It’s hot outside. The bosses are away on vacation. It’s tempting to make every day casual Friday. But if you want to leverage your wardrobe to help advance your career, it’s worthwhile to keep some office fashion dos and don’ts in mind.
DON’T show too much skin.
How much skin is too much skin? Think about it in terms of equal opportunity workplaces. In other words, if it would look weird for a guy to wear it, consider whether you should. For instance, would you like to see Marvin-from-accounting’s superhairy shoulders looming over you in your cubicle? If he can’t wear a tank top, should you?
How about that strip of belly on your seriously muscled ad sales guy? It may be aesthetically appealing, but a glimpse of his midriff is probably not the impression he wants to give new clients. Belly-baring tops should probably be left to the people whose jobs require it: models, lifeguards, Vegas cocktail waitresses.
DON’T wear flip-flops.
You might quibble with this one, since the world of flip-flops has expanded way past the rubber shower shoes of yore. Today’s flip-flops can be made of expensive materials and festooned with baubles. But that doesn’t make them office-appropriate. Here’s why: flip-flops make it look like you’d rather be at the beach than in the office. And while that may be true, broadcasting that wish is not a recipe for career success.
Instead of flip-flops, look for options like polished sandals or open-toed flats, or, if you’re daring, open-toed booties. (Make sure your pedicure is on point.) Casual Fridays call for a pair of clean white or navy Keds.
DO plan for the chill of air-conditioning.
Offices get cold in the summer. It’s hard to remember just how chilly your cube is when you awaken to a weather report predicting triple-digit temperatures. That’s why it pays to bring a scarf to your office. Another good option is a three-quarter-sleeve cardigan in a neutral color like light yellow.
DO look for seasonal switch-ups.
Your little black dress can take you through 10 months of the year, but 90-degree temps call for something a bit crisper. Why not switch your LBD to an LWD—little white dress?
DO explore shorts.
Tailored shorts in a Bermuda length can be a comfortable, cool option for men or women. Pair with a more formal look on top for a nice contrast. Possibly a sleeveless blazer (yes, they’re a thing now).
DO be careful with shirts.
Plunging necklines, Christmas sweaters in any month but December, see-through blouses—these are the tops that can thwart your workplace ambitions. And don’t wear a message tee unless the message you want to send is “I’m quite happy on the bottom rung of my career ladder.”
DO adjust your clothes to fit the workplace culture you find yourself in.
Every office has a different culture; what’s considered perfectly cool in the ad agency might not fly in the law firm. Look around you. Who has the job you want? What is she wearing? Subtly matching your style to the higher-ups you would like to impress is a simple way to show that you’re focused on your career.
Obviously the best place to find out what the community standards for your office are is in the employee handbook. Check it every so often in case you forget some obscure rule like “no chartreuse on Mondays.”
Miriam Wolf is the editor of The FruitGuys Magazine newsletter.