Friday, February 24, 2012

How Not to Succeed in Business Without Trying

I think the time may have come for me to start touring America with helpful rules for appropriate office attire. I'm not perfect at dressing professionally - I have moments when I get to the office and realize that a skirt is a little too short or that I should have worn a cardigan or some other slip up. It can definitely be a challenge for those of us who are newer to the workforce. But generally, I keep it professional. I've actually gotten feedback in reviews that my professional attire is better than some other ladies at my stage of career. To that end, I want to offer some advice on what not to do when you get ready in the morning.

Let's start with the ladies...
  1. If someone might mistake you as wearing your pirate costume from Halloween, don't wear it to the office. Really don't wear it if it looks like it was the one labeled "Slutty Pirate" (or any of the "Slutty ___" line).
  2. I should not be able to determine what kind of undergarments you are wearing at a glance. This includes see-through shirts, brightly colored bras under light colored shirts, whale tails, and skirts that are too short. The only exception is camisoles in a layered look. 
  3. If in doubt, leave the patent leather at home. I'll give you a pass if you work for a bar or in the fashion industry
  4. Don't wear shoes you can't walk in. This will vary from woman to woman, but it's instantly recognizable when a woman can't handle her heels. It makes you look like a little girl in her mom's shoes. There's no shame in flats
  5. One word on eye shadow: blend
  6. An all pink look makes you look like a "Toddlers and Tiaras" reject. Avoid the cutesy or anything that makes you look like a little girl. 
  7. Sandals and pantyhose are mutually exclusive wardrobe decisions. A Venn diagram to illustrate:

Basically, don't give anyone a chance not to take you seriously. We're lucky because it's a lot easier to be a professional woman these days than it was even 10 years ago. But let's face it: to this day, it's a man's world in many fields. Whatever is considered professional in your field, go above and beyond. Sometimes it means leaning towards a more conservative look, but is being cute more important than looking the part of a competent professional? You can still look fashionable and cute without looking like a drug addled pop star.

You want people to take you seriously because of what your mind has to offer. Don't let anyone be able to write you off as unsubstantial or accuse you of using your charms in an unseemly way (that's also for date night). Once the hint is there, it is hard to shake. I've now seen this happen twice to women I worked with, one time rightly and the other time wrongly. It's not PC or fair, but it is a reality. You don't want to let a whiff that kind of chatter attach to you - and you can start with your wardrobe. Keep it professional, keep it cute, keep it safe. Save your fun stuff for the weekends.

Men don't get off the hook here, though. Gentlemen, gentlemen. Your fashion faux pas are in many ways worse than the ladies'. Why? Because it is maddeningly simple for you to look like you know what you're doing. Here is all it takes for you to look professional:

Non-wrinkled light blue oxford + non-pleated khakis + loafers + belt the same color as loafers = presentable professional

That's it. You could throw a jacket into this equation if you want to spice it up - and let me assure you, no woman is going to tell you not to wear a suit and tie. And cuff links? Help me. Swoon. That being said, many of you seem to be incapable of sticking to this formula. You want to jazz it up or jazz it down. You want to be different. Don't be different. In this case, different makes you look silly.

Specifically, don't be different in these ways:
  1. Do not wear a silky shirt. I'll hazard a guess and tell you that this should apply to your private life as well. Nobody wants to look up one day and realize they're dating a Night-at-the-Roxbury-lookalike 
  2. If you're collar has shriveled to the point that it will not lie flat, it is no longer work appropriate. Save it for a golf game or yard work - or donate it to someone who works from home.
  3. Never wear a jean button up shirt. Really never wear a jean button up shirt with a cartoon character embroidered on the breast pocket.
  4. If your pants turn into man-pris when you bend over, they are too short. There likely will be no floods in the office - you don't need to tailor your wardrobe to accommodate that possibility.
    1. Sub rule: Do not wear man-pris, unless you are in Europe. I can't speak for the office etiquette there, but probably don't wear them there, either.
  5. Chest hair is for private times. It's called an undershirt. 
  6. Never. ever. ever. wear a pair of pants with pleats. I have seen maybe 5 guys ever pull this look off. Just walk away... it's the male equivalent of low rise jeans. It's a bad idea 99% of the time.
  7. Only wear a festive tie if you are the kind of guy who seems like they would wear a festive tie. If you are unsure if it fits your personality, then don't do it. It will come off as creepy.
What fashion catastrophes have you spotted at your workplace? 


  1. Thanks for your insightful comments. I keep them in mind, I hope things at the office continue to go well for you. God bless

  2. Replies
    1. Refers to when you can see the top of someone's thong... it's a super classy look ;)