What You Can (and Can’t) Wear to Work
Figuring out your work-wear wardrobe can be more confusing than demystifying an ambiguous wedding dress code—isn't "business-casual" an oxymoron (and for that matter, if the dress code is "black tie," how can it also be "optional")? Adding to the issue is the fact that many companies have different definitions of what common dress code terms may mean—in very strict corporate offices, "business casual" may still require tights or pantyhose, while others may not care or notice. To help you get to the bottom of it all, we asked experts and readers alike for their take on the trickiest situations.
At a corporate office: It depends. “Don’t go without hosiery until you see someone senior doing it,” recommends Kat Griffin, the New York City–based founder of Corporette.com, a fashion and lifestyle blog for lawyers, bankers, M.B.A.’s, and consultants.
At a business-casual office: Sure, but opt for shoes with more coverage instead of sandals. “In our workplace, hosiery is encouraged, but we do make exceptions for the summer,” says Lauren Mathisen, a recruiter for Jones Lang LaSalle, a commercial real estate firm headquartered in Chicago.
At a creative office: Absolutely—nude hose can actually make you look stodgy. (No offense, Duchess.) Still, don’t go there with a miniskirt.
RS readers who said yes: 75%*
*According to a Facebook poll of 2,560 Real Simple readers.
See what the experts say your work clothes reveal about you in How to Dress for Success.
At a corporate office: Doubtful. Slingbacks can be OK. “I’ve known judges who have worn peep-toes, and red ones at that,” says Griffin.
At a business-casual office: Yes, but the more covered up, the better. Also, avoid backless footwear that makes flapping noises when you walk.
At a creative office: Go ahead—straps and all. But keep the flip-flops (especially if they’re rubber) on the beach.
RS readers who said yes: 69%
At a corporate office: Not a chance.
At a business-casual office: If and when denim is allowed (most likely on Fridays), polished, dark trouser jeans are the way to go.
At a creative office: Skip the weird washes, but colored denim gets a thumbs-up. Always dress jeans up with a nice top or blazer.
RS readers who said yes: 65%
At a corporate office: A pair made of suiting fabric that hits near the ankles may be doable on laid-back days.
At a business-casual office: Go for it, but follow the same criteria as a corporate office setting.
At a creative office: Yup. Just stay away from weekend cargo pants and dumpy wide-leg styles.
RS readers who said yes: 53%
At a corporate office: No.
At a business-casual office: Still no.
At a creative office: Proceed with caution. Only wear them dressed up and as a layering piece (that is, with a long jacket or a tunic that covers your derriere).
RS readers who said yes: 26%
At a corporate office: Never.
At a business-casual office: Probably not (even on a summer Friday).
At a creative office: Rock on, but stick to a tailored knee-length pair with a silky top and a jacket. Anything shorter should be paired with tights.
RS readers who said yes: 12%
Strappy Tops and Dresses
At a corporate office: Sleeveless dresses and those with thick straps might be fine—just keep a cardigan or a jacket handy for meetings.
At a business-casual office: See the advice for the corporate office. Flutter or cap sleeves are OK, too, says Michelle T. Sterling, founder of Global Image Group, an image-consulting business headquartered in New York City.
At a creative office: “Never wear straps so thin that you need a strapless bra,” advises Jennifer Baumgartner, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist, author of You Are What You Wear ($16, amazon.com), and the owner of InsideOut, a wardrobe-consulting business based in Washington, D.C.
RS readers who said yes: 12%