Marissa LaliberteUpdated: Feb. 02, 2023
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.
Psst! Wedding, party, or business event, we’ve got a handy guide to help you decide what to wear as per the dress code.
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.
I am Kulz/Shutterstock
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.
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.”
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: These14 office attire updates could score a women a promotion.
I am Kulz/Shutterstock
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.
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 otherinterview outfit mistakes that could cost you the job.
Originally Published: May 29, 2018
Marissa Laliberte-Simonian is a London-based associate editor with the global promotions team at WebMD’s Medscape.com and was previously a staff writer for Reader's Digest. Her work has also appeared in Business Insider, Parents magazine, CreakyJoints, and the Baltimore Sun. You can find her on Instagram @marissasimonian.
What are the things you should not wear for work? ›
Workers consider crop tops, flip-flops and cycling gear to be unacceptable in the office – while dungarees are also a no-go. A study of 2,000 employees found gym gear, Crocs and hotpants are also not appropriate. Other items believed to be something to avoid workplaces were vests, trainers and jeans.What your clothes say about you at work? ›
Clothes reflect who you are, how you feel at the moment and sometimes even what you want to achieve in life? Always remember whatever you wear should reflect the real you. Your dressing sense reflects your personality, character, mood, style and what actually you are as an individual.What is considered too low cut for work? ›
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.What is considered inappropriate clothing? ›
Dirty or wrinkled clothing. Tight-fitting or revealing clothing. Too casual, such as yoga pants, overalls, flip flops or shorts. T-shirts with inappropriate messages or offensive content.Can your boss tell you what to wear? ›
In general, an employer can impose a dress code to regulate the appearance of employees, as long as it is not discriminatory. For example, an employer cannot impose dress codes on only one person, one race, or one gender.Can your employer tell you what to wear at work? ›
Can I be told what to wear? There are many valid reasons why an employer may impose a dress' code (corporate image, identification, health & safety) but it must relate to the job, be reasonable in nature and ideally be set out clearly in the organisation's policy.How can I show my personality through clothes? ›
Wearing the right kind of clothes can give your confidence a huge boost. If you like what you are wearing it will reflect on the outside, enhancing your personality. They say it takes less than ten seconds to make a first impression and the clothes we wear play a very significant part in it.Why do you wear clothes short answer? ›
Clothing provides physical safeguards to the body. Clothes Can Be Worn for status, modesty, adornment and identification. Clothes protect us from occupational hazards, weather, heat, dust, rain and cold.Why is what you wear to work important? ›
A dress code is one of the most important steps to follow, to set yourself up for the basics of professionalism. If you're unwilling to present yourself as a professional, it could bleed into your work and others' perceptions of you as an employee.Is it OK to wear sleeveless to work? ›
If your employer's dress code is casual or business casual, a sleeveless dress should be fine. If you're asked to wear more professional attire, you may need to add a blazer or cardigan in some environments.
What are the 6 types of casual attire? ›
- Long or short skirt.
- Khakis or nice jeans.
- Shorts (depending on occasion and climate)
- Plain T-shirt (no slogans), polo shirt, turtleneck.
- Casual button-down blouse.
Less skin is more appropriate,” she says. Personal shopper Dana Asher Levin notes that not only can bare shoulders be distracting to co-workers, it is just an unprofessional look.What you wear is not consent? ›
They realized a pervasive question heard often was, “What were you wearing?” To summarize, clothing has nothing to do with someone getting assaulted. This is because: Experiences and research show clothing does not make someone more likely to experience sexual violence.How to tell someone they are dressed inappropriately for work? ›
- “Some of your clothing choices are inappropriate for the office. ...
- “I would appreciate you dressing more modestly/professionally in the office. ...
- “I think your appearance in the office could be much more professional.
Always speak in private
Don't make the mistake of criticising anyone for their inappropriate clothing in front of the whole office. Instead ask to speak to the person privately – you don't want to embarrass them. If necessary make sure a colleague is in the office with you as a witness.
Unless the company is closing down soon and you have the management's blessing to be on the look, never talk about your intentions of leaving the company with your boss. It is hard to work with someone that is unsettled. As dissatisfied as you are with the current job, never make known your intentions to leave.Can I refuse to wear work uniform? ›
The Fair Labor Standards Act is a federal statute that says that employees do not have to wear work uniforms but allows employers to mandate them. The Act also states that if employers do require uniforms, they should pay for them (or reimburse the employee) and deduct them as business expenses.Can my boss make me wear a bra? ›
I agree employers shouldn't be policing employees' undergarments but legally, employers are permitted to require women to wear bras despite not requiring it of men (as long as they make exceptions for medical or religious accommodations).What items are acceptable work attire? ›
Examples of business professional attire: When dressing business professional, you can wear tidy dresses, slacks, skirts, slacks, dark-colored suits and ties. Business professional tops include neat button-down shirts or blouses with a blazer. Business professional shoes include heels, loafers or flats.Can a job wear you out? ›
Work can wear you out, whether your job requires physical labor or not. There's more than one way to feel tired, and the daily demands of your job can leave you physically and emotionally weary, even if you spend your days behind a desk.
Can you be forced to wear makeup at work? ›
It is open for employers to impose a Dress Code for employees, which may include requiring female employees to wear make-up. Similarly they can also set parameters regarding appropriate dress and grooming, including prohibiting women from wearing too much make-up.How do you dress like a smart person? ›
A simple way to look smart is to dress smart. Choose clean, well-fitting clothes so you look professional and put together. A button-down shirt and slacks are always a good choice. A pair of good-looking, clean shoes will bring your outfit together.What are the 7 types of fashion? ›
- Elegant Chic.
It will also cover the 5 reasons why we wear clothing: protection, adornment, identification, modesty, and status.What are the two things that clothes keep us safe from? ›
Clothes shield us from dust and the sun's damaging rays. It also protects us from natural elements like heat, cold, dust, and pathogens, as well as natural disasters such as rain and snow.How many kinds of clothes do we wear? ›
Answer. In different seasons we wear different kinds of clothes because in different seasons the weather is different and we wear clothes according to the weather. We wear light clothes in warm weather where as in cold weather we need to wear clothes like full shirts, sweater, jackets, etc.What are the pros and cons of wearing a uniform at work? ›
- Pro: An Important Part of Marketing and Branding. ...
- Pro: Your Employees Benefit From Wearing Uniforms. ...
- Pro: Uniforms Provide Protection. ...
- Con: Uniforms Could Hinder Performance. ...
- Con: Uniforms Squelch Unique Attributes.
While being sloppily dressed or less presentable could lead others to perceive you as lazy, unreliable or unprofessional, dressing like a professional can help you make major strides toward landing partnerships that matter, getting new jobs or unlocking new opportunities.What is unprofessional behavior in the workplace? ›
Examples of unprofessional behavior in the workplace
Sharing personal opinionsDominating meetingsExaggeration of work experienceIntimidation and bullyingSexual harassmentChronic latenessRefusal to perform tasksAggressiveness.
Normal sleeveless tops cut your arms at a distinctive point which makes them look bigger. So, opt for a deeper cut or thin strap outfits that shows off your shoulder a little bit more!
Is it OK to wear spaghetti straps to work? ›
As a reminder, short-shorts, sheer/low-cut/midriff/backless shirts, tube tops, spaghetti strap tank tops/dresses, and workout clothes are not acceptable in the workplace. Please take the time to think about what is appropriate attire for the office.Is it unprofessional to wear a tank top? ›
Ladies can look sophisticated in sleeveless tops in a business casual environment, but tanks that have thin spaghetti straps are not work appropriate unless worn under a jacket or sweater.Are leggings casual attire? ›
Are Leggings Smart Casual? Rejoice: leggings are smart casual! This kind of dress code allows for clothes that are generally laidback, but not sloppy – so leggings and a pretty blouse are fine, but not that faded tee that you got for free at the car wash.What are the 4 basic types of workplace attire? ›
If you ask someone what the dress code at their office is, they'll generally give you one of four dress codes: business professional, business casual, smart casual or casual.What clothes should you avoid at work? ›
Workers consider crop tops, flip-flops and cycling gear to be unacceptable in the office – while dungarees are also a no-go. A study of 2,000 employees found gym gear, Crocs and hotpants are also not appropriate. Other items believed to be something to avoid workplaces were vests, trainers and jeans.What body type looks good in off-the-shoulder? ›
- Small to medium bust.
- Pear, athletic, petite and hourglass shapes.
- Slender or narrow shoulders.
Less skin is more appropriate,” she says. Personal shopper Dana Asher Levin notes that not only can bare shoulders be distracting to co-workers, it is just an unprofessional look.What clothes are considered inappropriate? ›
Dirty or wrinkled clothing. Tight-fitting or revealing clothing. Too casual, such as yoga pants, overalls, flip flops or shorts. T-shirts with inappropriate messages or offensive content.What is inappropriate clothing? ›
Too revealing, think low tops, high slits, short skirts or shorts, backless or strapless tops, sheer, undergarments or lack thereof showing, etc., Not aligned with the “corporate uniform” (think blue suits at IBM), and. Not aligned with the vibe of the organization (e.g., wearing a suit when everyone else is in goth).What is an example of inappropriate workplace behavior? ›
Examples of inappropriate behaviour in the workplace include: harassment - offensive, belittling or threatening behaviour that is unsolicited, and may be repeated. bullying - repeated abusive and offensive behaviour, which in some circumstances may involve inappropriate physical behaviour. aggression and violence.
Can your boss tell you what to wear at work? ›
You are allowed to enforce a dress code in the workplace to ensure that employees are dressed appropriately so long as it doesn't unlawfully discriminate against anyone.How do you look intimidating with clothes? ›
In order to feel powerful, you need to dress powerfully. So if you want to intimidate – like when you're negotiating a tough deal or looking to take control of a company – remember these three phrases when it comes to dressing the part: Straight lines, dark colors, firm fabrics.Do clothes identify someone's personality? ›
Clothes reflect who you are, how you feel at the moment and sometimes even what you want to achieve in life? Always remember whatever you wear should reflect the real you. Your dressing sense reflects your personality, character, mood, style and what actually you are as an individual.Can clothing reveal people personality? ›
The type of clothes you wear and the colors you choose all send out subliminal messages on the type of person you are. Additionally, research has shown that the way you dress not only conveys the type of person you are but can also influence the way you think.What is not acceptable for dress code? ›
Dirty or wrinkled clothing. Tight-fitting or revealing clothing. Too casual, such as yoga pants, overalls, flip flops or shorts. T-shirts with inappropriate messages or offensive content.
- Yellow. This is the happiest of all the colors and usually stimulates joy. ...
- Grey. Grey implies that people are passive, uninvolved and have a lack of energy. ...
- Red. This is the color of aggression and passion—great for a first date, not so great for the office.
Plunging necklines, midriff-revealing crop tops, sheer fabrics, mini skirts, and dresses don't belong in the workplace. A man's unbuttoned shirt shouldn't show off his chest hair. When you wear revealing attire people may not respect your professionalism.What shoes should you not wear to work? ›
Wearing flip-flops or sandals in the office means your feet are basically bare and no one wants to look at your toes during the staff meeting. If you have a condition that makes it hard or impossible to wear closed work shoes, consider wearing work-appropriate flats or even orthopedic dress shoes.How can you tell someone is violating dress code? ›
Assuming that it's not, you'll want to explain the exact aspect of your dress code that they're violating and tell them why it's unacceptable. If it's something relatively minor, it's usually easiest to allow them to remain at work for the day and adjust their attire accordingly going forth.How do you tell a female employee to dress appropriately? ›
Instead of telling an employee, “Your appearance is too messy,” say, “I think your appearance could be more polished.” Or, rather than say, “Your clothes are too revealing,” explain, “It would be beneficial for you to dress more modestly.” Use language that is clear, but also kind.
What is the most powerful color to wear? ›
- Red. Red is the most powerful color amongst all. ...
- Blue. Blue is the King of all colors as it is the most visible amongst them. ...
- Green. Green color is associated with health and prosperity. ...
- Yellow. Yellow holds energy and warmth. ...
- Black. Black radiates elegance and power. ...
White. This color is associated with cleanliness and perfection. It is always a safe choice for a shirt or scarf, but too much white denotes timidity and sterility—not good for workplace relations.What color helps you get work done? ›
Blue is considered the most productive colour, as it promotes calm and a state of flow, Chambers said. A 2009 study from the University of British Columbia found that blue also boosts creativity.What do hot topic employees wear? ›
The dress code at Hot Topic is very casual.
Employees are encouraged to "be themselves" at Hot Topic. Ripped jeans are allowed, as well as t-shirts, sneakers, and most other casual clothing.
Never wear jeans, athletic apparel or athletic footwear. Offensive T-shirts, distracting jewelry and rips in clothing are not appropriate in a business professional dress code. Women adhering to a business professional dress code should avoid shirts that expose cleavage and back areas.Are leggings inappropriate for work? ›
A business casual setting can be leggings-friendly as long as you wear them with an elegant shirt and ballet flats or boots; sneakers are a no-no. If your office has a formal or corporate dress code, you'll have to leave the leggings for the weekend, though.What shoes should I wear if I'm on my feet all day? ›
- Hoka One One Bondi 7 Sneakers. BEST OVERALL.
- Crocs On-The-Clock Work Slip-On. Best Slip-On.
- Brooks Ghost 13 Sneakers. Best Support.
- Dansko Professional Clogs. BEST CLOGS.
- Skechers D'Lites Memory Foam Sneakers. Best With Memory Foam.
- Yhoon Sock Slip-On Sneakers. BEST SLIP-ONS.
- FIGS New Balance 327. Best Sneaker.
- Oofos Unisex Clogs.
Corporate dress codes aside, it's officially acceptable to wear sneakers to work—if you style them right. Ahead, seven ways to get away with wearing your white lace-ups (or bright-blue trainers or leopard slip-ons) to the office without any unsavory run-ins with HR.Is it OK to wear a shirt to work? ›
How casual is too casual? Generally speaking, t-shirts and shorts are definitely out. Jeans may also be out, but some offices allow them, especially if they are colored dark blue or black denim. Ripped clothing, while trendy, doesn't belong in the office.