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What not to wear at the office

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Published:   |   Updated: July 11, 2013 at 08:48 PM

By CLOE CABRERA

ccabrera@tampatrib.com

We still talk about the middle-aged woman who wore super-short leather miniskirts with stilettos to work in the newsroom.

She's not here anymore, but we do have a woman who wears her tops so short, you get a shot of her belly (toned, thank goodness!) if she raises her arms. And there are men and women who have struggled with jeans that are a little too low-slung.

Our company, like many others, has a pretty relaxed dress code - the newsroom is especially casual. But occasionally, an employee takes it too far.

"Dress codes are just as much a part of the workplace now as they ever have been," says Heather B. Brock, an employment attorney with Fowler White Boggs, P.A., who counsels companies on dress code issues. "A dress code is part of the code of conduct of an employer in most situations."

Carmen Alverio, Human Resources generalist for the Florida Communications Group, advises employees to dress appropriately for what they have coming up that day.

"If you're meeting with clients, you may want to wear a jacket," she says. "But if you're going to spend the day at your desk, business casual is fine. It's up to each department. Some departments are stricter than others."

But even the best corporate rule-followers can be confused by what's allowed on "casual Fridays," Brock says.

Relaxed "Fridaywear" became widespread in the 1990s, especially among dot-commers who enthusiastically adopted rumpled khaki shorts, T-shirts and sandals while working in their Silicon Valley offices.

What started out as "OK, you don't have to wear a tie," quickly became, "Uh, dude, the flip-flops are pushing it."

Not every company went quite so far so fast. The Walt Disney Co. recently relaxed its dated dress code by allowing women to be bare-legged (bye-bye, pantyhose!) and wear sleeveless tops and open-toe shoes (as opposed to plain pumps). Men can now wear casual, untucked shirts.

Of course, what is considered "acceptable" office attire any time can depend on your line of work. Shorts and T-shirts may be OK in really creative jobs, such as the arts, or if you spend a lot of time outside in the summer. But suits and ties are still the norm in banking and financial services, Brock says.

And even in the most casual environments, employees should use common sense.

Necklines and hemlines should be appropriate for the workplace, not a nightclub. Wearing clothing that reveals your bra (or lack of), panty lines or boxers is a bad idea. Ditto for distressed jeans, skinny jeans, sheer clothing and spaghetti straps.

As for the pantyhose debate, going without them is usually acceptable, but Brock says they are still "good form" in more conservative lines of work, such as at a law firm or a bank.

"But even in those fields I see more and more pantsuits, and less stockings in the summer months," she adds.

Flip-flops remain one of the biggest office no-nos.

"They have no place in an office environment," Brock says. "They make a noise, they're distracting, and they also sometimes can lead to something that might seem quite silly ... but you're exposing your feet, which in these hot summer months can lead to some not so great odors."

Bottom line: "Dress as if you're coming to work," Brock advises. "That's why they call it work; it's harder than when you're having fun."

Brock offers these tips for staying classy and cool on the clock.

Do this:

Read the company dress code before you start work and follow it. (Look at yourself in a full-length mirror before you leave for the office. You might not be pulling off that look as well as you think.)

Dress for the job to which you aspire.

Pay attention to how your boss dresses.

Wear clothes in good condition that are clean and pressed.

Express your individual style for after-hours, non-work events and weekends.

If jeans are OK at your office, wear a pair with a higher-waist, more conservative fit and darker denim than you might choose for home.

Choose your work attire in a summer weight fabric instead of trying to stay cool with sheer clothing or by wearing less.

Not this:

Don't wear clothing that could offend a co-worker or customer.

Casual doesn't equal sloppy - be comfortable, but sophisticated.

Don't use casual Friday as an excuse to expose body parts or undergarments.

Avoid wearing low-rise or skinny jeans to the office unless you're very young or in a very creative environment.

Don't wear leather to the office unless it's shoes, a belt or a bag.

Don't wear tank tops to the office. (This applies to men and women.)


Are there any office fashion faux pas we missed? Let me know at TBO.com, Keyword: Hot Pursuits. If you have a fashion or beauty idea, contact me at (813) 259-7656 or e-mail ccabrera@tampatrib.com.

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