4 Workwear Sins - and How To Avoid Them

By Susanna Quirke

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“Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.”


Mark Twain may not have been talking about workplace dressing when he wrote the above, but he might as well have been. Though you might not be boarding the tube starkers any time soon, workwear mistakes are made every day in offices across the globe.

Here are the worst, most common sartorial sins – and how to avoid them.


Pre-empting the imagination

Back in 2010, banker Debrahlee Lorenzana sued Citibank for unfair dismissal, claiming that her fitted suits had distracted male colleagues. Was the onus on the men for being distracted or Lorenzana for dressing that way? Even if the former, the issue could have been avoided with a little more office-wear nous.

The reason that revealing clothes are frowned upon in the workplace is simple: they are distracting, and not in a good way. The office is a space for productivity, not seduction; low necklines and high hems might make you feel good, but at the price of your colleagues’ discomfort. It’s so easy to buy some no-VPL pants, or wear a skin-coloured bra with that white shirt, that there really is no excuse.

What’s more, a 2004 study showed that women in positions of responsibility who dressed in a ‘sexy’ manner were viewed as less competent. So before you don that tight, crop, sheer or strappy top, take a moment to consider your options.

Men, you’re not off the hook here. If you’re wearing a crew-necked undershirt, ensure it’s hidden beneath your outer one. And no: nobody wants to see your boxers. Keep it secret, keep it safe.


Athleisure centre

It’s been a good few years since athleisure stormed into fashion. The couture-gym hybrid has changed the way many urbanites dress. But its role in office-wear remains a matter of fierce debate.

Despite claims to the contrary, the booming enthusiasm for work-to-sports-wear is not shared by most C-suiters. Gym wear doesn’t say: “I have high standards and a drive to succeed.” It says: “I’m going by the gym after work and I’m happy to put in the minimum effort possible.”

Even in a casual workplace, you’d better keep the trackie jackets in your bag – unless you’ve seen a senior wearing them regularly, in which case you’re probably good.


Boots for walking

Shoes are important. Even since the brown shoes scandal, our appreciation of office-appropriate footwear in the capital has sky-rocketed. And there are some big no-nos.

First off: flip-flops. Apparently, ‘enclothed cognition’ (us neither) means that wearing flip-flops helps us feel fun, chatty and relaxed. What it doesn’t do is get us ready for the working day. Shun at all costs. Most types of sandal are similarly dangerous.

Basically, avoid anything that flashes too much toe-flesh, screams ‘holiday’ or shows off the pedicure you had last weekend. And for goodness’ sake, don’t do the crocs thing, high fashion or not.

For men, avoid wearing casual shoes or – shock horror! – trainers with a suit. Yes, we’ve read about the red sneaker effect too, but you were never intended to take the concept literally.

Finally, there has been much said about high-heels and their role in the workplace, not least following the Nicola Thorp debacle. Popular wisdom dictates that women wear them when and if they want – although anything that hinders your ability to walk should be tossed out, pronto.


Suit up

Finally, a category where men are most at risk! Brown shoes aside, there are a number of pitfalls in business dressing that can betray ignorance in the wearer. From black socks to button fastenings, a suit can be your best friend or worst enemy. Avoid the most common mistakes and everything will be fine.

Final no-nos from the hive mind? Go easy with the perfume/cologne, don’t wear too much make-up and try not to get large, obvious tattoos if you can help it. Piercings beyond ears can tip the balance between a ‘yes’ and a ‘no’ at interview, and bad breath… Well, that one’s universal.

I leave you with a fascinating study from this year which proved that ‘attractive’ members of humanity tend to earn higher salaries. While for the men ‘attractiveness’ meant their natural, god-given appearance as well as grooming, for women the onus was wholly on the latter. The conclusion? Put in the effort, and you might well get something back.



Inspiring Interns is a graduate recruitment agency which specialises in sourcing candidates for internships and giving out graduate careers advice. To hire graduates or browse graduate jobs London, visit our website.

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