Unless you work in an ultra-conservative office, the idea of acceptable workwear has definitely shifted in recent years. Jeans are often allowed, suits aren’t always necessary, and it’s not the end of the world for women to wear open-toed shoes. That said, it’s still work you’re going to every day—not a nightclub—and should be treated as such. After all, you’re there for your skills, not your clothes. Even if you work in a freewheeling creative environment or in a style-savvy office, there are still certain fashion choices that should never be worn at work.
Plus—let’s get serious for a sec—when we start a job, most of us will sign a contract that includes the phrase “at-will employment,” which means that technically, your boss can fire you if she or he doesn’t like your outfit that day. Of course, it’s rare that that’ll happen without several notices, but contractually speaking, it is a possibility.
The thing is, for better or worse, our clothes speak volumes about who we are, and they contribute to other people’s perception of our professionalism. Even if you’re a Harvard-educated scientist, odds are colleagues will still take you more seriously in a blouse and a pair of slim pants rather than denim cutoff shorts and a pair of flip flops, or a skintight minidress and stilettos. Those have their rightful places, but work isn’t one of them. Plus, while we’re on our boss’ watch, we’re representing the company for which we work, and should always look like it.
We understand you want to stand out, but there are ways to do it that are 100% appropriate for the workplace. Among them: experimenting with separates in bold colors, adding statement jewelry, and tailoring your clothes to fit like a glove.
So, in the interest of keeping that paycheck coming, here are nine fashion choices that could get you fired.
1. Anything that’s so short you wouldn’t look out of place in Vegas.
We’ve seen it happen: A female employee walks into the office one day in shorts so tiny, the bottom of her butt is visible, and we haven’t forgotten it since.
Skirts, dresses, and—in some cases—tailored shorts are okay for the office but always keep your hemlines fairly modest (read: classy). That’s not to say you need to cover yourself up like mummy, but keeping your hem a few inches above the knee if you like things on the shorter side is the way to go. Save the miniskirts, bodycon dresses, and short-shorts for cocktail hour. Yes—even in the winter when you’re wearing tights.
2. Anything that has a plunging neckline, anything sheer, anything backless, anything strapless, anything with spaghetti straps, anything with a halter top.
Ladies, let’s reason with ourselves for a second: why would you feel the need to show up to the office in anything that shows more skin that a basic sleeveless blouse? It looks like you’re begging for attention, and you’ll get it—but not the kind you want. Wearing super-skimpy tops will invariably make you an easy target for office gossip from both men and women, which will almost always overshadow your work.
Yes, we know plenty of magazines suggest wearing silky little camis to the office, but we suggest swapping them for a silky crewneck tank or sleeveless button-down instead. Is it really that important to wear something that looks like pajamas? A good rule of thumb: Skip anything that requires a strapless bra, a plunging bra, a visible, or—yikes!—no bra.
3. Anything overly trendy or flashy.
Unless you work in a fashion office and you’ve seen your boss do it, it simply doesn’t pay to wear super-trendy stuff—nobody else will get it, and you’ll just look inappropriate. Unfortunately, in most standard offices, things like crop tops, blingy sequin skirts, overalls, tight leather pants, over-the-knee stiletto boots, and ripped boyfriend jeans are a no-go.
Instead, play with trends that are more suited to office life than nightlife, such as thick-heeled pumps, printed blazers, high-waist trousers, full circle skirts, and wide-leg culottes in a solid color.
4. Anything that screams casual.
We love Birkenstocks, flip-flops, yoga pants, denim cutoffs, flannel shirts, Nike trainers, and sweatpants-as-pants as much as the next fashion follower, but unless your office is really casual—as in work-from-home casual—save ‘em for the weekend.
5. Anything that you’d wear as part of a Halloween costume.
Fishnet stockings, we’re looking at you. Other offenders: leg warmers, feather boas, crazy hats, and anything vinyl.
6. Any beauty looks that are more rooted in fashion than business.
Did you know that some ultra-conservative offices have restrictions when it comes to the color nail polish women can wear? Even if your office isn’t quite as strict, trendy beauty choices like dying your hair blue if you weren’t hired with blue hair, bright orange talon nails, wild green eye makeup, and neon lipstick don’t have a place in most typical offices.
While you might think you’re just expressing yourself, these choices will make you stand out for the wrong reasons, and could diminish your credibility with older (and less cool, obviously!) folks around the office who may think of you as “that weird girl in marketing.”
7. Anything that shares info about your hygiene habits or causes people to smell you from three feet away.
People at work don’t need to know you took a shower before coming in, so always—always—dry your hair before coming to work. Even if you think it’s okay, wet hair in public can rub people the wrong way. It looks sloppy, and too personal.
Another don’t: Going heavy on the perfume—that’s a big one. A modest spritz is fine, but it’s inappropriate to douse yourself in a scent—even if it’s expensive—that your colleagues have to smell all day long. Smells are relative: How would you feel if your cubicle-mate splashed himself in Drakkar Noir every day?
8. Anything that shows your thong underwear.
This is wildly inappropriate for obvious reasons. Co-workers (or anyone in public, really) should never have to see your underwear because your pants are too low or too tight.
9. Anything you’d wear to a wedding, a nightclub, or on a tropical vacation.
Love the way that strapless animal-print dress looks on you? Great! Wear it out on Saturday night, not to the office on Monday morning. Love that flowing maxi dress and straw hat? Wear it to the beach this weekend. Same goes for dresses that you’d wear to a wedding—not okay for work.