2017 Update: We still stand by our advice on when girly clothes become unprofessional, but you may also want to check out The Ultimate Guide to Business Casual for Women.
If you wear girly clothes, will you be seen as less of a professional? Reader A wonders…
I recently parted ways with a company where I was being micromanaged, like my boss didn’t trust me to do anything without his help and supervision. He never said why, but he kept treating me like some incompetent child. At the same time, I’m really into mid-century fashion, and I would wear really girly things that wouldn’t really been seen in most traditional offices – polka dots, shades of pink, lacy headbands, and even bows. I knew it was unorthodox and I may get some weird looks, but in hindsight I’m wondering if my clothing made my manager see me as a little girl, and maybe that’s why he wasn’t taking me seriously as a young professional. Do you think there was any connection between my fashion choices and my boss’s micromanagement?
Yowza. Ok. We’ve talked before about being feminine, as well as wearing vintage to the office, but we haven’t really discussed how going Extremely Girly affects how colleagues perceive you. I do think A few thoughts:
- In general, wearing the occasional girly item is OK. For example, something pink or polka-dotted will not make you seem like less of a professional, particularly if you otherwise act like a grown-up. Similarly, a bow here or there is fine, provided you don’t look like a present waiting to be unwrapped. Personally I’m not a huge fan of headbands, but I think that sedate ones (solid ones, if not ones that match your hair color) are occasionally OK at work.
- That said, it’s a bad idea to wear very girly things exclusively — Elle Woods was comical because she wore pink ALL THE TIME. If you only wear one color and it’s bright pink, yes, there does seem something childlike about that to me. (Yet, for some reason, wearing almost any other color exclusively just seems creative to me, perhaps because of this old NY Magazine article.)
- Costumes are never a good idea. Reader A says she’s “really into mid-century fashion” — if anything in your working wardrobe would be interpreted as a costume, or if they would be acceptable as a Halloween outfit, then you’ve gone too far.
- Office culture is HUGE here. You say that you “knew it was unorthodox and [got] some weird looks,” which says to me that you knew that you were breaching office culture. That’s not really a good thing, whether we’re talking wardrobe or otherwise. At that point, I think the professional thing to do is to tone your wardrobe down, at least until you can get another job that fits your personal style. We talked about this before in our discussion of tattoo sleeves — sometimes you have to mute (or at least dampen) personal expression to fit in with office culture. If you knowingly and repeatedly breach office culture, don’t be too surprised if you’re treated with disdain by your coworkers.
- Finally: Lacy headpieces are almost never a good idea for work. For some reason I’m seeing a floppy bow a la Madonna in her “pantyhose as headbands” era in Reader A’s description, but even if it was a tasteful lace headband, I have a hard time thinking it was more appropriate for work than, say, a bridal shower.
Readers, what do you think about Reader A’s situation — what should she know going into her next job? Is finding the right office culture key for her? In general, what girly clothes should be avoided at all costs at the office?