Navigating the Unspoken Office Dress Code

What to wear on the first day of a new job is a major decision. Catherine Hageman explores the politics of office dress.

Most Popular
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

As new graduates (not to mention summer interns) begin their careers, one of the major decisions they'll face is what to wear on the first day of work.

At least it was a big deal for me. I remember my first-day-outfit — black pants with a white puffy-sleeve tee and an argyle sweater-vest.

The tee may have been a mistake, but the look is burned in my brain, thanks in part to the ID badge that I still use (and which causes the occasional double-take — I used to be a brunette!).

Most Popular

I began my career overdressing — blouses, black trousers and heels every day. After a few weeks, I realized my work-environment was a little more relaxed, the definition of business casual. But the truth was that there were no set-in-stone rules about what we could and couldn't wear — it was (and still is) a judgment call. I still remember hearing from a co-worker that flip-flop-like shoes were unacceptable only to look down at her feet and realize she was wearing them!

With no one telling me how to dress, I observed what my colleagues wore — and went to my mom for advice. I started with safe black trousers and branched out slowly. If black was a go, than I was reasonably certain navy would be as well. If trousers worked, why not try nice capris during the summer?

And maybe the most obvious path — I checked with my boss. Asking questions, especially when there are no clear-cut rules around the office dress code, shows your supervisor that you care about the impression you make at work — and it's a lot easier to ask than to have to explain an inappropriate clothing choice. After all, everything speaks to who you are as a colleague and employee — whether it's the state of your desk or the outfits you wear every day.

Catherine Hageman dispatches fashionista tendencies fit for a corporate career on Small Town, Big Wardrobe.

Street Style
Share
Taylor Swift's Legs Are in Full-On Summer Mode
Who wears short shorts?
Fashion
Share
QUIZ: See if You Can Tell Which Shoe Is the Expensive One
​​Carrie Bradshaw would slay this quiz.​
Fashion
Share
QUIZ: See if You Can Tell Which Bag Is the Expensive One
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but cheap is still cheap.​
Fashion
Share
Kim Kardashian Tries Out a New Kind of Naked Dress
Sheer genius.
Fashion
Share
14 Road Trip Essentials to Pack Before You Hit the Gas
For a foolproof vacation. *crosses fingers*​
GIF
Fashion
Share
Quiz: What New Swimsuit Should You Buy This Summer?
All of them. Just all of them.​
Fashion
Share
Every Single Mic-Drop-Worthy Outfit Beyoncé's Wearing on Her 'Formation' Tour
Get 'em, Bey.​
Fashion
Share
15 Affordable Bags You Need to Shop this Summer
Think smaller and lighter this season.
Fashion
Share
15 Times Kanye Didn't Get the Memo
Dress codes don't apply to him, okay?
Fashion
Share
Every Must-See Look from the 2016 Time 100 Gala
Where all the stars were literally 💯​.