Save. Spend. Splurge.

What is work appropriate clothing and style?

I was reading this article about how women find it too hard to dress for work and get all worked up about what is acceptable and not.

I honestly do not find it that hard to decide on what to wear to work, but I will say that it comes with a caveat because of three things:

  1. I have the means to buy nice clothes
  2. I have the conventional body to wear said clothes
  3. I do not find style frivolous nor stressful, but in fact an enjoyable challenge


It is very easy to say what to buy and so on, it is much harder to afford it. Nice looking items that last and look good, cost money. I am talking $200-ish for a top, and $300-ish for a dress.

Plus, the accessories!

The good news is that if you had said tops and dresses you could wear them twice a week and be done with choosing anything else to wear to work, and feel great in them.

The problem is that most people have a Forever 21 or Old Navy budget, but the clothes sold there are too casual (sometimes) to be able to be worn to work.

To get more creative, you need to stretch your buck and start (like me) looking at secondhand designer items and/or thrifting instead.


You know what I mean. I fit into pretty much anything.

Sure, I avoid spaghetti straps, boatnecks and certain cuts or prints for my upper half, but I basically look good in anything I wear.

This is a privilege that many don’t have, or think they don’t have.

It is much harder to dress a curvier body that has a tinier waist but the hips are larger, than a shape that is pretty much straight-up-and-down like mine. I fit into everything.

Some ways around this, would be to buy the larger size, and tailor in the waist. I do this often, believe it or not. I don’t like items that are too tight, so I buy them a size larger, and take them in.


I really enjoy style and fashion, that is clear. So finding prints and patterns that work, and mix, are things I LOVE to do. It makes me so happy to hit on the perfect outfit that just WORKS and I thought about it on the fly.

I don’t get it right 100% of the time, but I have a pretty good success rate because I know my body well, I have an intuitive sense of what kind of style I like and I have all the pieces in my wardrobe that can go with any kind of outfit.

With that said, here are some of what I think are office appropriate rules that I tend to follow for myself, and it helps rule out what I can or cannot wear to work.

Is it too pretty and fancy?

I have dresses that are just too pretty and/or fancy, either by the fact that they are 100% chiffon skirted ballgown affairs, or just the material itself screams: this is too nice!

For instance, this maxi dress. VERY. PRETTY.

But it is a long skirted affair (therefore ballgown-ish), and absolutely not office appropriate. This is fancy dress stuff.

Other things that are too pretty or fancy? This top I almost bought but then controlled myself.

LOOK! SO PRETTY. But not office appropriate due to the plunging neckline first of all, but also the ripped jeans don’t help.

Is it too tight / short / revealing / transparent / open in any way?

Things that fall under this category for me, can even be maxi dresses like this because it is QUITE low cut (you can’t tell with my small bust but it is pretty low cut)…

Other things I can’t wear are short shorts, or yoga pants! Like these shorts? OMG no. Not at the office.

Leggings COUNT as being office IN-appropriate, by the way. I do not care what you say.

Make sure that these leggings you wear have zippers, pockets, and buttons on them or else they are most certainly LEGGINGS and not appropriate unless you wear them with a long tunic top covering your bum.

(Even that looks like loungewear to me.)

Another item that was too revealing for work? The slit on this dress! Scandalous.. it goes up to mid-thigh when I sit and it FALLS OPEN so it shows half of my bare thigh no matter how I sit or what I do.

Is it too trendy or casual?

For instance, these ripped jeans?

This is a weekend or night thing. I would never wear ripped anything to work.

Another too cool or trendy item would have been this glossy pencil skirt in green.

I would have DEFINITELY purchased this vinyl skirt if it were cheaper, but I would have absolutely never worn that skirt to the office even if I had it in my closet.

(Also that top, is just something I’d never wear. Ever.)

Is it too odd for work?

Leather pants? Very cool.

Appropriate for work? Not at all in my book unless you work in marketing, advertising, fashion, public relations or anything ‘trendy’.

Another thing that is too cool? For me, things with graphics or icons on them.

I thought about it, but would not wear something like this to work. It is too fun.. if that makes any sense.

Does it look like I am a professional?

If people come up to me and ask me where the bathroom is, I obviously need to step it up.

I have to also look and FEEL like I am at work, and wearing proper clothes helps with that.

Once, I wore slightly loose, casual sort of cargo pants to work and felt so out of place all day, like I should be at the park with my son instead.

This for me, is work appropriate workwear for instance. Proper shoes or sandals (NOT FLIP FLOPS PLEASE OH DEAR GOD NO), and a nice dress with a long enough hem because when you go to sit down, that skirt or dress will riiiiiiide up and reveal a LOT of thigh.

Other professional garb would be simple items as well like this for a Friday:

Or this with a HINT of leather, but the rest of it being pretty toned down.

What do you wear?


  • SarahN

    I have someone in my office that more days that not reminds me what NOT to wear to work: leggings, plunging necklines, flip flops or party height/styled heels, things that tie up (bustiers, boots etc). Also not ok with leggings. And I’m a no to shorts. Even a hoodie during work hours is not ok (ok for a commute, or called in on a Sunday style work). I talked to some friends about this recently and we were divergent – my ex used to wear a t shirt but he was in sorta tech, and would wear a jacket for meetings etc <- that's a good step up to me. I don't rate men wearing sneakers, at all, ever, in the office, either.

    I feel too casual now days if I wear flats (even pointed ones!). I've become a heels person! I tend to go for button up + trousers or skirt, or a dress.

  • Jamie

    I have to disagree with some of this post, I think it goes back to women shaming other women for not fitting into an ideal and that’s not great. What I wear shouldn’t matter, what I can do, my thoughts, my work, etc should be what matters. And I agree with Jessica that a receptionist or a caretaker is a person (which like you said, probably can’t afford what you can) and shouldn’t be shamed for working in a profession that you’ve deemed beneath you. Women need to lift each other up instead of shaming each other! I agree that we should wear clothes that are clean, not ripped, or messy but that’s about it. We need to stop judging each other over our looks and only on what really matters. If we can’t even do it what hope do we have for men to stop judging us like that??? /Rant

    • Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      All good points — didn’t mean to offend and I don’t think I worded it well — I’d just rather be taken seriously on my brain and work result rather than being ogled for looks.. and having other women not play the same game — wearing scandalously short skirts and showing a lot of cleavage to get their way – is frustrating ….

      • Jamie

        I agree with that, and the fact that so many people (men and women!) can’t see through that! Anyways, thanks for responding, I feel that I was a bit harsh but my last work place this was a big issue. People who dressed more casual were being passed up for promotions over people who dressed well but didn’t know as much, a lot had to do with image perception. I know that you work hard and are smart, you are dressing the way you want to not for any other reason than you like what you are wearing and that’s great! We just need to be able to get over superficiality and just see things for what really matters 🙂

  • Jessica

    Oooof. Receptionists/admins/security guards/other-people-who-tell-someone-where-the-bathroom-is are professionals too. Saying that you’re afraid that someone might confuse you for one if your outfit isn’t nice enough is not very kind. As a lot of companies move towards a more casual dress code, the admin at reception, aka their “director of first impressions” [gag] is the only person that they do still want to dress up. They just never want to pay them a salary high enough to be able to afford the nice clothes that they want them to wear! Companies that pull that crap need to reinstate the good old-fashioned clothing allowance.

    My personal opinion is that part of the difficulty is companies spreading their staff thinner and thinner and expecting fewer people to cover more roles, which have historically had very different dress codes. 90% of my work is done in my office, but the other 10% is done in the warehouse. It’s one thing for a man in a suit and tie to take off his coat and roll up his sleeves and hop up on the forklift. I’m not driving the forklift in heels or climbing up on a ladder in a skirt so what I wear gets downgraded to what is appropriate for the lowest job rung I could find myself at on any given day. I know that doesn’t fit with the aspirational idea of dressing for the job above what you have, but this company isn’t good enough to want to move up in!

  • Ashling

    I buy a large amount of my work clothes second hand. I’m in Ireland so we don’t have poshmark but I find the uk eBay great and I can get items shipped to Ireland via a virtual address.

    I find I have to dress up quite a bit to feel comfortable. I’m tall with an hourglass shape, so many dresses that would be work apppropriate for others are simply too short or revealing on me.

    I work as an academic librarian and am just about to move to a new university into senior management however I look younger than I am by quite a bit. I’m 34 and if I wear casualish clothes I can easily pass for a student. I don’t want to have to explain to others that I’m not the intern so how I portray myself in work is very important to me.

    however I love clothes, enjoy wearing patterns and colours and would die if I had to wear boring suits. So I’ve kind of given myself a uniform of dresses and jackets. I wear a lot of coast and boden printed wrap dresses teamed with bright jackets. I find I can buy these at a great price second hand. This gives me the right mix of professional while still staying true to my personal style.

  • Sense

    I would LOVE to invest in really nice pieces but I am a klutz. Inevitably I’ll brush up against something or trip or eat something and drop it or my dirty shoe will swipe across my nice pants or I’ll sit somewhere and something almost invisible will be on the seat and I will stain the nice thing beyond repair and I won’t be able to wear it anymore. This has happened to me countless times. I carry around a Tide pen and tend to it immediately as possible, but still things get stained terribly. I honestly don’t know how I get so dirty just walking around and living life! I am so careful because this has happened so much.

    My clothes therefore HAVE to be easily washable, inexpensive, and durable. I don’t let myself love my clothes too much but it inevitably happens. And when it does, I only allow myself to wear the things I love for a few hours at a time on very special occasions! As much as I wish it weren’t so, the name brand nicer stuff just doesn’t suit my personality or lifestyle. To Target and Old Navy I go.

    • Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      As long as it suits your lifestyle!

      I do find though.. that nice items tend to wear better even with klutz moves.

      I am ROUGH on my things and my cheap banana Republic flats are showing signs of wear but my more expensive pairs are still wearing well…

      Hard to say. Depends on how you see it but maybe don’t go for the white silk… 😉

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