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?

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  1. I think it really depends on the site visit, and the people you’re going to meet with.

    I have been on site visits which involved boat rides, walking distances over open fields, and hiking through muddy wetlands. Professional wear in any of those circumstances would be a bad idea, and in addition to being unsafe and hazardous to my clothes and shoes, would show me up to my clients as being out-of-touch with the realities of their work.

    More important than “looking professional” for a site visit, one should look appropriate for the situation, and don’t be dressed too much better than the people you’re meeting with. If they wear khakis and polo shirts every day, and you are meeting at their workplace, don’t show up in a pantsuit with pointy-toed flats, no matter how trim-fitting and professional.

    • This reminds me of the time I went to a two day meeting, end of day one client MD announces he’s booked a bonding activity and husles us to the waterfront where he’s booked a spead boat trip. As in we’re all in suits and have to put on waterproof jackets and pants because we’ll be soaked. I was the only woman and wearing a skirt suit and heels. I got major props for getting my boss to hold his jacket up to protect my modesty while I rolled my skirt up and slipped those pants over it and managing to board and alight without falling in said shoes. military project so women weren’t really expected when it was booked apparently.

  2. One other thing that I didn’t see get mentioned is that some manufacturing floors, usually those in clean room areas, do not allow anyone to enter the floor wearing make-up. I would ask in advance if this is a policy at the site you are visiting so you can be prepared. I’ve seen women be asked to wash their faces so that they could be allowed to tour, and it’s never a comfortable situation. So I would definitely ask in advance!

    • Anonymous :

      Wait, what?! How on earth is that relevant? Wearing makeup is not the same as showing up wearing heels or dangly jewelry.

      • You’ll note that she said those in clean room areas. Clean room areas must, absolutely must be spotless. In these industries there can be no risk of contamination, and makeup can transfer. It’s a low-risk, but given that said transfer can ruin the work product, it’s a precaution that must be taken.

        • Even in less than clean room facilities, make-up can totally transfer. We had an employee that tainted samples we were testing for quality control purposes because her foundation/mascara/whatever got into the solutions we were testing. Caused a mystery spike on the HPLC that took us forever to figure out. Not quite the same thing as just being a visitor, but it CAN happen, so check ahead.

        • I work in a lab that does trace analysis. For the work we do, we don’t have to wear bunny suits, but we definitely have seen contamination in our samples from makeup. We are on the dirty end of what could be considered a cleanroom.

    • This! Happened to me.

  3. Baby fever :

    I have a bad, bad case of baby fever.

    That is all.

    • PharmaGirl :

      Oh man, so do I. While I have no desire to go through the first year again (ever!), I want another toddler like crazy! Every adorable thing my little guy does basically feels like a kick in the ovaries.

    • This is why tumblr exists. And nice friends that let me borrow their babies.

    • I visit my brother and his wife every other day pretty much because their 6 month-old baby boy is adorable and my biggest fan.

  4. I don’t think I’ve ever commented even though I regularly read this blog. I am an accountant and HR director at a factory, and I would recommend against it for a visiting professional. Trust me when I say that all the guys in the factory will be looking at your body and/or your clothes and be distracted from the purpose of your visit. The rest of the outfit sounds fine. I would sub jeggings for regular jeans or dress pants.

    Depending on the factory, sometimes you have to put on safety toe caps over your shoes. I would inquire of the client if they are required, and if so, do not wear really nice shoes because the safety toe caps sometimes scuff them.

  5. can i just say that these comments are fascinating to me? it’s all so interesting and different to me.

    • Ha, that’s C for me every day. I’m always riveted by the intense discussions about hose v. no hose, skirt v. pants, hair styles, etc., that lawyers engage in. Worlds away from my every day =).

    • anoninnyc :

      I am loving this too. It’s a big world out there — sometimes I lose perspective, and this thread is such a fascinating reminder of all the different ways that people can be awesome and “overachieving.”

  6. AnonInfinity :

    The aspect that jumped out at me for this was the small plane! I might get to ride on a small plane next week. I’ve never had a problem with motion sickness on big airplanes. Will I have a problem on the small one? I also don’t feel ill in cars or buses unless I try to read while riding.

    • The main difference I have noticed is just that a smaller plane can be bandied about a lot more easily than a commercial plane. It takes a less powerful wind to move a smaller plane, so it happens more often. It also depends on the day, though; sometimes it is not even noticeable. You’ll notice more turbulence upon ascent and descent because of the change in winds at different altitudes. Sometimes, if you have a friendly pilot, he will enjoy explaining these things if you have questions (that’s how I learned)!

    • Seconding Alli about noticing the plane getting moved around some in the air. I’m a good flier, but on very small planes (the kind that you island-hop on in the Caribbean) I simply can’t look out the window as we’re landing because you notice how much the plane is tilting back and forth as the pilot gets the wheels aligned with the ground. I’m sure it’s not much more than a commercial jet but it still gives me the willies!

    • Seattleite :

      I never have, even when the pilot once did ‘roller-coasters’ for us. And I *do* sometimes get carsick even when not reading. However, I’ve never been in a small plane during great turbulence (except for aforesaid rollercoasters).

    • AnonInfinity :

      Your comments make me feel better. I was a little nervous about the prospect of getting sick in front of people from my firm.

    • I get motion sick on everything and have no problems on small planes unless there’s a lot of turbulence. Small planes fly lower to the ground, which I find to be better for perception than large planes (most motion sickness is perception-based, after all). I was super worried the first few times, and brought a bag, but I’ve been on that plane lots of times with no problem.

    • If you get carsick while reading, you may have problems in a small plane, but only if the weather is bad or you fly over a forest fire (my absolute worst ever flight). You get more constant turbulence in a small plane, and I am talking a six seater.

      I am also not particularly sensitive, but I have had some pretty miserable small plane rides. The little bands you put around your wrists seem to help some.

      If you do start feeling bad, open up your air vent all the way and point it directly at your face. A can of regular (not diet) canned coca-cola may help.

      All this air blowing on you, although necessary to keep down airsickness, can be extremely cold. I actually bought a fleece blanket and left it on our firm’s small plane, so a shawl or pashmina over whatever else you are wearing is a good idea.

      If the weather is not bumpy, it’s great. Helicoptors even more so. One of the most fun amazing things I have done as a lawyer was ride in a helicoptor over Waveland, Bay St. Louis, and other areas on the Mississippi Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina.

    • I get car-sick easily, and cannot read at all, but mercifully I haven’t gotten plane-sick yet. Use the same approach as you would in a car: try to keep your eyes on the horizon. You may however have a terror problem :-). I’m afraid I don’t have anything helpful to say about that.

      • I sick-up easily and find that it’s best to get onto whatever it is that going to be moving having eaten a meal 2 hours before. If I’m hungry I’ll feel sick faster, but if I’ve just eaten there is a good chance I’ll lose it.

        If you are prone to get motion-sick packing something small and starchy to eat might be a good idea.

  7. I’ve been on numerous plant site visits as an attorney. I don’t know what kind of plants y’all go to, but I wouldn’t eat off the floor of any of the ones I’ve visited! I agree on the general outfit: jeans (you want natural fiber if there’s any chance of sparks/heat); LONG sleeves regardless of the weather (some plants require it); flat shoes — I’ve never had to buy steel-toed boots, but have worn both cowboy boots and Merrell-type shoes which were fine; small jewelry; hair pulled back if long; nothing flowy or loose. You will be given hard hat, goggles, ear plugs. and take Advil w/ you — plants are hot (even in winter) and very noisy. I always have a headache after a site visit. BUT it is kind of fun in a nerdy sort of way and interesting to see how everyday products are made. Plus it’s very good professionally for you to be able to say that you know/understand what happens on the manufacturing floor. Good luck!

  8. I have visited factories before. I find that separates work best for this setting. Do not wear jeggings. Way too trendy. Factories are generally conservative places.. you don’t want to appear so trendy or done-up that you stand-out or come off as not really understanding your client’s business. You may be able to get away with basic jeans but you won’t know that til you’ve been there once or twice. For a first visit, black pants would work just fine (though not your suit pants — depending on the factory, you could run the risk of ruining them) – even black or beige chinos if they are pressed will work fine. Wear a jacket of some kind, but wear a blouse underneath that you wouldn’t be embarrassed to be seen wearing in the workplace without a jacket. That way, if you show up to find your client contact in a polo and jeans, you can shed the jacket without a second thought. For shoes, wear loafers if you have them. A lot of factories require hard soled shoes on the factory floor, plus if you have to do any climbing or moving around, you’re better equipped in loafers than in ballet flats. Do NOT wear your fanciest jewelry even if it is your standard office attire — keep jewelry minimal and understated and be prepared to remove it if asked. Some factories prohibit jewelry on the floor. Also bring a hairbrush and maybe a nice barrette or something to pull your hair back neatly — you may be asked to wear a hard hat and the brush/barrette may help you feel more put together when you’re finished. Good luck!

  9. I’ve done a lot of factory tours, inspections and construction site visits (and I’ve flown in private planes too but not all in the same visit) and I vote for blazer, dark wash jeans, close-fitting top (crew neck thin knit sweater or silk shell or turtleneck in the winter), flat boots and sunglasses. No necklace (safer). Diamond stud or other fancy earrings (not dangling). Nothing that can flap (e.g. tie blouses, scarves) or gape in the wind (e.g. v-neck or button front blouses) on the airfield or outside. If you are having to climb into/around/through anything, not only do you not want a skirt but you don’t want to show half your b r a (is that word moderated?)

    If your hair is long, tie it back or bring something to do it with before going outside. If you are at a muddy site, tuck your pant legs into your boots. Like other posters said, be prepared to wear a hard-hat (low ponytail works best) and to shed the jacket to put on protective clothing. I love visiting clients…just like a field trip in school – a chance to learn something and possibly experience something new.

  10. I agree, no to the jeggings, not even the jeggings recommended by Kat in her “update”, unless you are 25 or under, very petite, and have a perfectly proportioned body, in which case, you will look good and appropriate in anything! Otherwise, never wear skin-tight pants to work unless you are very comfortable around and familiar with everyone you will be meeting that day. Otherwise, the first thing that people you don’t know will notice is “she’s wearing skin-tight pant,” and you will feel awkward, self-conscious, and out of place all day (in my opinion).

  11. SoCalAtty :

    I do quite a bit of construction law. When I am attending site inspections, if it is residential I will do khakis and a blazer with a short sleeved, appropriate shirt underneath (somtetimes we do several homes at once and it gets warm outside) so I can take the blazer off. I wear a pair of black Keens with them – they are black leather but with a great sole so you aren’t going to fall over, and they have a little toe protection.

    If it is something commercial, industrial, or destructive testing (my favorite), where I know dirt is a possibility, I do dark jeans and a nice polo shirt with the same Keens, or maybe a cotton/more casual blazer – like something from Eddie Bauer – depending on who the client is. Like everything else, know your client and your company.

    • SoCalAtty :

      Here is the link. I know all you fashionable people will probably hate these, but they sure do the job! http://www.zappos.com/keen-briggs-ii-black-full-grain~1?zlfid=111&recoName=zap_pdp_sub

  12. Okay, Reader D, we need more info. I work in Seattle at a big company with factories and go to them often despite being suited lawyer type so can advise quite clearly on this. However I also visit other types of factories that are different beasts and need different dress. Can you share more about which one or at least industry/type?

    Kat- not such a unique question- many companies have manufacturing facilities that require visiting at times. Surprised it would seem so unusual. Also jeggings: would personally never ever ever wear in any work setting, ever. It would stick out bizarrely at my company on a professional factory visit to the extent that people would think she might be an admin or intern or something.

    I host delegations often including high level officials from around the world and CEO types to our factories often. We send out a standard dress code. The first thing you need to do is ask for it. I make the admins call and send it multiple times because often the senior people never see it. At a minimum, you need closed-toed shoes that don’t have tow cleavage or you may not get to go in let alone go to the cool spots. People wear business suits with comfortable flat shoes. They do not need to be boots. Your hair down is fine- you won’t be that close to machinery in most cases. You may walk a lot, you may have a cart to ride in. We provide safety goggles so prepare mentally to look silly. Now for other factories/facilities I’ve been to that are different beasts, if it is primarily outside, you need a hardy parka and to think that through. If it is a messy place, you might want to wear stuff you don’t prize (eg chemical residues, aerating processes spitting out stinky stuff, poop plant, etc.) for those places, I wear machine washable outfits but still 100% professional (no jeggings).

    Jewelry- whatever- normal professional seems most logical (silver chain etc.). Overflowing diamonds would look weird next to the floor workers and with your goggles, vest if required, etc.

    True story: I once had a very high level US gov official in the factory for a visit along with a dozen others. I had ensured the dress code was sent. She didn’t get the memo and showed up in peep toes. I was in a prickly situation: the tour guide could get fired if she was let on the floor for the violation. This person had a lot of influence over our industry, so very awkward. We had to keep her carted for the most part but I managed to do so and herd her around without drawing attention to the situation. But seriously: request the dress code in advance. Don’t embarrass yourself or others.

  13. Having read through the other comments: agree it depends which factory. In many, jeans/khakis are the right choice. In my company’s, where the visit is a hosted thing (and you wouldn’t remotely be confused or blended in with a worker there, as you are clearly on a guided tour visit, you aren’t outside in the elements or touching things) professional attire is best. Definitely ask your hosts for expectations. If you wore casual clothes to mine, it might be okay, but you will feel dumb if those you are meeting with are all in suits as usual. There are often offices in the factory too, so you may then convene for meetings. No one would be offended or think you didn’t ‘know the industry’ for being dressed at the usual professional that you are. I have been to other places where that would be the case though as others say. Have fun!

    Shoes- I prefer sturdy loafers.

  14. Why wouldn’t you just wear a standard pantsuit with flats? or a pair of slacks with a blazer (I often do this when I want to look professional but don’t need to don an actual suit… some favorite combinations are charcoal grey pants with a grey/black checked jacket, brown pants with a grey jacket, or black pants with … just about any jacket). You’re walking around at a factory and sitting on a plane. Both of those things can easily be done in normal work clothes. It’s not like you’re hiking Kilimanjaro.

  15. Every factory is different so definitely contact to see if there are specific regulations the floor you’ll be on. No scarves or loose pieces of clothing, no jewelry that can get caught in any equipment and hair that is pulled back if it can be are probably good practice regardless.

    I’m a professional who works in a lab located in a factory in the Midwest, and I would be horrified to see someone show up in jeggings, even if they were not a professional. Trousers are fine.

  16. 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!

  17. 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.

  18. Anonymous Girl :

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

  19. 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.

  20. 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…

  21. 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.

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

  23. 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?

  24. 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.

  25. 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.

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