Friday, June 1, 2012

You Know It's Inappropriate If...

As the title suggests, this is about dressing appropriately.  I think that the older you get, the more situations  call for dressing appropriately or within reason and for a certain purpose.  The most obvious and prevalent situation is dressing for work.  A flight attendant would not wear sweatpants on a plane.  A cook or a chef would not wear a suit while making food in the kitchen.  A trial lawyer would not wear his pajamas to court.... Unless he was dressing that way on purpose to illustrate some point.  I hope!

So too, would a business casual environment, such as my office,  have rules for what is under-dressed and/or inappropriate; although this dress code is quite flexible.

A good friend of mine was describing a dress to me that she had bought and mentioned that she was not sure if it was OK to wear to work.  It had cap sleeves (check!) and the hemline hit just above the knee (double check!).  Her concern was about the asymmetrical hemline which was longer on the sides than the front and back.  It could be considered a bit casual or trendy but still sounded like an OK summer dress to me.  I said to go for it!

Which brings me to the guidelines I've developed over the years from trial and error as to what I would consider OK for most business casual environments -- which  many offices are trending toward these days.  This has definitely been a work in progress based on my own hits and misses and yays and nays of my work wardrobe.  Please note, the DC office vibe always tends to a bit more conservative in style so take these with a grain of salt.    

The Appropriate 
  1. Pants should be fitted but not too tight -- a given -- which means no spillage (of yourself) over the top or sides, no excessive rippling or puckering all over the thighs, no material pulling at the crotch, no squished butt and no complete outline of the butt and thighs if the pants are not skinny pants (see below for skinny pants).  Also with pants, watch out for ones that are too low -- meaning that your entire thong/underwear/crack pops out every time you sit.  The last thing you want to do is show your supervisor the goods!  This is not a television drama.  Impressions are made very quickly and this does not give the impression of someone who is serious about their career.  Rises that low are meant for outside the office.  Otherwise find a longer shirt to cover it if it is a constant problem.  
  2. Skinny pants or jeans -- tread with caution.  A skinny pant or jean works in an office where you have a more casual vibe in general like wearing jeans on Fridays or something.  Even though they are skinny, you still have to remember the fit and stay away from too tight syndrome.  Just because it is a skinny cut doesn't mean it must be tighter, just more fitted down the leg line.  Make sure a pant like this outlines and gently hugs the behind area and thighs but does not feel constricting.  Again, watch for puckering all over the thighs.  Sometimes pants that fit can pucker a little bit here and there but a lot of puckering and pulling going all over the crotch and around the butt or all the way down the thighs means that material is working too hard!  It might be a cheaper material (i.e. blended with a lot of spandex!) but that just means going a size up would work better with that material and style or just going with a better material in your size.   
  3. Button down shirts -- it's inevitable that these types of shirts have issues with pulling right around the bust area.  It is hard for many women to find a good fit in the bust area without having to go too far up in size and forego a fitted waist.  But if your shirt is unbuttoning itself there, it is way too tight and you'll need to go up a size and tailor the waist down.   You know a shirt is too tight when it starts pulling at the buttons from your rib cage down to your hips.   Definitely time for a bigger size then.  
  4. Bare shoulders can be OK if you have thicker straps on your dress or top which cover up the bra straps and they do not show in the back either.  I would generally stay away from a halter top unless you wear a cardigan or blazer over it while you are in the office the whole day.  Racerbacks are tricky.  I've worn a racerback to work but had a cardigan over it the whole day.  These tops and dresses are hard to disguise the bra straps so please be aware that if you wear a racerback style, make sure the bra straps are not showing.  I know in summer the cute styles are hard to avoid, particularly in the heat, so use caution and a bit of common sense.  
  5. Carrying a cardigan or blazer with you to cover up a sleeveless top or dress is always a good idea.  
  6. Low necklines -- if it dips into your cleavage, it is TOO LOW!  Solve that problem with wearing a cute camisole underneath.  I have great dresses that look perfect for work until I realize that V neckline dips just a bit too low.  You cannot go wrong with a camisole underneath.  If adding a camisole makes you too hot in the summer, move on to a different top or dress.  It's not worth it to develop the "lady with too much cleavage" reputation at the office because people always remember things when it comes to promotions.  To a boss, if you are not dressing appropriately for work, they don't think you'll be able to appropriately do a job with more responsibility.  Kind of like when someone reads a cover letter to a job application and passes it over when they see someone didn't bother to use spell check.  Just a good thing to look out for!
  7. Hemlines -- my golden rule: keep them below mid-thigh length.  Knee length is optimal and always appropriate.  Above-the-knee is tricky however, considering many dresses sold in the "wear to work" sections of stores do have hemlines above the knee.  My rule, if it's considered "mini" or above the mid-thigh, it is too high for work.  Apply the job application analogy here too. 
  8. Back slits.  Please make sure that back slit on your pencil skirt or dress is not too high and giving people a view of the back of your upper thighs or possibly your butt.  It always looks cheap! 
  9. Sheer -- NO.  Unless you're wearing a camisole or it has lining underneath, it's always a no.  No sheer blouses with bras showing please! 
  10. Bright colored bras and underwear are always OK unless of course, they are visible.  Stick with a nude or black bra if you have a tricky top or dress that unintentionally shows a little bit of bra (little bit = just part of a strap, less than 2 inches).  Linen pants are not sheer but sometimes show underwear, even thongs, if they're bright colored, so always stick with a nude underwear or skin colored underwear when dealing with unlined linen, especially white.  
  11. White clothing.  When it's unlined but not sheer, wear nude or skin colored underwear.  
  12. Heels -- a little heel is always a nice idea but going stiletto sexy high and anything that ties all the way up your ankles and/or calves is going a bit far.  And yes I've seen women wear the shoes tied up the calves at work.  A good rule is to stay at or under three inches in the office unless you can get away with pairing your higher heels with pants.  The pants cover up how high they are and the high heels help keep a longer pant from dragging.  Strappy sandals over three inches should probably always be left at home for a night on the town.  There is just too much sexy going on with strappy and the high heel.  Plus they are pretty hard to walk in all day.  Wedges and espadrilles are great and because they have a chunkier heel, which works against the sexiness element that a stiletto brings, and they can be a bit higher without looking too sexy.  
  13. Makeup -- keep it simple: light foundation with SPF or over a moisturizer with SPF (like BareEscentuals Mineral foundation with SPF) or a tinted moisturizer with SPF, concealer in trouble spots (if needed), bronzer, mascara, finishing powder and gloss.
  14. Hair -- If you're not a "hair person" like many girls I know who can do their hair perfectly in no time, just keep it simple. Straight and down, up in a high or low ponytail or back in a bun is always appropriate for work.  I'm "hair down" person myself. 
  15. Accessories: You're on your own!  I usually like to do a balancing act.  If I am not wearing a jewelry "set" I like to pair stud earrings with a more bold statement necklace and add in a bracelet or cuff or keep it simple with a small pendant necklace and studs or maybe some small fishhook earrings.  Scarves are always cute if the weather permits and hats are great for those who know how to work them!
  16. ABOVE ALL: Look for balance in your outfit!   
When I was interning for a judge during law school, I still had a lot to learn about dressing for work.  I was even pulled aside by another law clerk to discuss my outfits - usually a pair of pants and sleeveless top with a blazer or shawl.  But being a student for so long, and this being my first legal internship, I did not have the best pants or tops for the job.  Although I worked behind the courtroom scenes usually in an office with other interns doing paper work, my style of dress was clearly an object of criticism by just one judge (out of approximately 20 in that wing of the courthouse) who had her law clerk pull me aside and tell me to try and "cover up" more.  I honestly was completely clueless about how I appeared to this one judge.  She had even mentioned something to the judge I was working for, but he basically didn't notice anything different from my dress and that of the other interns or law clerks other than I was more business casual and not in a suit like some, and he said as much to her on my behalf.  Thanks Judge J.!  I'll always remember that.  But despite that one judge who singled me out, I began to pay more attention to my clothing which I previously had not put much thought into.  I mean, when you're a student for years, it's a completely new learning process to dress in a professional setting.  I think my pants were more on the slightly tight side and perhaps a bit low cut, probably because I bought them at Express and not Ann Taylor.  Lessons learned.

Then again, you will never please everyone of course, and there may always be a lone dissenter in the bunch no matter what you wear, but it really is something to be proud of the way you dress and know you are really trying to maintain your personal style and dress appropriately.  

Even I still tread the fine line between appropriate and inappropriate.  Check this dress out:  

This dress is not only fitted, it's made of that questionable stretchy cotton-spandex.  The crazy thing is I got it from Ann Taylor last year and didn't notice how tight/stretchy it would be.  It looked like a basic sheath on the model.  This material is very tricky for work because no matter what size you get, you will probably get a lot of stretchy curve hugging goodness.  There is no zipper so the fabric has to be extra stretchy to pull it over your head and there is ruching along the sides which also adds to an intentional puckering effect.  I thought I could (and did) get away with it by pairing it with a flat shoe while commuting and then with a wedge I kept in the office.  I think the busy print helped distract from the tightness of the dress.  I also wore a white blazer on top of it.

Adding to the distraction was my fabulous necklace I got from my Premier Designs jewelry party I discussed here.

And I paired this gorgeous necklace with some simple rhinestone studs.

See?  It worked!  What dress?  The accessories were so fabulous no one noticed the dress!

And just for a laugh this is my list of what's not appropriate.

You know you're not appropriate for work if:

  1. Your shirt looks like it's trying to escape from you. 
  2. Everyone you see is talking to your cleavage instead of looking at your face.  
  3. Your friends' conversations continually trail off while their gaze travels to your outfit.  
  4. You hear a riiiiiiip sound as you sit.
  5. Everyone mistakes your headband for a bird perching on your head -- too much!  Tone that down with less feathers (good) or no feathers (even better).  
  6. People have to wear sunglasses when talking to you -- too much bling on your clothes!
  7. 15 year olds say they just love your skirt because they have the same one. 
  8. People are dancing to the reflection given off from your eyeshadow -- no disco ball eyelids please! 
  9. Ditto to the above, but with your clothes this time. 
  10. You feel gentle breezes grazing parts that should be covered with underwear (and clothing!).
  11. Everything you wear makes indentations in your skin, so that when you take your clothes off you still look like you're wearing clothes...  this means all your clothes are way too tight. 
  12. You're wearing a skort.  Nuff said. 
  13. People keep asking you if you're supposed to be off that day and came in to do overtime.  This means you're dressed too casually and everyone thinks you are sneaking in to do a couple hours of work and sneaking back out. 
  14. People keep asking you if you're going to the beach after work.  
  15. People keep asking you if you're going to the club after work.  
  16. If you're allowed to wear jeans in the office and the ones you choose are ripped/torn, worn out, faded, too light (go for darker and/or less damaged/non-whiskered jeans with an office setting) or all of the above, and you need to read this to realize there's something wrong (or still read this and don't realize there is anything wrong), it's not appropriate. 
  17. People constantly ask you how your cats are doing even though you don't have any.  This means that bohemian and homemade crochet combo doesn't really work.     
  18. Your shirt tails are showing... from under your skirt.  
  19. For males only (I hope):  Chest hair is showing.  
  20. Two words:  Muffin Top.

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