Office dressing etiquette is a tricky subject. The appropriate way to dress depends on your industry, your role in the company, and the type of company you work for (start-up vs. big corporate). However, there are some seriously inappropriate office clothes that you should ditch from your work wardrobe today.
Avoid the items on my list of the most 10 inappropriate office clothes, and you´ll be OK. I have compiled this list purely by working in a corporate office and observing others for 20 years. It is not to judge others, but rather to help every woman or girl avoid corporate dress pitfalls and get maximum attention for their skills and talent and not for the way they dress.
So without any further ado, let´s get straight into it.
#1 A Corset
What? A Corset at the office, who does that? Believe me, I have seen it worn not just at the office but at a large sales conference in a room filled with 99% men.
Needless to say, it gave the “wearer” a lot of attention, however, the wrong kind of attention in a professional environment.
For those who don´t know, according to Wikipedia, “A corset is a garment worn to hold and train the torso into a desired shape, traditionally a smaller waist or larger bottom”.
There are beautiful modern-day corsets, obviously not as extreme as they used to be a few hundred years ago. And yes, they can be worn as an outfit to go to a club or a dinner party, but you definitely want to avoid wearing corsets at work or a work function.
#2 A See-Through Or Very Low-Cut Top
Similar to the corset, see-through tops or very low-cut tops are just way too sexy for the office. By See-through, I mean materials such as a mesh material that shows your skin and tops that are partly see-through.
Showing off your cleavage to an extent is OK, but a top that bares it all is a definite no-no.
It will distract from your work, and you will be liked for all the wrong reasons, but maybe not respected. As with the corset, they can be worn when going to a private party or club but are not appropriate for a professional office environment.
# 3 Tank Tops with thin straps
Number 3 on my list of the most inappropriate office clothes is a tank top with skinny straps.
It is especially tempting in the summer to wear these at the office.
One rule of thumb, especially for a very formal environment, is that you should never wear items that don´t cover your shoulders. So if you are wearing a sleeveless shirt, always wear a jacket or a cardigan over it.
When it comes to tank tops with thin straps, I don´t deem them appropriate office clothing, even when worn with a jacket. What you can get away with in a business casual setting, though, is wearing a tank top with a blazer, provided the top is made from high-quality materials and has solid straps.
==> Click here for my recommendation of some great business tops <==
# 4 Bike Shorts
Another summer favorite apparently for some women is bike shorts! Yes, tight bike shorts, which are normally worn to the gym. I have seen these worn at the office, unfortunately, and I have to say it is just not a good look on anyone! Don´t ever wear gym bike shorts at the office.
# 5 Mini Skirts
When is a skirt too short? What is appropriate for the office? There is a simple rule of thumb, which is the skirt should be about knee-length.
If you have nice legs and the rest of the outfit is formal office wear (such as a skirt suit with a button-down shirt), you can go as short as one hand-width above the knee.
Never shorter than that! Mini skirts that cover your bottom or come to your mid-thigh are just inappropriate for the office. They will get you the wrong kind of attention, and they will diminish your professionalism and good work.
# 6 Party Dresses
There are many kinds of dress styles, cuts, and materials, and it is sometimes tricky to decide whether a dress is appropriate for the office or not.
To find an appropriate dress for work, you should avoid cuts such as balloon skirts and dresses made from very fancy materials (heavy silk), with silver or gold features or see-through sections.
These are great as a cocktail or party dresses, but not for the office.
In short: don´t wear party dresses to work. The types of dresses that are great for the office are a classic shift dress or a shirt dress.
# 7 Tights with fancy patterns
Ok, I had to add nylon tights with fancy patterns to my 10 most inappropriate office clothes.
They are inappropriate in disguise as they can be quite fancy and sexy (think back-seam stockings or tights), which in my opinion is the very trait that makes them inappropriate for work.
The same goes for tights with little bows or faux suspender tights. Not professional, too sexy, not appropriate for work, in my opinion.
Instead, wear classic dark or nude stockings and tights to complement your business outfit.
# 8 Tracksuit pants
OK, this is a tough one. In the last few years, tracksuit pants have become very fashionable. I think stylish tracksuit pants combined with a heel or a stylish sneaker are suitable for a smart casual environment, especially in creative professions.
However, when talking about inappropriate office clothes, classic Adidas tracksuit pants with their signature stripes are a definite no-go for a corporate office.
# 9 Flip Flops
Unless you are a surf instructor or a lifesaver – stay clear of flip-flops for work.
Another variation but the same thing, in my opinion, is to wear Birkenstocks to work. For work, you should always wear “proper shoes” such as pumps, loafers, or stylish sneakers (in a more casual business environment), but never flip-flops. Period.
# 10 Ripped Jeans
Ripped jeans may be cool and stylish, but they are not for the corporate office.
Instead, go for a pair of skinny jeans or boot cut jeans in dark colors and combine them with a classic button-down shirt and a blazer for a business casual look.
Inappropriate Office Clothes Will Inhibit Your Success
Remember, by dressing appropriately for work, you communicate professionalism, and you gain respect and trust from your peers, customers, and superiors at your office. On the other hand, inappropriate office clothes can make you seem less professional and stop you from being promoted to a better position.
==> Click here to learn how to get that dress code right <==
If you are into comfortable office clothes but still want to look stylish,
==> Click here for a great overview of casual for work styles <==
To be on the safe side, stay clear of my top 10 of the most inappropriate office clothes. Instead, adopt a simple work wardrobe.
And finally, you can find some recommendations for trendy fall fashion for work here.
What is your opinion about the most inappropriate office clothes? Which outrageous outfits have you seen worn at the office? Do you agree with my list above? Join the conversation and leave a comment below.
This is a very refreshing post to see in this day and age where everything seems to be acceptable in terms of dress code. I used to work for a big multi national company and although I have not been part of main stream corporate office life, I can very much relate to it.
And yes, I do remember the “skimpy” skirts and “undone” buttons. Call me “old fashioned” or not, I completely agree with your list of the most inappropriate office clothes. Some garments are best kept for the beach or gym, not the corporate office.
Thank you for taking the time to comment on my post. Ultimately the way we dress influences how people see us in the workplace. It is hard enough sometimes for women to get ahead in big corporates and wearing appropriate office attire will certainly help. Sometimes, especially young women are not aware how the wrong outfit will make them seem less professional. I want to help women to balance family and career and avoiding some of the above outfit pitfalls will hopefully help them in their very busy lives. 😊
Jeans have come a long way in recent years. You can find dark washed
denim jeans that look almost like slacks, but no matter how expensive or
fancy your jeans are, they’re still considered more suitable for a
casual occasion. The excpetion to this rule is if your workplace has a
‘casul Friday policy.’ Even then, however, choose dark denim and
tailored jean styles that still look professional.
Thank you Lucas for your comment. You are right – jeans HAVE come a long way. I actually like wearing jeans as part of a business casual outfit. I find as long as they are dark denim, well-tailored and combined with more formal office wear such a button-down shirt and a blazer, they are suitable for an office environment. Like you say – if an office has a very formal dress code – it is probably best to stick to casual fridays.
Thank you for writing something like this here to create awareness. One of the reasons that remote working is gaining grounds these days is the flexibility it gives everyone to appear the way they choose rather than being coerced info a limited dressing style. Though as professionals, there is a need for us to adapt to the requirements and needs to follow the office etiquette. This is really great post
Hi Nath, thank you for your interesting perspective on this post. You are spot on – as the working reality is changing rapidly into a hybrid office situation – with lots of professionals completely or partly working from home, it is interesting to see how this will affect business dress codes Mobile working offers more flexibility to professionals and their dress style hence should offer more flexibility too. My site mycomfybusinessoutfit.com is all about professional yet comfortable business clothing for working moms. You have just given me a new perspective which I will explore a bit further in one of my upcoming posts. Thank you. Stay tuned…