Reader Request: Dressing Like a Boss

Reader Nicky popped this one in the suggestion box:

I would love if you would do a post on what’s appropriate to wear for the office if you are the boss working in a conservative field. I am a physician, and I love clothes. My taste is somewhat traditional, oftentimes a little edgy, but never slutty. Sometimes I have a hard time deciding if something is not appropriate for me to wear to work because I am the boss, as well as that there are certain expectations about what doctors should wear. I am not talking cleavage or short-short skirts, but things like vibrant color and pattern combinations, skirts with no hose in summer, skinny pants, trouser jeans, knee high boots, skirts above my knee (what length is OK?) Audi’s harnesses, Frye Harness boots, etc.

This is gonna be a stretch for me, friends. I’ve been a boss, but I was the boss of one other worker and we worked together in a creative, business casual environment. Also since I’m not a fan of hard-and-fast style rules, I’ll have to be a bit more vague than Nicky might like. But I’ve a few ideas that might help.

Don’t distract

Clothing itself can broadcast messages about your inner self, as I’ve said approximately 94 trillion times. But if you are in a position of power and want people to focus more on what you’re saying, thinking, or asking of them than how you look on the outside, it’s best to avoid clothing, shoes, and accessories that will distract. Now, some people are distracted by houseplants, so take this advice with a grain of salt and remember that you’re not responsible for anyone else’s attention span. But if you’re wearing earrings the size of grapefruits, a rhinestone-studded shirt, or kelly green patent knee-high platform boots, you may end up having to repeat yourself a bit more than usual.

Generally speaking anything sparkly, super shiny, outsized, neon, extremely tight-fitting, or even remotely costume-y will be at least slightly distracting. And if you think there’s a chance and you’re worried about a certain item, save it for the weekend or Casual Friday.

One daring item at a time

If you’re going to risk distraction with an unusual or attention-grabbing item, color, or texture, just make sure it’s alone in the context of your outfit. Don’t wear the harness AND the harness boots. Don’t wear the bright blouse AND the bright pants. There’s nothing wrong with splashing out and being creative, and daring items will generally figure into those behaviors. But if you want to appear authoritative and need to balance your creativity with your respected boss persona, wearing one unusual or conversation-starting item at a time is a good formula to follow.

Darker is more conservative

Darker, more subdued colors are generally more conservative and authoritarian. If you’ve got a serious meeting, a client that needs impressing, or a sticky work situation to resolve, wearing charcoal, navy, black, maroon, or forest green may work better than wearing scarlet, yellow, cobalt, or purple. Colorful accents are less likely to grab undue attention than colorful garments. Shoes, scarves, belts, and jewelry are great places to play with bold brights. (Bright colors can be powerful, it’s true, but darks are more conservative.)

Try pattern mixing

To be clear, I’m not recommending that conservative doctor boss Nicky do a purple paisley skirt with a red plaid blouse. But small patterns – especially in neutral shades – can mix beautifully with slightly larger, brighter ones for marvelously rich, textured looks. Try a herringbone bottom with a polka-dot top, a pinstripe bottom with a geometric print top. For some great advice, check out Kara’s Pattern Mixing 101.

When in doubt, trust your gut

If you’re a boss working in a conservative field and you’re at all concerned that something might be inappropriate, distracting, or odd, just skip it. You can always consult a colleague or check in with HR for input, but if you’re making the decision on the fly and it’ll just worry you all day long, why take the risk?

Some of you may feel that creative dressing is part of your power, and serves to enrich your authority as a boss. But remember that Nicky is concerned about the messages she’s broadcasting with her clothing and unsure of her choices, as may be other women working in positions of authority. Those of you who feel confident that your daring sartorial choices positively influence your working relationships are in a different position, and quite an enviable one.

Image via J.Crew.
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  • I suggest hopping over to Lisa’s blog called Privilege: http://amidprivilege.com/
    Though she covers a vast array of topics from the point of view of a person brought up in privilege, her sense of style is always spot on as professional and classic.

    • Latha

      I was going to post the link to Lisa’s blog too:)

      • Michelle

        Thirded. 🙂 I’m just trying to break into a conservative field (or two or three…), and I’ve learned so much from her.

        • Oh I love you guys! Of course, I loved you already. But I really appreciate this mention and your support and our shared endeavor. Turns out the timing is really good too. As of this week I’m back at work, managing a team. And loving it.

  • I’m the boss of one person in my day job, but I used to be in charge of a whole department in my other job (politics is fickle, I’m no longer in charge).

    In my day job I wear office smart casual, and in my environment I’m probably on the smarter end of the scale – the department I worked for previously was far more corporate than the one I work in now, but it framed my office wear somewhat. I also like to be different to the day to day me, so I wear neat skirts, i do pattern mix and I keep to darker neutrals by and large.

    In my other role, I’m a bit more creative – its the same industry but a different angle on it, so I can be a bit more me. Certainly the managers were used to me rocking up in knee high boots and interesting skirts!! I try and retain an element of my professional dress for that role, but its a bit more me than the office generally is.

    Certainly noone has ever not listened to me!!

  • Nicky

    Sal,
    Thanks so much for the great advice. I really like the piece about wearing only one item of flash at a time. I have never really thought about that, but I think that’s kind of what I do instinctively.
    I’m also interested to hear feedback from you very astute readers.

  • Lindy Katherine

    Good advice on how to keep it interesting yet professional. I would say NO to the harness in a conservative environment like the doctors office, though. I mean, it’s a harness.

    • Sal

      Just using it as an example since Nicky asked. And, for the record, a harness worn under a blazer just looks like a high-waisted belt!

    • Sasha

      I’m with Lindy on the harness (unless, I guess, it’s under a blazer and doesn’t look like a harness — but why wear something so cool, only to obscure it?). I’d be freaked out if my doctor rolled up to an appointment in a harness. Just my two cents!

      (This is not to say that Audi’s harnesses are not BEAUTIFUL, and I’m sure Nicky looks great in them — just too evocative of S&M to be appropriate in a doctor’s office, in my opinion.)

  • My boss (a man, whose wife picks nice clothes for him) pattern mixes all the time. Patterned ties with striped shirts, or maybe a pinstripe suit with a check shirt. That’s a totally acceptable stylin’ thing for a man boss to do, so I think that Sal’s on the mark with that one.

    The thing that I think differentiates me from boss-people is texture. Bosses never wear much texture, unless it’s the subtle tweediness of one of those multi thousand dollar St. John ladysuits that are so popular here in the South. Boss-clothes are smooth and tightly woven hard shells, while in my dress-up I might wear things that are corduroy, or soft knit.

  • Angela

    I am not a boss but work in a conservative business (banking), although in back office so my clients are other bankers.

    I kind of adopt a couple of rules:

    What does your boss wear? Mine is conservative so I don’t do anything too freaky

    One quirky piece at a time, so a loud blouse or red boots under a jacket or black pants, but not together.

    If you ran into the director/senior manager/CEO or equivalent, would you wish you had something else on? Then you shouldn’t wear it to work 🙂

    Sometimes when I am not sure I ask myself the CEO question. Solves the dilemma every time

  • Oh how I wish a few people in my clients office would read this. All of your suggestions make sense to me. It doesn’t have to be boring, but professional if that’s the kind of work environment you are in.

    There are a couple of women who aren’t my boss, but are fairly senior in their office and I am constantly distracted by their clothing. The person inside is lost in clothing that is too tight, skirts that need to be 2″ shorter, blouses that need one more button done up (or less gapping from being too tight), and shoes that look more evening formal or beach attire (flip flops are still flip flops even if they have rhinestone detail) than office wear.

    • ah, that would be 2″ longer, the skirts are too short.

  • Bubu

    I am a lawyer in a small firm, not the boss/owner, but definitely in some level of an authority position. Our office is small and pretty informal, so most days I can push the boundaries a little and be creative in my dress. But I am conscious when I have a client meeting, especially with a new client, that clients want their lawyer to look like a lawyer (especially in a down economy). So then I go more conservative, or even a suit for an off-site meeting. I also think you can get away with more bold if there is more polish, and at a short height I am always aware of not overwhelming myself with pattern anyway. I also think shoes are key: today’s outfit is pretty conservative, but i threw in grey suede ankle booties to change things up a bit, if I needed to go more formal I’d wear pumps and the whole thing would read more traditional. There is also the power aspect: I love a floral sundress, but it is not the most empowering clothing item in the world, so I save those for no-client, summer days.

  • Francesca

    I’ve always admired the sartorial choices of my kids’ pediatrician, who, although fairly young (guessing late 30’s) and quite slim & petite (5’2″), manages to look both relaxed yet thoroughly professional in her clothing choices. She usually wears dresses or knee-length skirts (at most, hemmed 2-inches above kneecap) with a kitten heel or knee-high boots, rarely pants though when she does they are non-jeans/corduroy, quality fabric in full length trouser styles. I noticed that while she may occasionally wear jersey dresses and wool turtlenecks, she never wears knit tops/tees (she favors softly tailored blouses) nor does she don cardigans. Her jackets tend to be distinctive yet relaxed (think J Crew schoolboy or Bella), not matching suit-jackets. She favors sheath dresses, usually in a tweedy or luxurious textured fabric, or if printed, a sophisticated geometric, not a floral pattern. Overall the picture is one of relaxed but smart-casual polish (kind of like a teacher, sans cardigans & full skirts, with more structured pieces). I also noticed she wears comfortable but distinctive shoes (equestrian boots, heeled loafers, solid heeled pumps with interesting buckle or detail).

    However, the key is that while she is current, she eschews of-the-moment trends. So no leopard anything, booties with short hemlines, jeans with dressed up tops. Gosh, as I’m writing this, I’m beginning to think I need to emulate her style more!

    • GingerR

      That describes several female physicians I’ve seen.
      If they’re in the office it’s almost always a low heel, stockings and a nice looking outfit. A Physician should look clean and be prepared for messes so the outfits usually aren’t ultra-pricey or hard to clean.

      It’s a different story if you see them in a hosptial since they’ve all got uniforms on.

  • I manage half a dozen people and regularly represent my company at meetings and conferences. I think your advice is pretty great. I do find that wearing color helps the situation – you are more memorable, and the choice of color can actually make you seem more powerful or commanding.

    I recently met with a new client – me & my assistant. I was wearing a standard first client meeting outfit – black suit & pumps, an interesting necklace that brought color & interest. I had to go through a metal detector and forgot to put my necklace back on. My assistant was wearing a gray blazer, purple shell, black pants. The new client automatically gravitated towards my assistant, asking HER the questions, almost completely ignoring me until I had to set her straight. I think it was completely based upon color – people are naturally drawn to it!

    My director is highly respected in his field (and in our company), he wears classic dark suits, but always with a pop of color with his shirts and ties. He is remembered for his style, while still always looking relatively conservative and always appropriate.

  • Stacy

    Great suggestions! I have a few other rules of thumb I apply. If I want to be more daring in skirt length, I’ll keep the color conservative (shorter black skirt). If I want to wear a brighter color, I’ll keep the length conservative (below-the-knee turquoise embroidered skirt). Skirt length also dictates bare legs/tights for me, in that shorter skirts are worn with tights to minimize skin exposure.

    I’m looking forward to seeing the tips other women provide.

  • In addition to Lisa’s Amid Privilege blog, your reader may want to check out Corporette (http://corporette.com/), which describes itself as “a fashion and lifestyle blog for overachieving chicks”–including doctors and bosses.

    • Lobbyist

      I love Corporette too.

    • I agree. It’s a great website and the commentariat is full of smart and clever people.

  • Sonia

    No sleeveless. No capris. Nothing too frilly or too flowy.

    I’m currently navigating the waters of dressing for being the assistant to the second-in-command of a very large organization, and I try to take cues from her. I can’t afford her fabulous suits, but I follow her lead in any other way that I can.

  • Lynn

    I think the age of the patients makes a great difference. Pediatricians can wear brighters colors and more fun things, but if the patients are elderly they will be put off by this. It is not about changing who you are, but remembering that the goal is helping patients to hear what you have to say. The doctors in my family also find that softer fabrics are a good idea.

  • Miss T

    My personal physician, who is the “boss” of her own solo practice (internal medicine and family practice), routinely wears extremely casual clothes: cargo pants and sandals, t-shirts, bright colors, etc. I am very comfortable around her and I would say she is usually dressed far less formally than I am when I visit. She’s an EXCELLENT doctor who has a waiting list a mile long (in fact, I don’t think she accepts new patients any more). Here’s the thing: her personality matches her clothing, and vice-versa. In other words, she IS exactly who she APPEARS to be, which is very different than “adopting a persona” of authority. Her authority and power are evident but reflected by things other than her clothing; i.e., she is confident, authoritative, competent, and fair in her dealings and her clothing has nothing to do with how these characteristics are perceived by her patients. Being this “real” may not be the route everyone can or wants to take with their style, but does indicate that the effect of clothing does have its limits in terms of influence on others.

    • Miss T

      My son’s pediatrician (a woman), in contrast, is always dressed extremely formally, as are the other pediatrician (male and female) at that practice. And honestly, I feel quite put off by it it, or maybe ill-at-ease is a better way of saying it. In that environment, I feel a distance between me and the doctors. They might think that their “power” attire exudes “authority” but the effect on me, as a parent of the patient, is one of distance and excessive formality, which is not conducive to the kind of communication you need between doctor and patient. In fact, I complimented our pediatricians outfit the other day (she did have on some very cute cuffed pants) and she was momentarily FLOORED by the compliment and she seemed to totally lose her concentration (she’s only 36). This told me that she is still struggling with her perceived authority rather than just relating to people — as people. Again, nothing to do with her skills as a physician, she’s great, but I think her the “persona of authority” she is choosing to reflect is at odds with whoever she is on the inside. So again, maybe best to just dress to reflect who you are.

      • Nicky

        Miss T,
        Your point is exactly what I was wondering about. For me, physicians kind of have a different standard for dress. Although it is a conservative environment, it is not really a corporette environment either. I would never feel comfortable wearing a suit to see patients–it’s just not who I am personally. I like to have a little bit of distinctiveness to my outfits, and sometimes I just wonder where the line is.
        I think teachers may have a comparable set of standards as physcians.

        • Jen

          My goodness, how I wish that were true. I’ve worked in elementary schools and private preschools, and the dress code goes from smart casual to way too casual, in my opinion. I appreciate the freedom to be able to wear jeans, shorts, t-shirts because yeah, my work can be messy. However, I don’t think spaghetti strap shirts, old t-shirts that look like your husband’s castoffs, huge sweatshirts and sweatpants, or cheap flip-flops are ever work appropriate. And yet I see these things almost daily. The receptionist who is the first person potential parents see is always wearing a huge sweatshirt and sweatpants with tennis shoes. I want to shout at her, really, did you not have time to get dressed this morning? On the other hand, my director is always smartly dressed business casual in case she has to help out in a classroom. I’m somewhere in between. I decided my dresses and skirts are just as washable as my jeans and cords, so dang it, I’ll wear them when I want to. And ignore the funny looks my coworkers give me because I’m “so dressed up today”.

          I’m of mixed opinions about my doctors and the way they dress. My regular doctor, lady doctor, sleep doctor, and psychiatrist are all older gentlemen. The most non-conservative thing I’ve seen them in is a suit with a patterned tie. And I have to admit, it does make me feel like they’re very professional. But it also makes the divide apparent, especially if I’m coming from work and a kid may have wiped PB&J all over my shirt. My counselor, on the other hand, is an older woman, and she wears these cotton matching sets that ladies of a certain age tend to wear. While not as professional, it makes me feel more comfortable to really open up, which is her job, after all. And she mentioned that she tries not to dress too high brow because she has low-income clients. Which I think is a very thoughtful thing to do.

          Finally, I think the doctors on Private Practice have got the doctor dress nailed. They all look professional, well dressed, but they manage to add flair–one of the men might wear a purple button up shirt, one of the women might wear a patterned dress and long necklace. They look professional but individual.

    • Sal

      REALLY good points, Miss T. That kind of authenticity can really work for certain authority figures.

      • On the other hand, I would like to see a *little* authority in my doctors! One of the female pediatricians in my child’s office routinely wears 4-inch stilettos with huge flower details, short and flouncy pink skirts and 7 necklaces–at the same time. I feel like I”m hitting a ladies-who-lunch spot, not like I’m in a professional office!

        But one of those things at a time? Totally cute.

  • Jess

    This is all great advice, though I confess I am always sad to see the word ‘slutty’ applied to certain clothing choices.

    • Meshell

      Seconded. For a blog that promotes acceptance, I was hoping to see Sal respond to slut-shaming. I understand if Nicky potentially meant provacative clothing, but the use of slut is extremely relativistic and a poor choice of words. We have far better words to describe teddies than “slut.”

    • Michelle

      I second that about seeing “slutty” applied to certain clothing choices! I was wondering whether I’m the only one who feels that way, so thank you for speaking up.

      I do think there are great observations here, and some great advice.

      • Sal

        Hi. I try to post my reader requests verbatim when I can, typically only editing for length. I will see if I can get Nicky to clarify. Based on my conversation with her, I believe it’s safe to assume she simply meant revealing/inappropriate for a conservative work environment.

        If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you’ll know that I don’t use the words “slut” or “slutty” as derogatory terms. Here are all of my posts containing the word, most of which are links to articles about slut-shaming: http://www.alreadypretty.com/?s=slut

        • Nicky

          Sorry for the offense. I simply was looking for a term to that would quickly sum up my point without being overly verbose. I just wanted to get the point across that I understand that cleavage and micro minis aren’t appropriate for my work place, but that I wanted to know about things that are more in the gray area.

          • Melissa

            @ Nicky,

            I get your point, but by using “slutty”, you’re endorsing the idea that sluts and women who have “lots” of sex look a certain way, and that way is skimpily dressed. I’m not trying to be nitpicky and I mean this with much respect, but sometimes it’s better to be a little wordy than to perpetuate dangerous stereotypes.

  • one daring item at a time is a great rule. you want to dress like yourself while still being appropriate for work.

  • I agree largely with your comments, Sal.

    I am also a physician who also supervises a number of people on my team. I am also a pediatrician which allows me to really embrace more color and whimsicality in my wardrobe.

    I find if I feel confident, I am more effective at my job, at connecting with kids and parents and my colleagues. I wouldn’t feel great without color so I wear it all the time; you would maybe catch me in an all neutral outfit maybe 1-2 times a month at most, and I don’t feel like myself in them. I don’t go crazy but if there’s a bold color you love in a piece that is work appropriate and flattering, go for it.

    As far as distraction, a little distraction can sometimes be a good thing. Making people smile from my clothing can be a way to connect, especially I find working with teenagers. It makes you approachable. A little whimsy ( a funky shoe, a crazy scarf print, a necklace of pink elephants) can be just the thing sometimes.

    • My GYN, a very attractive, stylish woman in her early 50s, has a great shoe collection and often wears lovely “statement” jewelry. On one of my first visits to her, at a time when I was having some serious lady-parts problems, I complimented her sandals and, in thanking me, she told me how comfy they were, what brand, and where she bought them. We had a little bonding moment over shoes and it made me feel really comfortable with her.

      Obviously not all women care about clothes, but I think that her wearing eye-catching accessories that her patients might notice and comment on probably helps those who do build up a bit of rapport in a situation where they may be in pain, anxious, etc.

  • I think these suggestions are great, as usual Sal! And I totally agree with your one bold/funky item at a time rule. It can be temptiong to go all out but when you need to be professional and seen as the boss you need to keep in mind that people look at your attire and then tend to lower the standards a little for their own dress. If you are already pushing the envelope a little they will push even more and something that seemed alright suddenly isn’t. – Katy

  • Nebraskim

    My doctor, who is from India, can pull off a slightly ethnic look. She also always wears the white jacket over her “street clothes.” I would say she is conservative (below the knee length skirts with blouses or shirts), but often wears muted prints and colors. As in, she wears red but it’s not vibrant. If it were paint, it would be red with black mixed in rather than white. (Do you all get that idea?) She wears bangles and jewelry but that’s her look because it’s kind of part of her cultural background. I like that about her. I want my doctor to look professional and part of that look is to be polished but also authentic. I would look like a poser in her clothes because I’m Indian. That’s not to say that all people from India must dress like that, but she pulls this look off quite well.

    My mom’s doctor, a man, is always very smartly dressed in well-tailored, expensive suits, etc. He doesn’t wear the “greens” and “scrubs.” I find this to be reassuring. He is confident but not in a “show off” manner. His clothing, to me, oozes professionalism. If he is going to hold my mom’s life in his hands, I want him to be on top of his game in every aspect of his life. If he showed up for a consult in cargo pants and a polo shirt, I know they would at least be very high quality, pressed and crisp. It indicates to me that he sweats every detail.

    I know everyone brings her up, but I find Michelle Obama to be sort of the “poster woman” of how to dress professionally but not frumpy. I know she has a stylist but she also knows what looks good on her and what’s appropriate for her events. She dresses with confidence and authority but never in a way that is off-putting (at least to me.)

  • rb

    I have been a boss for a long time in a conservative field (finance) and I agree with your advice, Sal. Dark colors are great, and express your inviduality one piece at a time. Try to always choose classic items that don’t look cheap.

    However, unlike what I have read about academia, we in more conservative business fields don’t need to eschew femininity. Skirts, beautiful shoes with heels (but only those that you can confidently walk in) and classic jewelry are all good. Just don’t pile it on and you’ll be OK.

    Conveying authority goes beyond dressing. Gossiping is not good for your image. I would also say eating at your desk is a bad idea because it seems messy.

  • LE

    My doctors and my children’s doctors always wear a white coat over their clothes, which I think lends the air of “professional” without being off-putting. What I find distracting is cleavage and impractical footwear. Not flashy shoes, just shoes that look uncomfortable to walk and stand in all day. It makes me wonder if the person is more concerned with appearances than practicalities.
    As others pointed out, the important thing about a doctor is the relationship she or he forms with patients, so presenting a comfortable, confident and authentic self has more impact than any particular item of clothing. The other thing I would add is that it helps if the doctor dresses to express respect for the patient: a balance between “serious” and “approachable.”

  • jules

    Anh at http://www.9to5chic.com is always perfectly dressed. Not boss-specific, but a great set of examples for a baby step above business casual.

    Love your blog Sal!

  • so

    Sally I think your suggestions are spot on. I work in a conservative legal environment, but the dress code is business-casual. I love bright colors and pattern mixing and funky twists of classics, and I’d like to think I’m doing them in a professional way where people still take me seriously. I think “brights” like jewel tones or saturated primary colors, in a classic silhouette, are totally work appropriate. If the shape is unusual, like an a-symmetrical piece, or there’s an unusual structural element (i.e. applique) then I usually will only buy it/wear it to work if it’s a neutral sort of color. I may not really know what I’m doing, or talking about, but I’m trying to learn from Sally here, and Kat at Corporette. I’m tracking my progress at http://dressipsaloquitur.blogspot.com/ and welcome suggestions as well.

  • LG

    Maybe writing this post was a stretch for you, but it didn’t seem like it to me! Your writing makes a ton of sense! :0)

  • Kookoo

    I’m a big proponent for structure, linings, and conventional shoes for female bosses. Although I no longer have a supervisory position in an office, I think that the public definately looks for a vibe of authority which can’t be established with a avant-garde ensemble or breathtaking platform. That still encompasses sharp leather boots, layered outfits, and striking accessories, so long as balance and a mirror is at hand. Plus, no scuffs, worn hems, pulls, pinned necklines, or frizzy/ wet hair! Color is perfectly acceptable and welcome, along with knees, bare or covered, so long as panty lines, bra straps, and stains are nowhere to be seen.

  • STL Mom

    This reminds me of a story which isn’t really about being about the boss, but is about appearing professional AND knowing your audience:
    My cousin is a lawyer and once had to go to court in front of a judge she had never met. She asked around and heard that he was old-fashioned, didn’t like female lawyers, and really didn’t like female lawyers who wore pants.
    She decked herself out in a vintage, pink skirted suit and a string of pearls. The judge complimented her on her outfit, and they got along just fine. I’m not a lawyer, so I’m not sure how appropriate it is for a judge to comment on your clothes from the bench, but it sure worked out well for my cousin!

  • Krista

    Great post and, in my opinion, spot on.
    I’m a Vice-Principal in a high school and I would say that my wardrobe choices need to be fairly conservative most of the time as I frequently meet with parents and other education professionals and I don’t want to be a distraction. That being said, I do enjoy being a creative dresser, so I generally allow myself to dress a little more creatively on Fridays. This is when I might wear dark-wash jeans, boots and a bright top or sweater or even skinny pants (NOT leggings), funky top and cute shoes. Trust me, I need to be able to move quickly at a moment’s notice, so my outfit is not so cute that I look like an idiot running down the hallway to address an emergency! I still feel professional in what I’m wearing, but I feel Fridays are an opportunity to show a little more of my true self without being inappropriate. It’s a treat that I allow myself as, in all honesty, by Fridays I cannot bear to wear nylons and a skirt or dress pants any longer. 🙂

  • Kris

    I think I need a herringbone skirt and a polka dot blouse now… 🙂

    I love your advice, especially the idea of adding patterns in neutrals or dark jewel tones. I’ll have to try that, as I’m not really a pattern-wearer.

  • Shaye

    Dressing for work is such a dicey subject for me. Most of the time I just wear whatever I feel like (the only dress code rules at my office are no shorts, no micro-minis, no strappy tanks, and no slogan tees) but it can be hard to judge what’s appropriate. I live and work in Portland, which is a notoriously casual city anyway, and my work genuinely doesn’t seem to care one way or another what I wear. We are encouraged to dress up exactly four times a year, when the board is in town. Even our executives imported from East Coast end up loosening it up after a few weeks on the job. Last summer I stressed about what to wear to a meeting with a new manager who was not in my actual chain of command, only to arrive to find him wearing jeans and a short-sleeved plaid shirt that showed his tattoos.

    Still, I’m trying to get more responsibility at work, so – dress for the job you want, right? Most of the time, I’m one of the most dressed-up people in the room, even if I’m just wearing a jersey skirt. (Although, how do you judge that in formality against a dude in a kilt? I’m not even kidding.) I’ve definitely been making difference choices about what I buy (natural fibers for the win!), which has translated into more mature outfits, while still keeping a sense of style and whimsy. But, not gonna lie, some mornings I wake up, think, “Screw it, I don’t have anything on my calendar today,” and throw on jeans, a graphic tee, and a cardigan.

  • Lina

    I think that it’s true that doctors and teachers are in something of the same boat when it comes to dressing to convey authority. The standards just aren’t the same as the corporate world. I’m a professor and I would stick out like the proverbial sore thumb if I wore a business suit or the blouse/pumps/hose/skirt combos I see on women working downtown. And though it depends on the doctor I’m seeing (specialist vs. ob/gyn vs. GP), I tend to be uncomfortable around too polished, suit-wearing doctors, as if they’re trying too hard. This is entirely personal, though, and I can understand that others might be reassured by it.

    It’s taken me several years, but I’ve finally come up with a few academic “uniforms” that work for me and that I could imagine translating into the patient consult. The first is a structured pencil skirt and boots (with tights) topped by some sort of looser knit (usually a scoop neck shirt plus cardigan with an interesting detail). The second uniform I routinely wear is jeans, cords, or textured cotton pants (also plus boots) paired with a structured blazer (finewale corduroy, slubby, cotton, pinstriped) and either a knit shirt or button down shirt underneath. No matter what the uniform, I usually add in a colorful scarf (I have many) and often a necklace. The main standard I apply to my work wear is “mix dressy with casual”; I’ve found that I feel more like a professor if there’s some texture and natural fibers in my outfits rather than the smoothy, shiny, seemingly-impermeable surfaces of business-wear. I used to feel weird about wearing jeans or cords to teach and for years would miserably wear these black and gray pairs of synthetic-fabric dress pants. And I’m sure I seemed as uncomfortable as I felt, as if I were wearing a costume. The thing that I’ve finally realized is that the things that make me appear more professorial and authoritative are 1) the flattering shapes of my outfits (the perfectly-fitting jeans and the right heel height on my boots) 2) thoughtfully-chosen accessories 3) an air of confidence and comfort in my own body.
    As a final note, I had always thought that I dressed according to the “one statement piece” rule, but now that I think of it, some of my favorite outfits do make use of both kick-ass boots, crocheted tights, and a large scarf. But these are all in neutral colors, so the overall effect isn’t overwhelming.

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  • Lizzy

    I am a pharmaceutical representative and I typically dress differently from my coworkers. I have been known to wear harness boots to work with dresses, and most of my co workers wear ill fitting suits. Not that I am trying to gain attention by dressing as I would like, but I feel more comfortable and confident through out the day. I love walking into offices and seeing other physicians dressed in a similar fashion. I do not feel that I am looked down on and no one seems bothered by my clothing choices. I do only wear one “flashy” piece at a time, like if I am going to wear pink booties I will wear a modest black dress with black tights, or if I am going to wear a vintage dress I will make sure my shoes are conservative. I feel like my clothing matches my personality, so I go with what I think is ok. Although edgy, I am still conservative.

  • I think you are so right. Great advice! If you want to get a promotion look around and see how the people holding that position dress. You dont have to be your boss’s clone just but you will see who they take seriously. Then just infuse a little bit of your style and just like that you will get the right kind of attention.

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