Save. Spend. Splurge.

How expensive can you look when you’re at work?

This is not a challenge, but it’s more of a question meant to generate discussion.

As a woman who loves dressing up and looking nice, I am also acutely aware of how I have to present myself at work, and that includes how expensive I look (if at all).


By expensive, I don’t mean being covered in diamonds or wearing tiaras, it’s more along the lines of deliberately wearing high-end items that are easily recognizable by others in the office.

Note: Most of my designer items are secondhand. Only ONE designer item has been purchased at retail and I agonized over paying that kind of money.

I have no problems wearing secondhand items, but I always dryclean and/or wash and disinfect them like crazy before I wear them.

Fortunately, I work in client environments where it’s mostly men, so even if I actually owned a pair of Louboutins and wore them, I’m pretty sure unless they were really into fashion, they would have no idea what the red sole means in terms of how much it cost.

(Plus they’re too high to wear in a professional environment.)

I usually wear business casual which is a nice top (no sequins or glitter), skirts to the knee, and low heels.

But that’s a business casual office environment.


What if you work in a lab? At a hospital? In the field? You may have to dress down.. WAY down to be taken seriously.

Or how about if you work at a bank?

I have friends who have 3 suits they rotate through during the week. I call it the monkey suit 🙂

They are all black, although my one friend insists that they’re all different shades of black.

As a banker you have to walk the line between looking sharp, and looking like you’re taking them for all they’ve got.


I have a friend who tells me that they don’t take her seriously because she wears nicer tops to work, flat ballet shoes that aren’t hiking boots and slaps on a bit of makeup.

The women she works with, shop at L.L.Bean, and wear hiking boots, those polar fleece vests and very utilitarian things, not to mention going totally makeup-free with their hair back in ponytails.

To those women, she looks too expensive.

I also think that some things look too nice for work — super sky high heels, or really fancy looking wrap dresses can be too nice for some work environments.


Personally I’d err on the side of cautious conservatism.

No ostentatious labels and logos would be my thing.

I’d also stay away from wearing anything with sequins, glitter, anything too short or low-cut unless you work at a bar (you won’t believe what I saw girls wearing to the office), and to keep things simple.

I would DEFINITELY also stay away from super tight clothing that is too form-fitting and skyscraping heels at 4″ or that require a hidden platform.

That is not professional unless you’re on stage and performing, no matter what anyone says.

That said, there’s no need to feel paralyzed into wearing a uniform of boring clothes either!

What do you wear to work?


  • Tania

    I work in an agricultural environment where most of the women wear polo shirts and jeans. I’m short, with rounded shoulders and big boobs – not the right body type for a polo shirt so I prob dress up more than my co-workers, jersey dresses and skirts.

    I wear what suits my body type. I see no reason for all of us to be dressed alike.

    Designer doesn’t mean formal to me btw, I have designer pieces that are casual. I generally don’t judge people by their dress and would never egg on someone for being more or less dressed up than me.

    • saverspender @ save. spend. splurge.

      But do your coworkers ever express a reaction to you dressing so nicely? Either good or bad? My friend gets a lot of comments like: that doesn’t look comfortable, or if she is in a slight heel, they say it isn’t good for her back (they all deal in feet by the way). You’re right, designer doesn’t mean dressy, I think I was thinking more of obvious designer clothes and things like Louis V bags and red Louboutin heels 🙂

  • Maggie@SquarePennies

    I’ve always heard that you should never dress more expensively than your boss. And if your boss is wearing a particular style of clothing you should try to go in that direction if you want to advance in your career. You can always upgrade your look as you move up. It’s unfortunate, but you have to dress somewhat like your boss (of the same sex) in order to be considered for promotion. Wear what you like when you’re not at work!

  • MelD

    Dress codes vary in different countries. All the plain suits in the US and UK look terrible to us. In Zurich, you will see male manager types in suits and if you see a woman in a suit, she’s most likely not Swiss but expat, looking fussy. The Swiss women wear expensive and sometimes exquisite things, but they are never dressed up or overdressed or labelled (that would be the Russians – you can recognise them a mile off, too!). Sporty elegance is the thing that is aimed for here, whether you work at a bank or an office or not, and a lot of the jewellery will be understated, heavy gold, too. Very few pearls, again, that would wannabe Germans or expats. Nobody will care if you wear designer, as most wouldn’t recognise it anyway (except aforesaid foreigners). I often wear (thrifted) Hermes scarves and noone notices or cares, because it’s just not recognised, which suits me fine as I like them for what they are and not for their brand! However, they will recognise quality fabric and cut, as well as expensive shoes – and that doesn’t mean designer heels, either. The whole look is understated – no garish make-up, nothing overdone with the hair (but costs a fortune) but practical and workmanlike at the same time. Those who go for modern cuts will wear local designers who do some rather odd, angular garments, and yet the women will usually look great and very confident despite their stand-out wear.

    Strange, isn’t it?!

  • AdinaJ

    This can be tricky. I have a fair number of very high end designer stuff, which people who are into fashion would recognize. But… I bought them all second hand. So I don’t really feel like a show-off wearing them, if that makes sense. They didn’t really cost more than regular clothes. I work in a fairly conservative environment, and my female coworkers are pretty stylish, so I don’t feel out of place either. I do tend to try to stick to the rule of not wearing things that are obviously more expensive than my boss’ clothes. Luckily, most of my superiors are men, and they are not exactly experts on women’s wear.

    They talk about this topic on Corporette occasionally… I remember a story once about an intern toting a Birkin bag around. The consensus was that was a no-no, lol!

  • Joe

    1) Cool new site!
    2) Men have it so much easier. I wear suits most days and jeans/sweater on Friday. Sometimes if I’m tired I just wear dress pants and a shirt.

  • Mrs PoP @ PlantingOurPennies

    I used to do the 3 suits routine. But now I’m in an office where ballet flats, jeans, and a decent shirt are more than appropriate. But if I decide to dress up or wear makeup for the day, I just tell people I’ve got a hot date after work =)

  • Sense

    more along the lines of the LL bean lady…it’s an academic environment and my job sometimes calls for getting dirty without warning. I’ve ruined many an outfit by trying to look nice.

    • Sense

      And I look nice compared to others! I’ve seen cut off jeans, a white singlet (wifebeater) and bare feet worn to work before. …effing New Zealand.

  • Aly

    I work in academia and it’s quite tough here. Most people look like they just rolled out of bed, some make a real effort but generally it’s on the lower side of business casual (business too casual as I call it). When I started wearing blazers and nicer tops they kept asking me if I had a special meeting or was going to a conference.

  • Anne @ Unique Gifter

    Hehe. I work in LL Bean land, too! Definitely no make up for me, though there are a few people who do. The most dressed down I get is flats, jeans and a sweater. That’s probably once or twice a week. The most dressed up is closed heels, blazer and dress pants (not matching suit). There are times where it’s imperative to not wear things that can be ruined easily. Additionally, the work environment causes things to be ruined over time, so you have to decide what you are willing to wear to work. I also take issue with some of the things people do wear to work. Torn free beer shirts shouldn’t be worn by professionals at work, in my opinion. A friend has consciously decided to step up her clothing a bit and pray the rest of her dept follows suit!

    • Mochi & Macarons

      That’s pretty dressed up — heels and a blazer with pants.

      I agree that any kind of free beer t-shirts shouldn’t be allowed at work. Something in a solid colour or a neutral pattern works.

      • Anne @ Unique Gifter

        Ya… that rarely happens. Usually only if the SVP is here.
        If you’re working in a shop or labour job, I’m fine with the free/ripped beer shirts. I’m not fine when it’s the people with designations after their names!

  • Vanessa

    I once wore a dress + heels + make-up at my old job (I had had a conference earlier that day) and got called out for “thinking that I was better than everyone else”. Other people wear heels and dresses so maybe it was the height factor? I absolutely towered over everyone…

    Another time I had a job interview in the middle of my work day (my boss’s boss told me to literally just get up and go to my interview and then go back to work as if nothing had happened :/ Strange place) and *everyone* was like “Well, aren’t WE fancy today?” and it was only like… black pants, a blouse and heels.

    When I was in a law firm, the lawyers wore jeans so eventually I took their lead (immigration means that we rarely saw our clients in person). I’d really, really like a job where I can wear nice clothes 🙁

    • Mochi & Macarons

      I am shaking my head at the fact that you got CALLED OUT for looking nice.

      I like jobs where I can wear business casual. I don’t want to wear a suit but I want to be able to wear a dress with heels.

    • RevancheGS

      I don’t think I’d take very kindly to that sort of commentary.

  • My Shiny Pennies

    I work in the administration side of a healthcare clinic. Our employee handbook allows us to wear scrubs, but no one does that unless they have direct patient contact. I tend to wear shift dresses in the summer and pants with cardigans in the winter. I would love to wear a suit everyday to save time picking outfits everyday but that we be considered too fancy, ha.

  • PK

    “Don’t dress for the job you have, dress for the job you want” – certainly domain specific, no matter where you work. Dress like your boss’s boss, perhaps?

    • Mochi & Macarons

      Hmm. Might be hard if he’s always going about in flip flops and a t-shirt. My old CEO would be appalled to hear that I don’t even own a pair of flip flops.

      • RevancheGS

        Um, yes – our CEO was always in jeans and a crappy tee. In an office environment, I’m just not there yet 🙂

  • Sara

    In an office environment, I tend to think that the cost is proportional to the formalness factor. The more casual the office, the more that designer looks out of place. But maybe that’s just me. When I was working in a shelter, I wore my typical casual clothes, but erring toward very conservative. Since going back to school,the office environments I have been in ranged from casual, to anything-but-denim, to business casual with an emphasis on solid colors, clean lines, etc.

    Would you include the cost of someone’s handbag/work tote/briefcase?

    • Mochi & Macarons

      I think someone’s handbag or tote wouldn’t really register in my head as expensive unless it was a blatant logo-fied something-or-another.

      I tend to think that people buy nice bags anyway.. but maybe that’s just me.

      I’d probably err on the side of NOT bringing those bags to work unless you work in a very formal place (bank).

      OR did you mean something else?

      • Sara

        Nope, that’s exactly what I meant 🙂 As I people watch on the train, it always seems like men carry the nicest leather briefcase/laptop bag that they can, whereas most women are usually lugging around a Target-brand tote, but also have their purses with them.

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