Navigating Casual Office Dress Codes

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Photography by Dave Mentzer

Do you guys have a go-to outfit for work events? For some reason, this polkadot blouse and suede button-up skirt pairing is the first outfit I reach for when I want to look chic and polished for work events, but still let my personal style show through. I’ve worn this exact look multiple times – to an interview at Trunk Club, a networking cocktail party hosted by my company, and even to client meetings. I’m very lucky that my office dress codes have always been super relaxed, so I can get away with outfits that wouldn’t typically fly in an office with professional dress codes. My former bosses have told me that at creative firms, you should dress the part and that if your team showed up to a client meeting in suits, it totally wouldn’t give off the same vibes as your company culture.

While this all sounds great and dandy, with lenient dress codes, there’s a fine line about what’s appropriate to wear to the office and what’s not. I’ve certainly seen my fair share of outfits that probably shouldn’t be worn to the office, and probably been guilty of my own wardrobe mishaps (sorry for that time I wore a strapless romper to work, YMC). I’m sure sometimes I still teeter on that line (like when I wore the graphic tee Caroline gave to me for secret santa with ripped boyfriend jeans this week), but I have picked up a few tricks to determine whether my outfit is okay to talk to my boss in, or if it should be reserved for after-hours. Read on for some of my tips below, but keep in mind my office is 100% cool with us wearing jeans and (cute) sneakers pretty much every day.

  • The fingertip test: Did that phrase just make you cringe and think of your high school days? I still swear by it. For those of you who don’t know, the fingertip test is if you put your arms down by your sides, your skirt should fall below your fingertips, or else it’s too short and you’ll get sent home or have to put on your gym sweatpants. In all seriousness though, it is a good test. If you’re not sure that your skirt passes it – layer your look with some tights.
  • Sky-high heels: This one is tricky, because some people think that heels over 3 inches are unprofessional, but I don’t abide by that rule. I think that as long as you can elegantly walk in your heels, you should rock them in your client meeting. Teetering and tottering on your way to the conference room is more unprofessional than some added height.
  • Leggings as pants: Some people think this is a major faux pas, but I think that this can be done tastefully and do ofter wear leggings in the winter. Rule of thumb, your butt should be covered by your sweater or tunic and if you bend over your leggings better not be see through. Don’t you dare pair them with sneakers though or else you’re crossing the line to athleisure.
  • Ripped jeans: This can also be tricky. I wear ripped jeans at least once a week, but again, my office is SUPER casual. Unless you’re a creative firm, I’d probably steer clear of these. If you do try it out, don’t go full-on shredded. Try slight distress marks or minimal rips at the knees, but keep the rest of your outfit slightly more polished if you’re unsure if your office allows this.
  • Open-toe shoes and sandals: This might be veering into one of my personal pet-peeves, but if you’re going to go for open-toe, make sure your feet are taken care of, por favor. You don’t need a fresh pedi, but if your nail polish is peeling off, maybe opt for booties.

Shop my look:

Skirt | Forever 21

Blouse | Lord & Taylor (similar)

Booties | Ann Taylor (similar)

 

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