Dressing for Work: Part Two of a Five-Part Series – Confidence in Fit & Comfort
“Dressing for work” is a big deal. We want to pretend it’s not. We tell ourselves it’s superficial and “I want to be known for my marketing results and performance, not my work fashion.” Well, it’s just a fact of life we have to live with for now…so get with the program and take it seriously or be an innovator and start a movement toward change (#clothingoptional)!
I’m not a stylist by trade, nor am I paid for anything relating to clothing or dress, but I’m experienced, creative and have worked in super stuffy Big5 consulting atmospheres, highly creative offices, casual tech startups and even work-from-home scenarios. I have spoken on the subject publicly several times over the years (on request) and it’s become a fun hobby for me lately to (try to) take my own personal style to the next level.
#1. What percentage of my outfit is girlie?
The Gist: What clothing makes me feel and appear “strong” as opposed to “soft?” Since my natural vibe is already soft and traditionally feminine, I’m looking to counteract and balance my work fashion with my direct communications style. For me, less than 15% of my overall outfit can support traditionally “girlie” style and design elements without throwing me into the cute/sexy realm.
Today we’ll discuss the second question I ask myself each day to make sure I’m dressed like a boss and ready for anything.
#2. Can I lean over a table, squat to pick something up, sit down in an open back chair and reach over my head without unintentional skin or undergarments showing?
This comes down to FIT and the confidence that automatically comes from a great fitting piece of clothing accompanied with the right undergarments. Here’s what you need to know…
- TAILORING is your best friend. If it doesn’t fit “just right” off the rack, buy one size up and tailor it down to fit you perfectly. Always worth it. Every time.
- COMFORT is key. If you are uncomfortable in any way – fit, style, color, pattern, size, anything bothering or irritating you – it will show. You will not be the confident badass you know you are. Also, invest in quality materials that are less itchy, bunchy, sweaty and scratchy. And it’s sometimes easier to clean and iron high quality garments as well.
- EXPOSED SKIN can be distracting. It’s unfortunate, since we all have the same skin and relative anatomy…it’s just the way it is today. Read below for a few body parts that are better left buttoned up in the workplace.
- Boobs are not a work accessory, man-boobs included! The larger they are, the harder to contain. But it’s 100% possible with the right undergarments, t-shirts and higher-neck tanks. Boob “meat” and cleavage are not part of a serious work atmosphere. If you work for Howard Stern or Victoria Secret, okay. Otherwise no.
- Feet – toes especially. They sometimes gross people out. Your colleague is not listening to what you’re saying if all she can think about is how she wishes your feet were covered more or looked cleaner. If you’re going to go for toes out, consider a peep toe as your best bet. I prefer to have most of my foot covered, but in those more casual (or super dressy cocktail) situations where I do wear a sandal, I like to have my feet in really good shape. Try to be considerate of others by having as close to pristine looking feet as possible…and know that feet can look dirty or unkempt even when they’re not. And for some people, exposed feet can also have religious connotations.
- Tummies can sometimes pose a problem, even when they’re covered…or you think they’re covered. Be sure to take a look in the mirror with raised hands and sitting/squatting positions. If there’s even the slightest chance your stomach, sides or back (or heavens forbid your butt crack) shows, throw on an undergarment to correct the problem. Longer tanks work great for most women. I love these smooth and silky ones from Jockey. If you don’t want to wear a tank, Spanx-like shorts can extend to cover your whole midsection too.
- Thighs – upper thighs mostly. I think it’s the “movement” of skin that people find distracting at work…not the actual skin. So, think about the parts of your thighs that start to have more “give.” For me, my knees and just above my knees are pretty hard and the skin doesn’t move much when I walk, sit or cross my legs. But right in the middle of my thigh I’ve got a little movement (and it’s an area of my body that sometimes gets sexualized). So for me, I don’t wear skirts to work that would go more than a couple of inches above my knee, sitting (key word is sitting). This could be different for everyone. The idea is to keep distractions to a minimum. And if you’re lucky enough to not have any movement in your thigh until your butt is showing, then good for you, skinny bitch. Just make sure you can sit down without your thigh gap revealing your panty color.
- Shoulders. This is a controversial one and completely depends on your industry. I may even give you conflicting advice right now…cuz that’s how I’m gonna’ roll. No seriously, I haven’t done my external research on this one. I’m just going with my own experiences and thoughts. I love a shoulders-out tank top. Not a thin spaghetti strap tank, but a 2” or more tank doesn’t bother me at all. I kinda’ love them in the hot Carolina summers. I actually haven’t noticed this type of tank distracting others, have you? That said, an off-the-shoulder top doesn’t work for me. Nor does the trendy shoulder cut-out. Believe me, I reeeeaaallly wanted these to work, since I love them and my shoulders are probably my best physical trait. But they just don’t work. I found myself actually ticked-off when a colleague wore an off-the-shoulder top to work on the day we had to shoot a video with her as the main subject…ugh. And when the shoulder cut-outs became popular a few years ago, I was distracted when one of my employees wore one to work, even in a super casual atmosphere. There’s nothing “wrong” with them, it’s just my preference and own perception sensitivities that start throwing red flags. Each time I try to use one of these in a work outfit, it just doesn’t feel right. With or without the blazer on top, I just couldn’t do it. What’s your take on bare shoulders in the workplace?
- Tattoos are a little like jewelry, but you can’t take them off. So if you’re going to display them, just consider the impact they may have on any given work situation and/or people you’re working with. I personally love them, but don’t have any. They can be distracting if they touch on sensitive topics like politics, religion, sex, drugs, etc. You do you, but understand and accept any prejudices that may accompany that visible declaration that may share something very personal to you. Displaying it opens you up to unfair judgement and unearned, sometimes unwelcome connections whether you like it or not. Asking about a tattoo is not the same as touching a pregnant woman’s stomach. People will ask…that post is “public” my friend.
- Keep your skin healthy and moisturized. Damaged skin showing could be a distraction. Now, I’m not talking about beautiful skin like this, but skin that looks like it hurts. If you have a skin condition like psoriasis (my daughter has it), most people will not know that your skin issue is not contagious! They could have an immediate fear and distance themselves. This kind of first impression/reaction does not help your career relationships or your ability to communicate. It’s not your fault that they’re ignorant, you can’t control that. You can only control a piece of the pie. You don’t want your skin flaking off, bleeding or to showcase any other health issues you may be faced with personally. This reality sucks, but you have to take this into consideration when dressing for work. Even a sunburn can make people think to themselves in a Jim Gaffigan kinda’ voice, “that was a bad decision not to wear sunscreen…I wonder what other poor decisions they’ve made.” Harsh, but true. Don’t give them any ammunition to distract from your communications.
So, what do you think? Do you agree or disagree? Do you have any dressing-for-work pet peeves, resources, links or ideas to help other women entrepreneurs nail this unspoken part of the job?
Also, stay tuned for the next article in our Dress Like A Boss series. Learn the third question I ask myself each day I get dressed for work and how it helps me to be a better communicator.