Business-Appropriate Dress

It can be challenging to express yourself in the workplace as a Total Femme Boss. We still live in a society that highly criticizes women for being who they are. We also tend to pick on women for not choosing the right clothing for work even though the standard has been based off what the workplace considers appropriate for men (Exhibit A: male-dominated CEO positions; Exhibit B: male-dominated STEM professorships in academia, Exhibit C: the male-maintained “hoodie-and-tee shirt” culture in tech fields like software engineering). In my opinion, you shouldn’t pick on people for not meeting a certain standard when the standard has not been explicitly defined. Nonetheless, here are some tips I’ve collected based on my professional experience and a slew of women’s articles to look and feel your best in the workplace while still fulfilling the “put-together,” “professional” expectations the office has of you:

  1. When possible, wear black.
  2. Neutrals are your friends when selecting colors that are work-appropriate. Grey, white, and navy are my personal favorites. For business casual, it is also appropriate to wear one piece that has a “pop” color, such as kelly green or cobalt blue.
  3. A neutral or black blazer tops off any business look and heightens it. Structured pieces such as blazers and pressed slacks say, “I’m very regimented and formal about how I function in the workplace. I also take great pride in my work.”
  4. Try red matte or semi-matte lipstick! A recent study found that most people think of women who wear a bold, classic red lip to be more confident and no-nonsense while at work.
  5. Natural-looking makeup is very important for asserting that you know what you’re doing at work. Opt for an appropriately colored BB cream + foundation, brown or off-black eyeliner, no sparkles, limited eye shadow, mascara that has no clumps, and minimal contouring. You really don’t want to call attention to your face, and you don’t want glitter coming off onto your cheeks, clothes, or papers throughout the day. You want to look as polished, organized and no-nonsense as possible.
  6. Keep hair out of your face. Style it in such a way that you never have to touch your hair while at work. That means, don’t let it fall forward into your papers, and don’t have lots of strands falling out and landing on your clothes. Keep your fringe short enough that it is not in your eyes, or pin it back behind your ears. Consider a ponytail or orderly bun.

     

  7. No cleavage.
  8. Your skirt should be knee length or only up to two inches above the knee.
  9. Your slit should remain below the middle of your thigh. Tips 6-8 hit on this key idea: We know you have a beautiful body! And we’re so glad you’re proud and confident in it. But try not to make a show of it at work. It’s very important to keep your colleagues from being distracted by anything that is not strictly work-related. Dressing in a well-fitted but non-provocative way speaks miles of how much you value your colleagues as well as what you do at your job.  
  10. Avoid patterns, or choose very minimal ones. For interviews, don’t patterns. Also, if at any time you’re in doubt about the pattern, don’t wear it!

  11. Don’t forget a belt! If your dress or slacks has belt loops, wear a belt that matches your shoes and purse.
  12. Pair your outfit with a structured bag. Structured bag says, “I care about my work and appearance and I am efficient and organized all the time.”
  13. Wear classic black pumps. You can never go wrong at work by sticking with the classics. Keeping a polished pair of leather close-toed pumps is very important for asserting both your dignity and femininity in the workplace.
  14. WEAR PANTYHOSE WITH DRESSES! It is extremely unprofessional not to wear skin-toned stockings with your slacks or dresses at work. Stockings also have the benefit of covering up any marks or blemishes you might have on your legs or feet.

I hope this blog post can serve as a one-stop shop for what you should and shouldn’t wear to work. I have curated a selection of affordable business clothing options in my store. I’d encourage you to take a look to get a better sense of what I’m talking about with these tips.

Hannah Stringfellow is a freelance blogger and world traveler. She holds an M.S., Chemistry, from the University of California, Berkeley. Her interests include women’s empowerment, health and wellness, and cross-cultural competency.

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