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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Wednesday’s TPS Report: ‘Sunmosa Ponte’ Seam Detail Dress

Classiques Entier 'Sunmosa Ponte' Seam Detail Dress | CorporetteOur daily TPS reports suggest one piece of work-appropriate attire in a range of prices.

I love a good discount, and there’s a ton of Classiques Entier on sale at Nordstrom for 40-60% off. This simple sheath dress (and its sleeved version) is now 40% off, in both the blue pictured as well as simple black. I like the high neckline and interesting seaming details at the waist, and the color seems really lovely. It was $228, but is now marked to $136.80 (sizes 0-16). Classiques Entier ‘Sunmosa Ponte’ Seam Detail Dress

Other great sale pieces: here, here, and here.

Here’s a lower-priced option (and one more, here), and a plus-sized alternative.

Seen a great piece you’d like to recommend? Please e-mail [email protected]

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Splurge Monday’s TPS Report: Long-Sleeve Dress With Keyhole Back

Our daily TPS reports suggest one piece of work-appropriate attire in a range of prices.

Armani Collezioni Long-Sleeve Dress With Keyhole Back Love. This. Dress. I’m not sure how I feel about the head-to-toe red, but the fact that I’m on the fence about it says it’s probably worth trying. But the dress — oh, the dress! Love the wide bateau neckline, the keyhole back, and the darts and pleating at the waist are gorgeous — we’ve seen a million dresses like this, yes, but this one does it the best.  It was $1,055, but is now marked to $633, limited sizes at both Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdale’sArmani Collezioni Long-Sleeve Dress With Keyhole Back

Seen a great piece you’d like to recommend? Please e-mail [email protected]
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Tuesday’s TPS Report: Crest Dress

Our daily TPS reports suggest one piece of work-appropriate attire in a range of prices.

Trina Turk Dress - Crest Solid Ponte I’ve been ogling a number of Trina Turk’s ponte dresses for quite a while, but I don’t think I’ve posted one here. For shame! I love the look of this cap sleeve dress. Love the pleating at the neckline, the pockets, and the brilliant fuchsia color (although Bloomie’s also has it in plain black). The dress is $298 at Bloomingdale’s. Trina Turk Dress – Crest Solid Ponte

Seen a great piece you’d like to recommend? Please e-mail [email protected]
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P.S. As many of you guys know I’m in NYC, so Team Griffin is hunkered down hoping Hurricane Sandy doesn’t affect power/WiFi/etc. On the off chance I am without power, though, the three posts today should go up automatically (although I may be a bit slower to moderate comments). Best wishes to all the readers affected by the storm — here’s hoping none of us are too inconvenienced.

Update, Tuesday, 11:05 AM: We’re fine.  Power still on, no flooding on our block.  WiFi/Internet is spotty but considering everyone else in NYC I’ll take it! Hope everyone else on the East Coast is staying safe.

Wednesday’s TPS Report: Belted Dolman Sleeve Sheath Dress

Our daily TPS reports suggest one piece of work-appropriate attire in a range of prices.

Suzi Chin for Maggy Boutique Belted Dolman Sleeve Sheath DressCommenter TCFKAG wrote in to recommend this Suzi Chin dress, noting “People are always looking for sleeved dresses, the price is relatively reasonable and I like the colors available.” Nice! I do like this piece (and the 54 mostly positive reviews). I’m not sure why the model looks so forlorn — the twisted neckline, the three-quarter sleeves, the ladylike length… it’s a great dress! Do note that with the dolman sleeves, it will be hard to throw a blazer on top of it, but I think this dress looks professional enough that you don’t need one. It’s $118, in regular and petites, at Nordstrom. Suzi Chin for Maggy Boutique Belted Dolman Sleeve Sheath Dress

Seen a great piece you’d like to recommend? Please e-mail [email protected]
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Splurge Monday’s TPS Report: Black Label Cashmere-Blend Dress

Our daily TPS reports suggest one piece of work-appropriate attire in a range of prices. Many thanks to this week’s TPS guest poster, Road Warriorette!

Black Label Cashmere-Blend DressTwo things are important to me when deciding on a splurge: How fabulous is it? And, can I wear it until I wear it out? I think this cashmere sweater dress from Ralph Lauren Black Label answers a resounding “Yes!” to both questions. It is so, so fabulous in a classic, timeless way. Sweater dresses in general are very easy to travel with, as they are super comfy and pack well. And what could be cuddlier during rainy fall weather? This grey dress would look spectacular with a statement necklace and colored heels, maybe teal or cognac, or even boots. (Top it with a boyfriend blazer if you’re concerned about cling.) As a bonus, this particular dress is designed in a way that could be worn under a skirt for a sleek tucked in look. Note: I would size up to avoid the va-voom factor. It’s $855, available in Grey Melange and Navy, in sizes XS-XL. Black Label Cashmere-Blend Dress

Seen a great piece you’d like to recommend? Please e-mail [email protected] with “TPS” in the subject line.
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