I’ve been trying to write a post for weeks now on Business Casual for summer, and it keeps devolving into a rant about some of the more egregious clothing choices I’ve been seeing in my office. The ensuing gripe-fest ultimately comes across as sanctimonious, judgemental and well, very Grumpy Old Woman, and I really don’t want to be that person.
So instead, I’ll share the guidelines I’ve devised for myself for putting together Business Casual ensembles for the office, which work for all seasons.
1. Dress for your audience and venue. If I know I’ll be attending meetings at “headquarters,” I’ll generally dial it up a notch. A lightweight blazer instead of a cardigan, closed toe shoes instead of sandals.
2. For a normal day in the office, mix casual/soft pieces with more tailored pieces. If I wear jeans, I’ll add a blazer or jacket, even if a knit version. Trousers or pencil skirt can be paired with a fitted tee and a cardigan.
3. Layers. One never knows whether the a/c will be on strike or on overdrive.
4. When it comes to showing skin, err on the side of caution.
5. Avoid anything that looks like a mis-matched suit.
6. Even though I don’t match my bag and shoes, I at least try to keep them at the same level of formality. For example, I don’t wear patent leather shoes with a distressed leather bag.
Thanks to Lisa from ~Privilege, whose Polyvore sets have been an inspiration, especially for work wear ensembles.
Have you developed your own set of guidelines for workplace attire? Please do share.
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Any chance you can also show some shoes/ensembles that the non-executives among us might afford? I adore the choice, but oh, my, $600 for flats? That’s half a plane ticket to Paris!
Pam – thanks! I have to imagine that the humidity makes it even more difficult to dress comfortably in summer.
cafelatte – when I put those polyvores together, I’m trying to go for style/color. It’s just a starting point, and not meant to be literal. (I don’t own any of those shoes, or the bags either.) But I also have items from Topshop and J.Crew shown too. It’s really dependent on what I can clip myself into Polyvore or find that someone else has already saved to use. If you go to zappos.com you can search by style, color, heel height and you can find something similar in a range of prices. I’ll try to do a “look for less” option next time. Thanks for the feedback!
These are fun and I’m guessing (from some office attire I see) will be instructive. Love that paisley skirt. Vendors form an impression of the whole company based on their initial contact- kind of like a job interview.
Here, where summer is short but hot, some women blur the line between tank or sleeveless top and cami. A cami on its own is too bare for office wear.
My biggest summer dressing gripe regards the “feetswear” as our friend The Manolo would say.
That is, flip-flops (maybe we should go back to calling them shower shoes, as we did in our youth, to help people figure out when to wear them) are appropriate only at the beach, at the pool, and driving home from a pedicure. For those who want the bare-sandal look, there are plenty of minimalist leather sandals out there, some for very little money.
Climbing down off my soap-box now.
Top tips – and outfit number two works for me!
I think your second polyvore is my favourite!
This look is classic and comfy without being too “out there” and looks professional and pulled together.
Our staff are very young and I am one of the oldest on staff so I dress very different than the younger women who are wearing skinny strapped tops, hipster jeans and flip flops!
(Am I the Cranky Older Woman?)
I hope that you bring us more polyvores!
Very good advice – I love the “mismatched suit” tip. Our workplace is more casual, but covering skin is always a capital idea.
My biggest problem is finding lightweight summer trousers for my height and weight (short and rounded). Love the ensembles, but I have gone to almost exclusively skirts because pants are too elusive, andjeans too heavy. Any advice?
These are absolutely gorgeous outfits. Wow. And thank you so much for the nod – clearly I was just an excuse for the emergence of talent you were hiding under the proverbial bush…
I love these outfits! I would love to see you do a Grumpy post about what people mistake for business casual – mostly so I can commiserate. (I swear I had to look twice at a woman here today because I initially thought she was wearing pajamas.)
I am looking for more stand-alone blouses for those (rare in SF) hot days where I’d like to be in just a blouse and a skirt. The blouse needs to be interesting, have sleeves at least to the elbow, and have a hem that looks OK untucked. It should be flowy – not sitting right on the skin, but not looking too baggy either. A tall order.
So far I have only found one. I bought it three years ago. I guard it jealously and wear it carefully. I call it my Sacramento blouse, for the occasional day trips I have to make there in the summer months.
Pseu, not only are these outfits stylish, they are appropriate!
Very well done.
I particularly like the second set.
Wonderful choices — you make it very clear that one can be appropriately dressed yet be quite comfortable AND have fun (that paisley skirt is great!). In fact, I’d be happy to rely on these three outfits for many of my summer activities, even though I’m not in a business/work environment.
I love this post! I love your collages and advice! I do not know what happens to women in Texas in the summer…I think the heat really gets to the majority of them…but for some reason, good choices seem to go out the window!! More pull out the funky capris and enter back into frumpiness than should. There are so many fabulous summer choices, but heat becomes an excuse to avoid them. Sorry to get stirred up…but this has bothered me for the last four or five years. I hope advice and outfit posts like this will be read by those in the hotter zones….you shouldn’t put your style on hold just because it is hot outside!
Men don’t dress differently, really, from winter to summer, other than lighter weight fabrics. Something to think about, no?
I love the third polyvore — the WendyB necklace looks lovely with the paisley skirt. I look forward to more of these summer polyvores as I’m interested in figuring out how to dress nicely in warm weather.
Love your blog! And I really like that you posted great ideas for outfits, rather than a diatribe about what not to wear. Since I only rarely meet with customers (and even then it’s in a computer lab), the first two looks work well my job. The second one especially hits the right note of how to look casual for the casual California computer industry, while at the same time looking professional. I like it.
ooooh such a great post. And I am so guilty lately of letting the bar slip lower and lower.
I work as a grant writer, stuck in a corner of a room mostly filled with storage cabinets. Nobody and I mean nobody cares what I wear to work.
Now, I’m not one to dress in skimpy clothes (I’m a little old for that and besides you could hang meat in our offices they’re so cold) but jeans? yep. I’ll cop to jeans, t-shirt (no logo) and a cardi most days. Sure I throw in some trousers and in the summer an occasional skirt, but I don’t dress nearly as nicely as I did when I first started.
Duchesse -thanks, and I hope they’ll be helpful. We get the cami’s/spaghetti strap dresses too, which IMO crosses the line, but not everyone agrees with us.
LuxeBytes – it’s true, but men have much less variety in their clothing in general.
Rubi – that’s a pet peeve of mine too. We tried to ban them in our workplace, but weren’t successful.
That’s Not My Age – thanks!
hostess – it’s interesting, some of the younger women dress more professionally, some don’t. I’ve decided to try to lead by example. 😉
Patti – thank you!
Susan Tiner – thanks so much! I’m so glad these are helpful. Putting them together gives me ideas too about trying different combinations.
Pearl – you don’t mention your size, but have you tried Talbot’s Women’s Petites? They have some nice looking things on the website.
LPC – thank you, and thank you again for the great thoughts on work wear you’ve posted before. You always inspire me to up my game.
rb – I’ve actually done a couple of posts in the past, kvetching about some of what I see at work (cough*flip-flops-and-strapless-dresses*cough) but I think everyone here is sharp enough to know where not to go.
I haven’t seen them in person, but Talbot’s has some interesting looking blouses now on the website. For very basic but workable blouses, Foxcroft at Nordstroms has a couple of 3/4 sleeve options.
Belle – thanks so much! I don’t know if you noticed, but there’s some Beladora2 earrings in that one…
materfamilias – thanks so much! That paisley skirt really caught my eye too; it’s a very pretty pattern.
Elizabeth – thank you very much! I like the second one too, and it’s probably closest to what I’d choose to wear most often, but I did have fun playing with color too.
Reflections and a Latte – yes, funky jewelry or some interesting shoes or other accessories keep the overall look from edging into Stuffy territory. I do think that when we dress for work, it helps get our minds in the game, sort of like an athlete suits up for competition.
melissadecarlo – that’s a tough situation, but it what you’re wearing sounds neat and put-together. If you don’t have much contact with anyone else, then how you dress becomes a matter of what makes you feel best. Do you find that your attitude is different on days when you dress up a bit more?
I admire your choice of necklaces 😀
I am a grumpy old woman too. I don’t even work in an office any more, but I did for a long time, in a professional or managerial role. When I started out, I wore ONLY skirted suits with pantyhose and heels. By the last few years, I had gone casual, which to me meant pants with a jacket or cardigan over a shell, and flats, heels, or covered-up sandals. I am in the horribly hot climate of Texas, but my concession to summer was just to whip that jacket off the minute I stepped out the door. A sleeveless shell underneath, and lightweight fabric for the pants, worked pretty well.
Pretty much by definition, there are not going to be very many “offenders” reading this blog. Probably all of us know not to wear flip flops and tank tops to the office. But a brief rant anyway, even though I’m preaching to the choir: young women, yes, things are different now than in the “olden days.” But you STILL have to try harder to be taken seriously by men. If you are showing too much skin at work, it is not helping your career one bit. If you look polished, stylish, but businesslike, it reads as serious, capable, a person who can be trusted not to embarrass management at the company picnic! (some day I’ll tell the story of the French girl at our company picnic.) But trust me on this! /Rant over
I so appreciate this post today. I now work in an environment that is far more casual than I have experienced in the past. One of my co-workers, literally, looks like she is going to the beach instead of the office. I do NOT want to fall into the laziness of not caring about my appearance just because the dress code is loose. I love your idea of something soft/casual but paired with a tailored piece. I’m finding for myself, funkier jewelry makes me feel appropriate when I might otherwise look too done up. I want to make the commitment to always look pulled together regardless of my environment. Thanks for your terrific advice.
I want to hear the rant. We have earned the right to be grumpy.
Terri – OK, here’s the short version:
–Rubber flip flops
–Spaghetti strap or even strapless tops or dresses
–Ensembles more appropriate for beach or for “clubbing” than work
–cleavage of the level usually reserved for strip club billboards
WendyB – it’s a stunner of a necklace!
Jill Ann – I agree. I think young women sometimes need to learn that lesson the hard way. In a perfect world it *shouldn’t* matter what we wear and we *should* be judged by the quality of our work alone, but it doesn’t often work that way IRL. I do think Generations X and Y have a different take on what’s appropriate for work, and it will be interesting to see as they age whether they adopt a more formal style or whether their attitude becomes more the norm. In some businesses, some industries and some departments, it already has. But I often wonder if there will be a backlash and we’ll see a return to more professional attire as the norm.
Stacey Kay – thanks!
BTW, I don’t mind a link back to your blog or website, but would prefer you don’t my blog comments to advertise your business. Thanks for your understanding.
Great collages! I love the big shiny red bag paired with that pink cardigan sweater – very fresh!
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Nice choices, Pseu!
Women in my office wear such a range of styles it makes it tough to know what “too” x, y, or z (and I include the female execs in that).
The men don’t wear jackets, so it can feel quite formal to be in one; I seem to be one of the few who likes wearing them! And don’t get me started on trying to figure out how covered my feet should be in summer….
At any rate: I improvise, and am sure I am either under- or overdressed depending on whose standards are applied.
Vix – thanks! I agree, it’s often hard to gauge what’s appropriate when people are dressed all over the map. (Today one of the SVP’s was in the office in a button shirt, a linen blazer and…orange cargo shorts and sandals. I’m not kidding.
Thanks for your astute observations. The “business casual” madness is even worse at universities. Many of my colleagues seem to think that any kind of attention to outer appearances amounts to a lack of seriousness or intellect, ie. the better you look, the dumber you must be. I don’t understand why these people haven’t realized that dressing the same as their 18-year-old students does NOT lend them any kind of intellectual authority.
Anonymous – that’s really a shame. In a way, they’re perpetuating an attitude that won’t serve their students once they get out into the world. I know many people who seem to regard attention to appearance as a sign of “unseriousness” or shallowness, and I see this disproportionately applied to women. Have you checked out some of the other academic style blogs like Rags Against the Machine and Academic Chic? Materfamilias, too, when she does her “what I wore” posts. Proof that looking good and intellectual heft aren’t mutually exclusive!
I really, really love your polyvores! The visuals are wonderful and I so desire to have that je ne sais quois as I get more “experienced”. Sophisticated – not frumpy!!! 🙂