Every weekday morning I stand in front of my closet, coffee mug in hand, completely baffled about what to wear to work. When I finally make a decision (at the last possible moment) I leave behind a disaster zone—clothes and hangers cover nearly every inch of my closet, my bedroom and sometimes even my dog.
I have a problem. I know that. But I don’t think I’m alone. I can’t be the only one questioning every outfit choice I make: Is this sweater too casual? Am I showing too much skin? Does this dress seem formal or does it cross into cocktail? The list goes on and on. Not only does my indecision make me late, it means I come home from a long day’s work to a room that’s a mess. Does this sound familiar? We need help!
To help what is, and is not, appropriate in the work environment, we asked an expert, Belle of Capitol Hill Style, a “fashion blog for professional women who don’t want to sacrifice their sense of style for professional success.” I think we’re all familiar with DC’s terrible reputation for being too conservative and boring. If you live here, you know this is sometimes far from the truth, but other times DC women need a push in the right direction. Belle does an amazing job inspiring women in the DC area to, as she says, “strive for excellence in their career and their closet.“
We asked Belle a few basic questions to help lay out the various work dress codes, along with a few helpful tips to help make your outfit selection easier in the morning. For those of you who have just graduated from college, those looking to advance in your careers, or for some who just flat out don’t know what to wear to work, like me, Belle offered some wonderful guidance.
Can you help define the typical work dress terms?
Business Casual: Jeans are allowed, but everything else in the outfit better be business attire. Casual dresses and trousers, preferred.
Small Business Casual: Unfortunately, in practice, small businesses often allow their employees to wear awful things to work. In my experience, this is just casual attire (jeans with tees, shorts with polos, flip-flops). Just because it’s a small business doesn’t mean it is not still a business.
Smart Casual: Stylish casual. A sweater and jeans will not be enough. You better bring some game with that denim.
Business Formal: Suits most days, structured dresses on some days. High heels or structured flats only, open toes if it’s allowed. Keep things traditional.
Business Professional: A little more relaxed than formal. The kind of office where wearing cardigans instead of blazers is fine. There will still be days when you need a suit.
Can you give us some tips on how to dress for an interview?
Unless it’s Google/Facebook, wear a suit. Simple blouse. Simple jewelry. Wear nylons (better safe than sorry). 3″ heels or lower. Neutral makeup. No perfume. You are looking to make as little of a splash as possible with your clothes unless you’re interviewing in an arena (fashion, P.R, etc.) where your attire is an extension of your job.
What would be the best outfit for your first day?
Something comfortable, a structured sheath dress perhaps. If you’re not wearing a jacket or sweater, bring one. You don’t know what the temperature will be like in the office. Wear comfortable shoes, you may end up walking around to meet people.
What are the do’s and dont’s to wear for Casual Friday?
I see so many Casual Friday faux pas. Women in shorts. Women in beachy sandals (esp. with chipped toenail polish). Dresses that are too short. Clothes that aren’t ironed or even washed. Speaking of which, I hate when employees show up on Friday with dirty hair or unshowered. Just because you can dress down your clothes, that doesn’t mean you can slouch on hygiene.
Dos for casual Friday include dark denim, structured blazers, printed blouse, long sleeve shift dresses, voluminous scarves and dry shampoo.
What’s appropriate to wear to an evening work event?
Your cocktail attire for work should be knee length, it should not be too tight, too low cut or have sequins. I prefer matte fabrics to shiny ones like satin. Have it tailored so it looks amazing, and choose something that really reflects your taste in colors and style, but keep it somewhat conservative.
For a business dinner, I like a structured dress like Black Halo, MM LaFleur, Rebecca Taylor, etc. Comfortable high heels and a hairdo that can go all day.
What’s your go to piece in your closet?
I love a long sleeve dress. Add a big necklace, a fun scarf, a stack of bracelets and some nice shoes, and you are done. No thinking required.
What are staple items that you pack when traveling for business?
I like long coats with printed shirts (Zara usually has 3/4 length jackets). I wear them with pencil skirts or jeans. I never forget structured dresses, because they go from day to night. And I always bring my hot rollers.
We hope this article is helpful whether it’s for an interview, work event or just planning your perfect weekday work wear!
Michelle & Sarah