What NOT To Wear To The Office, According To Chic Lawyer

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5 min read

What not to wear in the office

When we are battling for equality on so many fronts in the workplace there is, indisputably, one area women have it over men in the office: clothing.

Women have so many more choices than men when it comes to kitting themselves out. Can you imagine not having the option of wearing a skirt or dress in the summer? Bloody nightmare.

I have had many-a-conversation with male colleagues about the horrors of wearing a long sleeved shirt, tie and pants in the stifling Australian summer heat. Don’t even get me started on the three piece suits men have to sloosh around in, in Hong Kong’s 99% humidity.

Express yo’self

And, it’s not just a matter of comfort. As women, we have the ability to express ourselves through our clothing, rather than being forced to wear a standardised uniform. As ManRepeller.com puts it,

“style is a meaningful form of self-expression. And the most empowering thing you can share is your point of view: through clothes, through words, through whatever wacky and wonderful shape it might take. It’s by offering up our genuine selves that we can actually connect with others.”

Nuf said.

What not to wear in the office
What not to wear in the office Photo: ManRepeller.com

Don’t choose stuffy, choose freedom

I work in a global commercial law firm. Stuffy, right? Not if i’ve got anything to do with it. I’ve found that I can, essentially, wear what I want to work save one thing: it’s not inappropriate.

Here’s what not to wear in the office

IMHO, what falls within the “inappropriate” bucket really comes down to (as the Aussies say) ‘CBS’ or common bloody sense.

I often get colleagues asking me:

  • What type of clothing is it not acceptable to wear to work?
  • What is not appropriate to wear to work on business casual day?
  • What should I not wear to my office job?
  • What are examples of what not to wear to work?
  • What should I not wear to the office christmas party?

OK. Let’s break it down.

What skirts and dresses not to wear in the office: don’t be a crab

If your skirt or dress is too short (think Ally MacBeal) it’s probably inappropriate. In winter I see women walking around the city in short coats that just cover their tush … upon further investigation, it’s clear that there’s actually nothing underneath said coat. Weekend: yes. Office: hell no.

Also, if your skirt or dress is so tight that your stride transforms into a crab-like scuttle (you know that walk), it’s going to be tricky to dart from one meeting to the next and be on time. I’m sure it looks gorgeous, but consider your schedule for that day before committing.

What tops not to wear at work: how much boob is too much boob?

Ahh, the age old question: how much boob is too much boob? This is highly subjective. And a definitive answer, elusive. For me, personally, if you’re showing more than a slight glimpse of cleavage while you’re on the clock, it’s inappropriate.

How much boob is too much boob?

As an aside, you’ll love Rachel Bloom’s #ladbyboss commentary on this very question.

What shoes not to wear at work: let’s get practical

For heels, it’s all about practicality. For starters, you should be able to walk in them. At a normal speed.

I get it, I loove a good high heel. But wearing your 5-inch Pigalle Louboutins (*swoon*) will make it tricky to keep up with your colleague during the all important weekly ‘walk and talk.’ You’re going to miss half the conversation: consider whether it’s worth it.

Shoes should also be close-toed, primarily for safety reasons. Staplers falling from great heights and sharp chair legs are the enemy.

Acknowledging that there’s always an exception to the rule: for those casual Fridays in the middle of summer, when it’s so hot that your feet swell two sizes and literally won’t fit into heels, go ahead and treat your tootsies to some aircon by way of the heeled sandal.

Can I wear shorts at work: don’t break this rule whatever you do

No. Just, no. Not even on casual dress days.

Why? This guy was sent home from work last week for his flagrant disregard for the no shorts in the office (ever) convention.

“Is it OK to wear shorts to the office on weekends?” I hear you ask. This is an ambiguous, highly controversial issue. One which I will explore in greater detail in my next post.

Can I wear leather to work: the easy answer

Hell. Yes. As I wrote, here. I’m a staunch advocate of (and active participant in) incorporating leather pieces (and colours) into work outfits. Not only do they look chic and feminine, but me and my leather trousers are a killer team. When we pair up, I feel brave, feminine and powerful. And if I’m in need of a confidence boost, they’re my first stop.

When wearing your favourite leather trousers to the office, simply follow the golden rule: your top and / or jacket should cover your derrier.

In order to ensure your leather pieces are powerful rather than provocative, make sure the skirts aren’t skin tight. Paired with silk tops, cashmere jumpers or a tailored blazer, they ooze elegance. I also make sure the top is structured and not figure hugging.

That’s basically it. Have as much fun as you want within these parameters.

Get creative with your wardrobe and be a better employee – my experiment

There is absolutely nothing wrong with putting a little fashion flair into your workwear. In fact, exercising the creative part of your brain can make you a better employee.

As a person who loves clothes and who experiments regularly with work attire, I have only ever had one negative comment directed at my work wardrobe.

Haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate

Early on in my career a more senior (female) colleague had a rant to some clients about how she thought my clothes were “ostentatious.”

There was nothing wrong with what I wore to work: it was often colourful, it was sometimes a bit creative, but it was corporate-appropriate. Every single day.

So, I decided to stick it to her and for the next few weeks I totally hammed it up.

Are my outrageous outfits inappropriate in the office?

I wore the most outrageous colour combinations – think electric blue jacket with futuristic pointed shoulder pads combined with a silk top splashed with every colour of the rainbow.

I wore copious amounts of jewellery (which I usually never wear). I accessorised with crazy bags and shoes. For a moment I even considered buying the Alexander McQueen armadillo shoes, just to really annoy her.

The look on her face each day was priceless. The best moment came when the head Partner in the office (obvs male back then) shouted out to me from the other side of the floor (and within earshot of my critic);

“Lucy: I am loving your outfit. Woot.”

Said critic never mentioned my clothing again.

What not to wear in the office
Alexander McQueen armadillo shoes – What not to wear in the office – photo credit: myfashionlife.com
Do it!

Fashion and intelligence aren’t mutually exclusive. So ladies, although there are a few dos and don’ts about what not to wear in the office, there’s no reason for you to curtail your creativity, your femininity or style. Go forth, be brave and experiment with your work outfits. I dare you!

Lucy x

Do you want to know more about Lucy, the legal eagle’s, sartorial and styling secrets? Sign up for our newsletter, here for regular doses of hilarity.

Do you have specific questions for Lucy about what not to wear in the office? Go ahead and email her at hello@irislillian.com.

Meet Lucy

Re-defining the uniform of the female lawyer, Lucy is living proof that humour, intelligence and a whole lotta’ sass are not mutually exclusive. Our resident office appropos expert doesn’t let being a commercial legal eagle get in the way of her penchant for fashion. She revels in bringing a little flair and joie de vivre to her workday wardrobe, and to yours. In fact, the most challenging part of her job is coordinating the perfect outfit in readiness to tackle whatever her working day throws her way. IMHO, she’s more than up to the task.

What not to wear in the office

10 Comments
  1. Odette Umali says

    Staying feminine, expressive, creative, authentic, classy at work never fade in fashion.

    1. Iris Lillian says

      Hey Odette, you’re so right! Do you like to get creative with your work outfits? What’s your favourite piece for summer?

      1. Odette Umali says

        Getting creative with work outfits make the days fun and expressive. My favorite piece for summer is my sleeveless blue silk dress paired with white leather sandals. It’s great for any activity!

        1. Iris Lillian says

          Lovely! Where do you get your silk dresses from. They sound divine!

          1. Odette Umali says

            I get my silk dresses from Shanghai Tang and Club Monaco.

    2. Iris Lillian says

      I agree 100% Odette. What’s your favourite work outfit?

      1. Odette Umali says

        My favorite work outfit is a day-to-night short dresses that emphasises the waist. After work, I can easily pick up my kids and transition to a dinner fancy/casual place with the family.

        1. Iris Lillian says

          Hey Odette, that’s a great suggestion. Do you buy dresses which are already structured with a waste or do you rely on belts to give your outfit a nice silhouette?

          1. Odette Umali says

            Yes, the dresses are structured with a waist and this just makes me feel just confident to do presentation anytime.

          2. Iris Lillian says

            Hey Odette, both fantastic brands!

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