Work & Career
16 Things Your Boss Wishes You’d Stop Wearing to Work
You won’t be getting a promotion in any of these outfits. Learn which surprising pieces are killing your credibility in the office.
There’s nothing wrong with wearing jeans to a casual office, but be cautious when choosing the style, says certified etiquette instructor Callista Gould, author of The Exceptional Professional: What You Need to Know to Grow Your Career. “I had a client that allowed employees to wear jeans on Fridays and was disappointed when some employees were not wearing ‘professional jeans,’” says Gould. Office jeans should have a straight leg and not be ragged, frayed, or bejeweled, according to her client.
Your chest isn’t the only thing that should stay fairly covered at work. Laura Handrick, workplace analyst of fitsmallbusiness.com, says she’s had to loan an employee a sweater to cover a backless top that showed her bra, after her male manager called it inappropriate and distracting. “There was nothing in our dress code that prohibited a backless top, so it was a bit uncomfortable to discuss it with her,” says Handrick. “She thought her blouse was fine, as she was showing no cleavage.” Even a halter top reveals more than your employer wants to see, says Gould. Wear a light cardigan over a backless top or dress to make it work-appropriate.
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Sandals might be acceptable in a casual office, but flip-flops cross the line, says career coach and professional resume writer Krista Morris. “There is no world in which flip-flops are acceptable. Ever,” she says. “I don’t care how sparkly or blinged or expensive they are—flip-flops scream ‘don’t take me seriously.’” Men in particular should avoid shoes that might show unkempt toenails or cracked heels, says Handrick. Men who want to know how to dress for succes: Check out the outfit updates that could earn male employees a promotion.
Spaghetti straps or strapless tops
Missing or nearly invisible straps could provoke some double takes—and not in a good way. “I once had a person on a Skype call with me, and she had on a strapless shirt. She looked naked the way the camera was positioned, and she was in her office,” says Karen Russo, president of executive recruiting firm K. Russo Consulting. “It was strange looking. Even if you don’t see people often, it is important to be ready to look professional and neat.” Stick with these 10 rules for keeping summer outfits office-appropriate and you can’t go wrong.
Clothes from five pounds ago
It’s tough to toss favorite clothing after you’ve either gained or lost significant weight, but well-fitting clothes are a must in a work setting. Jill Gugino Pante, director of the University of Delaware’s career services center, says she worked with an employee who had gained weight but hadn’t updated her wardrobe to fit her new figure. Parts of her body that we don’t reveal in a career setting were being revealed unintentionally. “It was uncomfortable to be at a professional event and see part of her stomach showing because her button-down top didn’t fit properly,” she says. “Eventually, we had to open a discussion with her because it became a distraction and was harming to her brand.”
Anything you keep adjusting
How revealing is too revealing in a professional setting? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. International Coach Federation-credentialed life coach Flame Schoeder says to follow this rule of thumb: If your attention is on it, so is your colleague’s. “If I keep needing to tug my shirt up, it’s too low cut. If I need to adjust my skirt, it is too short. If my necklace keeps jangling or getting twisted, it’s distracting,” she says. Wear something you’re comfortable in so that your smarts and confidence are the things people notice.
Leggings are too casual for most workplaces, and even in a casual office, be wary. Success coach Michelle Gomez, MBA, says she worked with a woman who wore leggings that didn’t cover her backside or her crotch. “She hadn’t considered that the material of the leggings was quite thin, and whenever she walked through the department, fellow colleagues noticed just how ‘thin’ this material was,” says Gomez. “I alerted her to the matter, and she opted to wrap a sweater around her waist for the remainder of the day.” Women who want to dress for success: These 14 office attire updates could score a women a promotion.
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Sneakers have a place in some offices, as long as you choose an appropriate style, says Kelly Finn, principal at talent acquisition firm WinterWyman. “‘Casual’ sneakers that are more about fashion than running performance can be OK in some very casual settings,” she says. But keep actual workout shoes in the gym, she adds. Avoid these 12 outfit mistakes that make you look messy.
No matter how nice the smell is, you want to be known for your work, not your scent. If you wear cologne, wear just a small spritz, so the scent isn’t overpowering. “You don’t want people breaking into coughing fits when you enter a room,” says Pante.
Sensible, well-fitting clothing is the foundation of professional attire. Schoeder recalls an employee who was asked to change before a meeting because her sweater was too revealing. “I saw a boss once pull a well-endowed employee into the hallway during an important meeting to tell her that several people had been looking at her cleavage,” she says. “The boss pointed out that her ill-fitting cardigan actually drew attention to her chest rather than downplaying it, as the employee had intended.” Downplaying certain body parts in a professional setting doesn’t mean that you don’t love your body, he adds—it means showing self-love for your professional image. Use this infographic about what’s office-appropriate when dressing for work.
Even in the type of office where basketball shorts get the green light, coming to work in your PJs is a no-no, says Matthew Kerr, career adviser and hiring manager at ResumeGenius. “It gives the impression that you just got out of bed and rolled in to work—which makes it seem like you don’t care,” he says. Putting an effort into wearing the right daytime attire ensures you’ll be taken seriously. Find out what “business casual” really means for women.
Anything against company policy
Check your company handbook to make sure you’re up to date on the dress code. “I’ve served in an HR role [at a company] with a dress code of no open-toe shoes, only to have the (female) VP of operations undermine our policy by showing up to a meeting in tiny strappy sandals with a perfect pedicure,” says Handrick. “No one objected, but it confused staff.” You may look great—and even totally professional—in your outfit, however, if it’s undermining company rules it can erode your credibility.
Anything that you’d wear to a club doesn’t belong in your office, says Finn, especially anything that bares your midriff. “I discovered that an employee here has a belly ring,” she says. “While there is certainly nothing wrong with that, it’s not something I should see for myself in an office setting!” Keep everyone’s eyes on your killer results, not your killer abs.
Anything your coworkers wouldn’t wear
Dress codes vary widely from company to company, so make sure your attire is a good fit for your office culture, says career consultant Christopher K. Lee, founder of PurposeRedeemed. “I generally advise people to not be the most casually dressed person in the office—even when you may ‘get away with it,’” he says. Don’t push the boundaries. Even if a clothing choice isn’t quite inappropriate enough to get you reprimanded, you can bet your teammates will be making comments behind your back (or at least in their heads). Don’t miss these other 9 surprising things that make your coworkers think less of you.
You’d think keeping it PG (and PC) would go without saying, but Kerr says one of his coworkers was told to change when his T-shirt with a naked woman on it made others in the office uncomfortable. Keep the sexual or offensive shirts for the weekend. “If the text on your shirt isn’t something you’d say to your mother (or could get you beaten up if said to the wrong person), then it’s probably not something you should be wearing to work,” says Kerr.
Crazy tight jeans
Whether you’re sitting at the desk for long hours or running around for client meetings, you won’t be able to perform your best if you’re wearing something you can barely move in. “For men—especially the younger ones—every time I see one in skinny jeans too tight to sit down and do a mock interview, it cracks me up,” says Morris. Quit making these other interview outfit mistakes that could cost you the job.