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Dressing up for work: Do you or don’t you?

Categories: Career Talk, Working Women Issues, Your life


When I lived in New York and worked in finance the question of whether or not to dress up for work wasn’t a question: Yes, looking business sharp was a must. I still have a full collection of suits — well, to be honest, I hate suits, so I only have three — blazers (now those I love), shirts and numerous black pants hanging in my closet from those days. The company where I worked didn’t require us to be fully decked out in suits but you wouldn’t see jeans or t-shirts in the office unless it was the middle of the summer and the bosses were definitely out golfing networking.

Since those days we moved to Boston — a much more casual city, I find — and I now work for a software company where the office uniform is jeans with a t-shirt. (For some reason our group, myself included, are also into funky sneakers, which make our workplace uniform even more relaxed andunformal ). For the first few months after I started this job I was happy to work in such a casual environment. Getting dressed for work required a lot less planning and effort than what I was used to and I was really comfortable during the day.

But then something odd happened: I started to miss getting dressed nicer for work. I have absolutely no idea why and it wasn’t like there was a specific incident that brought this on. One day I just woke up and felt like getting dressed up for work. Nothing fancy or too formal, but something other than jeans and a t-shirt. And I’ve kept this up ever since. Don’t get me wrong — on many days, I’ll still wear jeans. But I’ll often pair them with a fun blazer or tailored sweater. If I’m wearing a crazy funky t-shirt, I’ll layer it with a cardigan for a less just-grabbed-this-and-went look. And as much as I still love my growing collection of crazy-colored sneakers (purple and yellow, anyone?) I’ve taken my heels out of their boxes and put them into rotation. I’ve even started wearing skirts to work, which, let me tell you, is not a common practice.

I think getting a bit more dressed up for work helps me feel more put together and ready to deal better with whatever happens in the office. I don’t see it as a chore, more as a fun thing to do every day. C’mon, I might be a tired, under-slept working mom, but inside I’m still a girl who definitely likes clothes. (Obviously I think it is the worst idea ever whenever I have one of those nothing-to-wear days.)

How do you dress for work? Do you work in a very casual or more formal environment?

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6 comments so far...

  • 90% or the time, it’s jammies. 5% of the time, dockers and whatever goes OK with them. 5% of the time, suits.

    I have worked in the whole range of “dress” environments. I feel it’s often easiest to just do what you’re used to. If you’ve put the time into building a workable wardrobe for a professional atmosphere, it can be easier to wear those tried-and-true outfits than to put thought into a new, more casual look. Business “casual” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. You find yourself bellyaching over what shoes and socks are OK, whether you need to tuck in the shirt, etc. If it weren’t for my extreme discomfort in anything binding and in heels, I might choose suits over business casual. There’s less to think about.

    SKL  |  November 7th, 2009 at 9:05 pm

  • There are only 3 of us in my office, so it’s really informal. We are supposed to dress business casual, but during my pregnancy I got away with wearing jeans a lot. Now, I’ve kinda kept the jeans thing going, until recently when I started wanting to dress up more. I feel a little more confident in my work when I make a little more effort in choosing what to wear.

    Joy  |  November 8th, 2009 at 1:18 am

  • Although technically my company has classed my job as an office environment and requires us to wear business casual, I can tell you from direct experience that responding to a small aircraft crash and standing on the flightline for hours in the summer heat in heels and a suit is NOT as practical, workable or comfortable as it looks on TV.

    After that happened (6.5 years ago), I stopped dressing nicely except on days that I knew I had a meeting with colonels and generals. It was jeans all day.

    Unfortunately, I have now been officially designated the deputy flight chief. We have two new “kids” in the office and so, in a show of leadership, I have gone back to dressing up for work. One of these days, I’ll remember to bring jeans and a t-shirt to leave here, along with a pair of combat boots, so that if we do have to respond to a scene and not the Emergency Operations Center, I’ll hopefully have time to change and at least be able to work without thinking about how much my heels are killing my feet and making it hard to run when I need to…

    Phe  |  November 9th, 2009 at 7:27 am

  • While our office has no official dress code, over the years I’ve noticed people moving away from jeans & tees to khakis & polos or jeans and a buttondown. Today I have on a sweater, slacks and my red mary janes. :D (Everyone needs self-expression, mine are in my shoes & socks).

    Mich  |  November 10th, 2009 at 12:36 pm

  • Half and half. We’re in a jeans type development area, but I wear slacks and shoes too. No skirts though, but that’s just me.

    DianaHayes  |  November 10th, 2009 at 6:09 pm

  • I dont dress up for work Im a Nanny and i need comfortable and able to survive projectile vomit. One thing I do like to do though is put on full make-up and mild jewelry. Y es I have jeans and a Tsjirt and my hair is in a ponytail but i my face is fixed even eyeliner and mascara. It gets me feeling good and confident about my day.

    coolnanny  |  November 15th, 2009 at 3:14 am