Office Casual Done Right

What does “business casual” attire mean? Does it mean it’s okay to rock your faded jeans and flip-flops to work? The short answer is no -- informal work gear isn’t the same thing as weekend wear.

“I think one of the challenges with a casual work environment is that there’s no real dress code, especially for women. It can be confusing,” says style consultant Natalie Jobity, author of Frumpy to Fabulous: Flaunting It. Your Ultimate Guide to Effortless Style. “People end up wearing what they wear everywhere else. But you can’t interpret office casual as just being casual. You are at work, so you should be dressing with the intent of business.”

As the owner of Elan Image Management in Columbia, MD, Jobity regularly works with employees in the Washington, DC area to find workplace wardrobe solutions. “Consider what your whole image is saying,” she says. “Many employees wear things because they think they can get away with it, but there is still the issue of professionalism: Do you look professional?” To clear up the “office casual” confusion, Jobity offers this list of do’s and don’ts:

Don’t go beachy. Flip-flops, strapless maxi dresses and shorts are absolutely out, no matter how informal your workplace is. “You’re not dressing for the beach or hanging out at a club with your friends,” says Jobity. “Some trends may be cool for a casual setting but not for a business setting, even if it’s a casual environment.”

Do think slacks. Nicely pressed chinos or khakis with a blouse or sweater and flats are comfortable but still set a professional tone.

Don’t confuse leggings for pants. Although they can work in an office environment, wearing them with a too-short top is a fashion faux pas. “It’s showing too much of the leg and the thighs and the butt. It’s too much for work,” says Jobity. “The best way to think of leggings is as opaque tights - then you won’t go wrong.”

Do pair leggings with a below-the-knee sweater dress or a tunic long enough to cover your rear. Add boots for a trendy, yet totally office-appropriate look.

Don’t be revealing. Bare midriffs, shoulders and cleavage say “weekend,” not “work,” and visible bra straps look sloppy in the workplace.

Do stick with work clothes that fit well without being too tight and that don’t show too much skin.

Don’t be distressed. Even if jeans are okay in your office, frayed or acid-washed pairs are for after-hours only.

Do wear dark-wash denim with no rips, paired with a twinset or a top and cardigan.

Don’t pile on the bling. Leave the glittery tops and rhinestones at home, along with bangle sets or other noisy accessories.

Do show off your office chic with neutral colors or a bright top under a black or navy jacket and slacks. Keep jewelry simple -- a cuff bracelet or chunky necklace will make an outfit stand out in all
by Karyn D. Collins