I frequently receive comments from readers wondering what sort of work I do that allows me to be so creative with my daily outfits. I prefer to keep the details private, but I’ll share that I work in Human Resources for a global company. Like most of corporate America these days, the dress code is “business casual.”
In my workplace, “business casual” can mean anything from a suit to jeans and a sweatshirt. Corporate policy leaves determination of appropriate wear to the individual, directing them to their manager or Human Resources with questions. The general guideline is that if you’d wear it to mow the lawn, work out, or lounge around the house on weekends, it’s too casual. Shorts and distracting or overly revealing clothing are outlawed. Some departments specifically ban denim, but most allow jeans. As you can imagine, the result is a wide variance in levels of formality. I dearly wish I could show you pictures of my coworkers (both those in the “#1 Grandma” sweatshirt and faded mom jeans and those in outfits worthy of Lucky magazine), but I’d probably lose my job.
So, where do I fit into the spectrum? Except for the occasional casual Friday, I dress far more formally than my coworkers. My blazers, skirts, and heels are considered “dressed up.” The more striking difference between us, though, is the creativity of my outfits. I frequently wear bright colors and trends. I also experiment with styles that aren’t trendy OR mainstream (like the time I wore a tie to work). And I push the edge of the envelope with “sexy” attire like fishnet tights and plunging necklines. (I DO try to temper the tights with a modest hemline and I figure a plunging neckline isn’t “overly revealing” on someone with no cleavage. Go ahead and ogle my chicken chest if you want.) When I started work in the corporate world, I was terrified to wear anything as daring as open-toed shoes and I always clad my legs in nude hose. Now, I figure that if I’m not counseled on a clothing choice, it’s acceptable. I’ll continue to push until my management reins me in.
People at work often look me up and down (and down and up, again) and compliment my outfits, but my shoes get the most comments. Because I’ve seen Fashion Lady’s closet, I don’t consider myself a shoe-a-holic. I will admit, though, that I probably have more heels than most women. I’m a sucker for brightly colored shoes and I love the way high heels make me look taller and slimmer. Other than the walk to and from the bus stop, my day doesn’t involve much time on my feet, so I can wear shoes that are more for fashion than function. I should also add that, even at 32, I am one of the younger women in my work group and am able to wear higher heels by the simple virtue of my relative youth and fitness. (My older counterparts constantly remind me that my heels-wearing days are numbered.)
Both in the comments on this blog and in Wardrobe Remix, I constantly read of fellow office slaves bemoaning the fact that they can’t express their true fashion personalities at work. If you are one of those people longing to express your inner fashionista, ask yourself, “What’s really stopping me?” Often, it isn’t the office dress code, but fear of what officemates will think or say. So what if someone says your red lipstick is whoreish or that your choice of colors is juvenile? Your detractors are probably just jealous! If you start wearing that bright lipstick and bold pink top on a regular basis (but maybe not together), the snarky comments will eventually decline. Your outer you will match your inner you and your coworkers will comment when you DON’T wear something that matches your personality. Be brave. Be interesting. Be extraordinary. It’s hard to get fired for a single fashion faux pas, so push the envelope a little.
I will admit that I am fortunate to work in an environment that encourages and rewards individuality, creativity, and flair. I’ve never felt that I wasn’t taken seriously because of my clothing. Instead, I think it’s given me an advantage because I appear more youthful and in touch with the just-graduated-college population I work with. I look approachable, interesting, and fun. Both the company I work for and my particular role are a good fit for my sometimes flamboyant clothing selections.
More reading on the Business Casual dress code:
How to do Business Casual
Business Casual in Warm Weather
Office Appropriate Attire