What Not to Wear in the Office


Business casual, business professional, casual Fridays, are all words to describe a company’s dress code but they often mean completely different things. Business professional is typically the strictest dress code, usually limiting styles to pantsuits or skirt/dress suits, and dress shoes. Business casual can be the most confusing dress code, as it tends to be more vague in what is appropriate. In general, it still means to dress professionally, but does not need to be as formal as a pantsuit, for example.

Business casual is also the more popular choice among businesses. For more help with determining the difference between business professional and casual, take a look at this article. Casual Friday’s are also becoming more popular, sometimes allowing jeans along with your typical business casual top.    

Despite these definitions, each company may draw the line between professional and casual differently. So, how do you navigate the corporate clothing nightmare that is the dress code? Regardless of what the code is, and yes, even on casual Fridays, there are still a few things that you should never wear in the office. The following items should be removed from your corporate clothing wardrobe immediately:

Gym clothes

Modern gym clothes can almost pass for regular clothing these days. But, the key word there is, “almost”. Wearing gym leggings, yoga pants, running tights, capris, or workout tops are still not acceptable for a corporate environment. The only possible way you could be able to get away with your gym leggings or tights is by pairing them with dresses or long tops. Your leggings or tights should be free from logos or brands, and well covered by your dress or top. Making sure they are clean is also a must, of course.  

Tight or sheer clothing  

This one should be pretty obvious to you. Tight and sheer clothing can belong in your regular wardrobe, but should never be worn in a professional environment. Remember that there is a difference between fitted and tight clothing as well, so don’t be afraid to use your best judgement and wear something that is fitted and still looks professional.

Along those same lines, you may want to be cautious about wearing clothing with cutouts or lace. Pants with holes in them are rarely going to be appropriate for the office, just as lace and see-through tops are usually inappropriate as well.

Loud shoes

We’ve all heard it, the sound of a pair of heels hitting a tile floor, echoing through a room. Or, the sound of squeaky dress shoes walking past, or worse, just one shoe squeaking with every other step. If possible, try and leave these types of shoes at home. They are often distracting to anyone within hearing distance, and even disruptive to those on the phone or trying to concentrate.

Types of sandals are ideal for outdoors or outside of the office, but are also disruptive inside the office.  Sneakers, trainers, tennis shoes, etc., are also a no for corporate attire. Depending on your office, closed toe shoes may also be required, so make sure you know if this is a rule in your company. For more shoes you may want to consider leaving at home, review this list.

Too casual

Even on casual Friday, there is such a thing as too casual. Jeans with rips or holes, t shirts in general, but especially those with insignias or words on them are typically too casual. Once again, gym clothing such as leggings or shorts are also still inappropriate. The typical guideline for casual Friday is to wear a normal top that you would pair with work pants or a skirt, with your clean and fitted jeans.

This one also seems quite obvious, but should still be stated. Unwashed shirts or clothes that you’ve worn multiple times are definitely inappropriate for work. Sometimes it’s easy for even clean clothes to get wrinkled or have lines from being folded too long, so make sure you iron them prior to wearing.  

There are a few other items that are on the line between casual and business casual you may want to consider when thinking about wearing to work. Pants made out of corduroy or khaki are right on the line of too casual for work. To determine if they are appropriate, you could try scoping out your office and seeing if anyone wears that type of clothing. Or better yet, simply ask your supervisor or coworkers for their opinion.  

If you’re new to an office and unsure what their typical standards are, it can help to check it out first. Take an hour or so prior to your first day of work and head down to the office. You should easily be able to take notes on the people going in and out of the office to determine the norms for attire. If you aren’t able to do this, try contacting your recruiter or the person who hired you to inquire about what the standards are. And finally, on your first day, dress to impress by following a guide like this one, just as you would in an interview. In the corporate environment, it’s rare that you will be too out of place if you’re dressed business professionally.

In the end, it’s up to you to decide what is appropriate and inappropriate for work. If you are questioning an outfit or an article of clothing and wondering if you can wear it to work, it is probably best to save it for other occasions. Another way to help you figure out what you can wear is to shop at stores that only carry corporate apparel in their stores or online. Trying stores like UniSmart apparel will help mitigate any confusion with what you can and can’t wear, and makes shopping for work straightforward. And remember, it never hurts to ask, so don’t be afraid to ask around the office whenever you’re uncertain.



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