f each office environment is like a nation with its own customs and culture, when it comes to the rules of what is deemed inappropriate to wear in the office, these 7 points are considered international law. Our working wardrobe is an easy, and arguably, effortless way to visually mirror the quality of our work. Yet, with the overwhelming choice of the high-street at our fingertips and lack of female role models to take inspiration from, it’s easy to be led astray in translating what is appropriate.
The battlefield that is the office environment requires that we’re ready for war at a moment’s notice; be it a last minute client meeting or representing the company in the public eye and the occasional bad-outfit day can throw your progress completely off course. Considering that two thirds of managers have a “heightened awareness” of those who imitate their own work wear, maintaining a high-standard of your image is essential to career progression and gives you an advantage when in the midst of a clash. Make fashion mis-haps a distant memory by memorising our 7 office fashion-faux pas, ensuring your armour will be fault-free and always up to the challenge.
— 1 —
The first dress-code sin; thou shalt not flaunt flesh at work. In arguing against the ‘modern interpretation’ of workwear, Jennifer Winter makes a fantastic comparison of breasts to the memory-erasing device that Will Smith carried in Men in Black; “once cleavage goes on display in a professional environment, they become a trait with which others associate you” – secondary to the actual person. Any outstanding skills or impressive achievements are simply forgotten and only leaves, as Winter aptly puts it, “your cup size to remember you by”. The décolletage, back, chest and thighs should always be covered and it’s not worth testing the waters for the sake of experimentation.
— 2 —
First impressions count; they’re made in an instant and hard to shake off. Taking things at face-value is a natural response we all have and our managers at work are no exception. Linking back to the idea that one should ‘fake it until you make it’ at work, investing in quality clothing only works if it’s done wholeheartedly. The suit is considered the protection needed for the corporate arena but buying into cheap renditions with no longevity is a pointless pursuit; what good is a suit of armour without a helmet or if it’s made of a soft metal? All the small details, including fabric and fasteners add up to a perfectly polished image but it will be for nothing if the signs of poor craftsmanship show through. A 2014 study conducted by Yale University found that in a negotiating exercise, those dressed in good quality workwear felt they had a heightened sense of respect from others and were bolder in engaging in ‘big-picture’ thinking than their casually dressed opponents. Prioritising quality shows a clear sense of dedication to the smallest details and goes a long way in making an impression.
— 3 —
The best way to put the importance of fit into context is to look to a mainstage example. Jezebel’s critique of Ted Cruz’s poorly fitting wardrobe is proof of the correlation between personal image and professional competence; Cruz may be running for a Presidential nomination but he doesn’t look like a world leader in an oversized suit with creased sleeves and slouchy trousers. Badly fitting clothing is both unflattering and sloppy, planting the idea that if you don’t respect yourself enough to invest in a well-fitted suit or outfit, you don’t deserve respect from others.
— 4 —
Sun Tzu’s 'The Art of War’ stressed that ‘all warfare is based on deception’ but wearing a face masked by copious amounts of make-up is perceived as insecure and insincere, rather than an attempt to be presentable in a corporate setting. Whether you are chosen for a promotion over someone else or defeated them in a heated company meeting, placing such an emphasis on your personal appearance reduces your association with your work; the woman who defeated the boss in the boardroom isn’t remembered for her presentation or focus but rather, her huge lashes or brightly coloured face. Although some argue that the sexist element here is what separates the issue, it’s one thing to not be remembered for your work, but another to be doubted on your good performance just because your personal images projected an entirely different story.
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Trends come and go but you are here to stay so ensure your style is just as timeless. Prints, elaborate trims, mixing textures or embellishments or anything that wouldn’t belong on the set of ‘Suits’ is a no-go. Drawing attention to something other than the quality and consistency of your work simply sows the seeds of doubt in the minds of others, hurting your career in the long run.
— 6 —
The assumption that women have to wear heels to work is mostly thanks to a myth manifested by pop-culture. Heels are known for giving the wearer a sense of power, as noted by Marie Claire’s Lea Goodman. In all the interviews she’s conducted with female CEO’s, “not a single one was in flats” as they “exude a kind of demure good-girl quality that rarely telegraphs power.” Not all offices are happy with flats as part of workwear attire but too-high a heel and the popular open-toe style can be considered provocative and out of place at work. Closed-toe court shoes with a 3-4-inch heel are easy to find, easy to style and avoid over complicating things in the morning or whilst running between meetings.
— 7 —
As is often the case with office fashion mishaps, it’s easy to mis-translate jewellery in a working environment. Bracelets, large earrings, multiple necklaces and fake stones are adventurous ways to add to an outfit but in creating a lot of noise at your desk, often it makes the wearer stand out for the wrong reasons. The fight for clients can feel like a stand-off in the jungle, a situation which values those who get the job done quickly. Like a leopard or a panther, silent before the kill, it’s important to be subtle in how you take down your opponents - excessive jewellery is a giveaway of your whereabouts and drastically reduces your chances to pounce on future projects.
Words by Emily Freund