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On the Job: Seven Rules for Doing “Casual Dress” in the Office

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Casual Friday is no longer just a “Friday” thing at many organizations today.

Not only are companies large and small– from start-ups to advertising agencies– embracing a casual uniform, but previously conservative companies are shedding their power suits and button downs, even listing casual dress as an employee benefit in a job description. Jeans are a commonplace staple of many work wardrobes. And who’s to say that, in those industries, that’s a bad thing?

Here, though, is a pitfall that But some people disregard the casual dress code to mean no dress code at all, so here are a few rules of thumb to consider as you scan your closet looking for something to wear to work.

7 Rules of Casual Dress:

  1. Work is not the club. If you’ve ever worn it to the club, or have thought about wearing it to the club, it is not office-appropriate. It doesn’t matter if you put a camisole underneath it or a jacket over it.
  2. Work is not the beach. If a dress has ever been used as a beach cover-up, or you’ve worn those shorts over your bathing suit, then the look is likely too casual, see-through or short for work. Save these items for making sand castles!
  3. Work is not the gym. T-shirts, sweatshirts, yoga pants and running sneakers are typically too casual for the workplace.
  4. Skirts should be of appropriate length. If your skirt hem doesn’t reach PAST your fingertips when you’re standing with your arms at your sides, then it is too short. This is one of those age-old rules, and you should stick to it.
  5. Distressed is okay–sometimes– but ripped is not. If any part of the outfit is see-through or ripped, then it’s not for the office. This includes thin skirts, cutoff shorts and ripped jeans, to name a few.
  6. No one piece should make your outfit professional. Wearing a blazer, closed-toe pumps or a scarf does not suddenly make an outfit appropriate. Besides there being a high likelihood of you wanting to take the jacket or scarf off during the day, an outfit should be pulled together by its pieces, not by a singular item.
  7. Grandma knows best. If you wouldn’t feel comfortable seeing your grandma while wearing it, don’t wear it to work. This by no means says that you can’t be stylish. My grandma was a very stylish woman. This just means you should be conscious that what you wear makes an impression, for better or worse, on the people you interact with throughout the day.

Which rule do you think is the worst penalty when broken?

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I completely agree with and follow number 7 Grandma knows best. I think this is a great line to think about not only when you dress for work, but also when you post things on social networking sites.

This is such a helpful article especially for those of us who are working in 'casual' work environments. It's important to still dress appropriately.

Great article Sarah! I liked how you wrote about an important topic but made it funny instead of super serious!

I'm in graduate business school, and since my senior year of college I've been trying to build a work wardrobe. I find that if I just pick two or three brands/stores that I know fit me well and offer a good selection of work-appropriate clothes, that's the easiest way to do it. For me, since I'm super tall, that means the Gap for more casual but still appropriate attire (minus shorts and stuff, obviously) and the Banana Republic and J. Crew outlet stores for dressier items. I've found nice pieces at J.C. Penney, too, but my first go-to's are pretty set and, as a bonus, tend to match each other a little easier in style/fit.

Totally agree with #6! Throwing on a blazer does not necessarily make a dress appropriate!!!

My office is casual every day and I still try to dress nicely. Might be old fashioned, but I NEVER wear denim (at least denim bottoms) to the office.

Me too Julia! This rule totally applies for social networking sites, it's something I'll try to remember when I'm posting online.

In other words, use common sense.

Everyone thinks that office appropriate dressing is common sense until you catch them with their bra straps showing.

I never wear denim that takes me less than 10 minutes to smoosh myself into. I'm not sure if that's a good rule or not. Probably not.

Thanks Elana!

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