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Your Office Dress Code and You

I don’t think anyone realizes just how much their work dress code controls their sartorial life until they switch jobs. (Eh, switch jobs, lose jobs, whatever.) Having to dress up for work, after all, is the entire reason that most of us switch grudgingly out of the sweatshirt-and-jeans patterns of our school days. But once you’re settled in at a particular place of business, you start morphing your wardrobe to fit the status quo.

You also will notice how your off-time wardrobe is affected by your work one. Which is sad, really. When you buy clothes that specifically feel like they’re for work, they don’t feel like they’re for you. But it’s also hard to justify buying too many clothing items that you can’t wear to work when 80 percent of your days are workdays. So you buy the work-appropriate shirt that you convince yourself would work on weekends with jeans and a cute pair of shoes. But work clothes are tainted, aren’t they? Don’t you hate wearing work clothes when you’re not at work?

It takes some time and mental energy to figure out exactly what the dress code is in a new office, too. Some offices have pretty oppressive dress codes, such as the requirement to wear a dark-colored suit every day. (I don’t even like clothes that much, yet I’m pretty sure such an arrangement would make my soul shrivel up and die.) Most offices, though, have dress codes that are more about what you can’t wear than what you should wear. This leaves things dangerously open to interpretation. (For example! The wacky lady at my work who wears vertigo-inducing bright patterned tights with her otherwise conservative shift dresses. WTF.) There are also some variations in formality depending upon the day of the week, the time of year, and whether someone from the outside world will be present.

An anecdote: I worked for six years at the same company. There were three levels of dress: Meeting, Normal, and Friday. Meeting Dress was suits, and nothing less. Normal Dress was what I think the rest of the world calls Business Casual: no sneakers/jeans/hoodies, but you could more or less wear anything else. Our Casual Fridays were practically pants optional; you could wear whatever the eff you wanted. Yes, I loved it, and yes I hated anyone who scheduled a meeting on a Friday. Because if you play rock-paper-scissors with those three dress codes, meeting always wins.

Still, I think it’s a good thing that I’m never left to my own devices, because if I were, I would probably dress like a child. Office dress codes may be befuddling monsters, but at least they keep everyone at a baseline of propriety. I do very much like hearing office dress stories (like the time I got sent home for wearing Friday clothes on a Meeting Friday!), so if anyone has any, feel free to chime in. And FYI, I always love hearing from people who work at home and what they wear on a daily basis. So those kinds of comments are officially fair game.

Photo: Getty

23 replies on “Your Office Dress Code and You”

At the job I just quit, the dress code was super confusing. Officially, it was ‘business casual’, but unofficially people basically wore whatever they liked if they were permanent employees, and if their manager had a problem with what their were wearing it was his/her responsibility to call the employee out on it. I was one of 60 or so temps taken on during a really busy period, and on the first day, during briefing by the temp agency lady (i.e. not an employee of the company we were actually working in) she told me in front of the entire group that what I was wearing wasn’t appropriate. It wasn’t inappropriate, especially considering that the employee handbook they gave us only defined ‘business casual’ in terms of what could not be worn (open-toed shoes, shirts with curse words on them etc.), nor was it really her place to enforce the dress code at all.

One of the things that really bothered me about this (aside from getting my clothes pointed out in front of a big group of people when I’m not so good with large groups of strangers anyway and the ‘introduce yourself to everyone’ section of the orientation had already nearly given me an anxiety attack) was the fact that men were told that they must wear a shirt with a collar (including polo shirts) but that they didn’t have to tuck it into their trousers or wear the top button done up or anything. There were no such guidelines for women, and when asked, the temp lady’s interpretation of what we should wear came out a whole lot more formal than what was expected of the male employees – blouses, business dresses, suits and such. I can tell you that I looked a hell of a lot less scruffy in my pressed plaid shirt, knee-length skirt, tights and flat shoes than most of the men did in their untucked/polo shirts, which could be worn with shorts or slacks or basically whatever they wanted on the bottom.

Once the nasty temp agency lady was gone, it turned out that no one in the company gave a flying fuck what anyone wore as long as they did their job as well as they could (it was back-room customer service, so none of the customers could see what we were wearing or anything), and that the dress code had been unofficially but significantly relaxed since it was printed in the employee handbook; people even disregarded health and safety-related advice like the prohibition of open-toed shoes.

There was absolutely no reason for anyone to be a dick to me about my clothes on the first day of work, especially not someone who didn’t spend a lot of time in the office herself, and this is one of the many reasons that I’m glad I don’t work for the company or temp agency any more. Luckily, in the end, my manager turned out to be such a pussy that I doubt he could have brought up what I was wearing without gettting tongue-tied. It’s no coincidence that the jobs I’m applying for at the moment are all at places which have a very casual dress code. Unless there’s significant client interface time or it’s something dangerous involving machinery or whatever, I see no reason why adults should be told what they can and can’t wear to work.

I work for an online school, so most of us work from home, with typically weekly trips out to visit students and/or have face-to-face professional development meetings. Our dress code for outside trips is pretty much no-jeans-no-pajamas-anything-else-goes., which usually manifests as decent pants and a school branded shirt. I don’t have decent pants and refuse to wear the school shirt because I don’t do golf shirts.

It’s been pretty liberating as far as my wardrobe because I don’t have to think about the work appropriateness of everything. I have a couple nice dresses for more important meetings, but otherwise, it’s entirely my call. In colder months, I’m usually in a leggings-tunnicky thing-Docs combo. In warmer months, it’s a series of outlandish-print dresses.

My work life is confusing: I work at several different places, all interrelated, each with a different dress code.

1. Business casual.
2. No dress code whatsoever. Being clothed is good, but that’s about it.
3. Long sleeves, long pants, closed shoes, clothes you don’t mind getting bird or other animal poop on.
4. Look decent but also be aware that at any moment you might have to go work in mud, and also be aware that your coworkers will mock you for looking too dressy.

I haven’t figured out what to wear on 4 days yet; I’ve pretty much given up trying and just wear jeans and a nicer shirt. It gets worse when you realize that any one of those days could turn into another day without warning; I could go in to work expecting a 1 day and find myself in a 3 day instead.

Dressing myself is tiring.

I just started my first big-girl job out of college, and people wear a wide range of things on the spectrum of business casual. I lean toward the more formal side because I spent 8 months working at gym so I like dressing up. Plus I don’t know what the female equivalent of a polo and khakis is, and that’s what most of the guys wear. It is nice being able to wear jeans on Friday/if I feel like it. I interned at a place that was very formal and could never wear jeans.

In lab, I can wear what I want, provided I keep sneakers and scrub pants in my desk for when I have to do animal work. That usually means jeans and a cute top, or in the summer, a skirt and tee. But I’ve also been known to wear a nice dress just because. Boots, ballet flat, or sandals, depending on the season, but comfortable choices since I stand a lot.

In the clinic, I have to wear appropriate hemlines, close-toed professional shoes, professional style in general (I tend toward black pants with a button-down, or a wrap-dress), hair out of the face, short nails (2 words: rectal exams), toned down nail polish color, no cleavage, etc.

My sixth form (last two years of high school), which I just left, made us wear tailored suits. Every day. 16, 17, and 18 year olds. Frankly we just looked odd. They went on about business dress, work environment, in the big wide world we will all have to wear suits, but it was just oppressive and unnecessary snobbery on their part. And expensive on ours – we can’t all afford to buy a matching suit, even if it is from H&M or whatever. I’m so glad that’s over, it was actually quite stressful what with rules such as if you forget your matching jacket we will send you home from your lessons (counterproductive much?) – likewise if you wear red socks (true story).

I’m unemployed now and so my “uniform” is usually something like yoga pants, tank top, grandpa-style sweater (You know. Pockets. Buttons. Something the color of a sofa.) – except for interview days where it’s pencil skirt, knit blouse, blazer.

I’ve noticed that even for extremely casual (like, tech-startup) offices, when I’m going for an interview I will be judged by how I look. Even if the guy interviewing me is in like, ratty jeans, flip flops, and an unwashed t-shirt with his company’s logo on it (read: free), I’d better be in something resembling a suit. Anything less and I usually hear something about “not fitting the image we have in mind for the position,” – even when I find out through the grapevine that the guy who got the position was the man who showed up after me in a polo shirt and some wrinkled khakis. What the HECK.

I’m having a frustrating job-interviewing day in case anyone couldn’t tell.

I’m going to be in SUCH trouble if I ever work at an office with a dress code. I work at a tiny, youth-run nonprofit, so I usually show up in cutoffs and a t shirt, drenched in sweat from my bike ride. I get made fun of if I’m wearing the same clothes as yesterday and covered in hickies, but that’s the extent of the ‘dress code’ for us.

Pretty much any type of clothing is fair game in my office except anything with too much boobs, bum or belly. I dress very informally – I might wear my cleanest jeans if I’m in a really important meeting. I basically have my own uniform now which is: brightly coloured ballet flats, jeans, t-shirt, cardigan and big flowery scarf, or flats, leggings, tank top, dress, cardigan, scarf. Throwing on variations of those items is all my brain can deal with in the morning.

One of the girls in my office has a system where every few months she buys five dresses and five cardigans and rotates them each week. I’m not efficient enough at doing my laundry to operate that kind of system but she looks fabulous and if she hadn’t
told me I would never have noticed, so I think there’s something to be said for it.

I work in an office of 200 with a fairly standard “business casual” dress code. I sit right under the A/C vent, so I end up wearing a snuggie over my outfit pretty much all day.

I, personally, love the structured-dress-and-leggings combo.

I have noticed that women in my office love ridiculous shoes, which is perfect because I also love ridiculous shoes.

I, too, have been rocking the office slanket look. Everybody with a nice sunny window complains about being too warm so we plebes in the bowels of the office have to suffer.

There are some people with space heaters stashed under their desks to combat the A/C. My office is an environmental disaster, clearly.

I’m a (soon-to-be former) grad student in chemistry, and I learned very early that one should not EVER wear clothes that one likes in the lab. Between the dyes, acids, and bacterial innards, not to mention the long-pants-closed-toed-shoes-etc. rules, I still dress like a sloppy high school student most of the time. Dressing up for work sounds like fun to me. I’m trying to get into teaching now, so hopefully I will get the chance to look professional while still having a little flexibility to express my style.

We don’t have a real dress code in the office, although there are certain unofficial levels of dress that most people fall under. I started typing up this whole, long thing and then I realized that much of it boils down to matching the other people we interact with. If there’s nothing going on, we pretty much wear whatever we want. If, say, the Governor is in town, we put on our fancypants best. For block club meetings, you don’t want to roll into impoverished neighborhoods showing off clacky clacky heels and designer suits. (We actually had an old employee who used to do this, and we got tons of complaints.) Etc.

Basically, our dress code is “use your judgement to not look out of place or like an ass when other people are around or you’re going out into the world.”

My office is super laid back. There’s only the three of us, and we only sort of dress up when Council meets. Most days it’s jeans or cords, a t-shirt and cardigan. If I’m feeling wild I’ll put on a housedress.

When it was the winter we all got into the habit of wearing snowpants 24/7. That’s what happens when it’s -40 degrees outside on a regular basis.

I work in a Southern California office a couple blocks from the beach and we only dress up for clients…I also work with men only so no one cares what I wear. My coworker, who sits 3 feet away from me 9 hours a day, only noticed I was wearing a skirt an hour before the day was over last week. Sometimes I wish I had a uniform that I didn’t need to worry about every day at 5am …I mainly wear jeans and casual tops but never any cleavage or anything too short.

I just recently started in my first job with a strict dress code. It’s been pretty jarring. I still only have a few combinations I can wear on any given day. I definitely want to have more fun with it, though. In my off time, I’m a cosplayer, so I’ve leared how to sew pretty well. My plan is to sew a few dresses that are work appropriate and loosely inspired by characters I have cosplayed or want to cosplay, or even based on the design of something nerdy.

For example, I’m making a dress with a white top, brown midriff band and yellow skirt based on Mami Tomoe from Madoka Magica. I’m looking for a pair of tights to go with it as well.

I also want to make a Portal themed dress, mostly white with black, orange and blue details, but I can’t decide if orange and blue are too garish together for a work dress, or if a mostly white dress is a good idea at all.

I work from home, and often it takes very conscious effort to wear anything but perpetual jeans/sweatshirt/slippers. Sometimes pants are even optional. But pulling out slacks to sit in my bedroom office seems like overkill. Like, “I’m queen of the desk! Bow before my chinos, nobody!”

When I was just a grad student with no other job, I dressed a few notches above casual every time I left the house. Nice shirt dresses or pencil skirts, funky tights, hair looking good, blazers, etc. Now I have an office and a postdoc, so I wear those outfits to work. I probably could wear jeans, but it’s not really my style.

Yet, now that I wear those things to work every day I definitely find myself less inclined to wear them on weekends. It’s not as if my jeans are so much more comfortable, but it feels weird to wear my ‘work clothes’ on weekends even though the vast majority of them were my ‘weekend’ or ‘normal’ clothes before I started this job!

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