denim.  E.g., these, these, or these. Not these.)  Here’s my thinking:

– Factory = boots. While ballet flats and other flat shoes have many things to recommend them, on the off (off) (off) chance something falls on your foot, you should be as protected as possible. Also, I think if there’s any uncertain footing that requires delicate stepping (e.g., over pipes), you’ll want to be in shoes that you know will not fall off. Oh, another reason: if it’s at all muddy or dusty on the runway (or in the factory), you’ll want the dust to stick to your boots rather than your pants.

– Factory and small plane = pants. See above re: delicate stepping.  I think it’s also possible in the factory you could be walking on grating, or on metal stairways, with people walking or working below, such that you wouldn’t want to wear a skirt.  I could also see there being some awkward stairways to get up to the plane (although it’s entirely possible I’ve just watched Arrested Development too much).

– Factory and small plane = tight-fighting, non-voluminous clothing. You wouldn’t want to get a flowing cardigan or skirt caught on a piece of machinery, or (ack) in some part of the propeller.

– Professional = blazer, dark pants. I would suggest that you carry over the jewelry you normally wear with suits to this more casual outfit — if it’s pearls and diamonds, do it; if it’s a statement necklace that you always wear, do it. Part of this is for a continuous look: the client has seen you wearing the jewelry before, and even though you’re in a different type of outfit now you’re still, at the core, the professional lawyer he knows. Another part of this is to help YOU feel confident and be in your zone for your most professional self. For me, for example, that means putting on my good watch whenever I have a business meeting, no matter what I’m wearing… even if I don’t wear the watch when I’m lazing around the house or hanging out with friends.

So all of these thoughts, above, send me to jeggings, flat boots (get ’em shined before you go!), a nice top, a blazer, and your work jewelry. There are some non-denim leggings that have enough weight to the fabric that they can be worn as pants (despite the popular Buzzfeed “am I wearing pants” flowchart) — I got a nice ponte pair from Ann Taylor earlier this year. If you really would rather wear proper trousers, I might still advise wearing flat, knee-high boots beneath them — that way if conditions are really horrible you can tuck your pants into your boots.

A few other considerations: plane and runway = wind, so I might suggest pulling your hair back from the get-go. Keep in mind, though, that the factory may require you to wear a hardhat, hairnet, and/or goggles… so I wouldn’t do anything too fancy that will interfere with those requirements.  In other words: low “on purpose” ponytail, not a French twist.

Readers, have you had to visit factories (or, speak up ladies, how many of you have ridden in private planes)? What would you wear?


  1. I haven’t read the hundred comments, so this may be a repeat, but having worked in a factory for a while (as an HR Manager), I’ll tell you:
    1 – they may either give you steel toed shoes or covers to go over your shoes. If not, they probably would not let you on the floor at all unless you have close toed low/no heeled shoes.
    2 – tighter clothes are good. Don’t want trailing fabric caught in a roller.
    3 – you may have to put some kind of protective stuff on your head, either a shower cap type thing or even a hardhat. So no big crazy up dos – a low ponytail, perhaps.

    You could also have your people ask their people!

  2. Everything that can be said has been said, but not by everyone, so I must weigh in. I do this type of site visiting all the time for my job, and I have to add: NO NO NO to jeggings, leggings, jeans, denim! If your office is a conservative professional environment, you do not wear any of the above on a site visit. I don’t care where it is or how you have to get there. Tailored “slacks” (Ann Taylor is good for this), blouse or fine-gauge sweater, blazer or jacket is the uniform. Pants suit is of course fine too. I cannot stress enough that jeans or leggings are so wrong, so very wrong.

    Footwear: Flat closed-toe leather shoes that will not fly off. (Some plants will not allow open-toed shoes.) I have had to climb metal staircases where heels would have been a disaster; I have had to walk from building to building through puddles (of lord knows what liquid), mud, dirt, etc.

  3. Anonymous Girl :

    I wear jeggings to work (law firm) all the time on Fridays. Even in colors.

  4. The best idea would be to contact the factory/boss and ask what the governmentally mandated OSHA standards require while touring. The few times I’ve been to factories, I was required to wear steel-toe slipons, but since I had such small feet, I had to bring my own. Also, depending on the factory and place, it may be pretty hot and have certain smells associated with it, which would dictate the type of fabrics you would wear. You’ll almost certainly have to wear pants.

  5. j.almarine :

    oh thank you so much for this post! i am an accountant and occassionally visit minesites (1-2 times/year) and i am always at a loss for what to wear! although my visits are in the frigid north (prince george, bc) during november and january so i would layer it more…

  6. I often go on site tours of farms/grain elevators/grain bins, traveling in muddy trucks, tractors, combines. I’m in small towns, rural communities – not the same as a factory tour in Seattle, but definitely not my typical office environment. I try to not stick out, but I also want to look professional and fit the image of a lawyer. I’m almost ALWAYS the sole woman on these trips, often working with semi-sexist men (it’s not uncommon for me to sit through ‘colorful’ jokes about women, or to be asked if I am going to ‘clean up’ after my male co-workers). So I would say the idea of jeggings, excess jewelry and anything overly ‘prim’ or ‘feminine’ causes eye-rolling and extra attention (not in a good way). I wear dark trouser jeans (not suit pants; dark khakis would also work well), well tailored jacket in a more casual fabric (again, not suit material), and moderately cut shirt (not a blouse, not low cut — you don’t want to flash your bra). I wear cowboy boots where appropriate, hiking boots when I’m visiting properties that will require hiking/site viewing; on the purchase list is a pair of flat heeled boots (black) with a rugged sole. Jewelry is limited to a nice watch and earring studs; if I was married, obviously a wedding band — I might think twice about wearing a bold/larger engagement ring, if it could get lost/caught in machinery. Non-flashy sunglasses (I once got ribbed by the guys for wearing my ‘LA-style’ Ray-Bans). I carry a large travel bag/purse (nylon for easy cleaning, solid straps with good interior pockets — works as briefcase), with a separate small purselette (sp?) that carries my ID, credit cards, hotel key and phone. This way I can leave my larger bag in the headquarters/truck, and not be without my necessities when out in the field. I know that this sounds dreary, but I’ve been on these trips enough to realize that anything deemed overly feminine or ‘glitzy’ (through a more conservative male perspective, not mine), often gives me an additional hurdle to overcome when trying to bond with people on these trips. Also, note that the women I usually meet on these trips are not ‘executive’ types — female attorneys are not the norm in these areas, and these women don’t know how to interact with me; my uniform often signals to them that I am expected to sit at the table with the men, to be one of the decision makers.
    Again – I want them to view me as the lawyer first, who happens to be a female. In other contexts, perhaps I’d find it insulting; in this context, I realize it’s a necessity to help me be effective and do my job.

  7. Definitely not jeggings. I have worn my normal khaki pants to travel on company’s private jets. No jeans by any mean.

  8. I am learning to fly a small plane (Cessna 172) and I wear nice jeans, flats (so I can “feel” the plane), a good quality tee, my leather jacket if its cold, cotton if not, and my Hermes scarf for my lessons! Hair tied back as it can be windy. You need to be comfy in a plane-but it is not dirty so you cd dress up a bit-hence my Hermes, which I wear just for fun. For the factory visit, it depends on the factory, but Id probably wear well tailored boot cut jeans and flats ad a decent jacket and shirt. As a passenger in a small plane I might wear my black wool dress pants that I fly commercial in, but again-what kind of factory is it?

  9. Re getting caught in the propellor-the plane doesnt start (ie turn engine and prop on) until everyone is on board and strapped in! Basic safety includes being aware of the prop at all times, but as a passenger Id assume pilot will not let you out till prop is off. You climb into small planes (ie a Cessna 172 type plane) using footholds on the wheel strut-really not much different than a high truck-no ladders or stairs. A skirt might be tricky to manage but I cd see that in some circs a skirt might be OK-Id avoid heels though. My second lesson-I took off, piloted, did manoevers-everything except land-I had my hair in a well pinned French twist and it was perfectly OK. So I say, if your French twist is secure, go for it. Hairspray helps here.

  10. Reading all of the above, Id probably go with Elle’s recommendations. The clothing she suggests wd work perfectly well for a passenger (not necessarily the pilot/co-pilot) in a small plane, and obviously be perfectly fine in a larger one, and conform to legal dress codes for site visits.

  11. Kat, I’d LOVE to see a poll about the leggings/jegging/jeans questions. All three seem appropriate for Fridays in my SF law firm but some commenters seem to think that skinny jeans in a work setting is unforgivable. I’m so intrigued by this.

  12. I do ‘tours’ like this all the time (i’m an engineer) and I strongly suggest boots and pants too. I don’t think you necessarily need to tuck them into the boots, so regular jeans/khakis are fine. Make sure they do not brush the ground at all when walking with your chosen shoes.

    Also I second the people who have said you will be given a hard hat, safety vest, and safety glasses when you enter. For that reason I always wear contacts for these type of visits, it’s just so much easier to see than glasses + goggles.

    You’ll probably have to leave your bag before you enter as well, so you’ll have to carry notebook/phone/camera in your vest or pockets.

  13. One thing that I don’t believe was mentioned is that it may be fine to bring up the subject of proper attire in a more casual phone conversation or short email. Where I work (and yes, it’s a bit sexist) if there are female visitors we make sure to note prior to the visit that you MUST have close toed shoes for a factory tour. Consideration for your client’s safety requirements shows that you have a more well rounded understanding of the nature of their business.

    Also, make sure that your shoes have soles that have a bit more grip. I make sure that I’m wearing shoes that have a rubber sole on the bottom so I’m not sliding around on a clean slick floor. Shorter heels and dress pants could be ok if the visit requires that you be more formal. It’s a tour and a visit, so they know you aren’t going to be dressed like you’re working in the factory.

    DO wear contacts if you have them. DON’T bring your own safety glasses.

Comments are closed.