I got in a bit of a heated discussion yesterday about dress codes and school uniforms (big shocker: I'm against both) and it got me to thinking about the ways in which my style is constrained (and expanded) by my job. I work in a professional environment with a business casual culture, heavy on the casual. There are lots of khakis and polo shirts here, and I often see non-Friday jeans. Overall, I'd say my clothes are on the upper end of the spectrum here. And I make certain sacrifices, or compromises, to make sure that's the case. I do try to dress well, and professionally, as part of the image I want to project.

On the other hand, though, there are several "professional dress" style choices that I just refuse to make, at least unless or until I absolutely have to. Mostly, I've been able to get away with these refusals to compromise, at least so far. That may change, though I doubt it will change in my current job.

Want to break it down?

Today, I am wearing a pretty typical summer work outfit:


I'm wearing:
-blue and white patterned silk skirt (thrifted)
-navy Land's Cap Sleeve Lightweight Cotton Modal Drape Top
-teal Ralph Lauren belt (thrifted)
-bronze Me Too wedges (Nordstrom Rack)
-teal and blue beaded cuff bracelet (no idea)

To me, the compromises I'm making when wearing this are obvious, but probably not so much to the outside observer. This whole silhouette, with the knee length, a-line skirt, fitted top, and sensible shoes, reads to me as "work." Though I like these pieces, and like the way this looks, it's not something I'd probably wear in a non-work situation. The color palette is also subdued, reading as professional to my eye. It's modest, covering thighs and shoulders, not showing any cleavage. I am wearing subtle, work-appropriate makeup. I shave my legs and armpits. Because I work in a crowded cubicle, I don't wear scented products or perfume to work. These are all compromises, things I might choose to do differently in a non-work environment.

What may be more easy to spot are the compromises I am refusing to make, or at least refusing to make so far.The most obvious one, I think, is that I don't make any effort to cover my tattoos. I have a tattoo on my foot, one on my inner ankle, and one on my upper arm, all of which I show at work. Another obvious one is my hair--I wear it long, usually loose, and most often, untamed. I occasionally beat it into blow-dried submission, but not that often. I also have obvious and often fly-away grays. It's not a particularly "professional" hairstyle. Other things are less clear--for example, what I am wearing on top here, and what I typically wear on top, is a knitted shirt. It's pretty much a t-shirt. I really dislike how I look and feel in button downs and/or blazers, so I avoid them whenever possible. I have a pile of t-shirts I would't wear to work, of course, but one like this, which is in good shape, a nice cut, and an unfaded color? I wear them all the time. I also get a lot of my clothes at the thrift store, which may not be clear by looking at me, but is a fairly non-typical way of building a professional wardrobe.

Right now, I think I'm striking a good balance. I think I look good at work, but I also free like I'm being true to myself. Striking that balance is absolutely my goal.


Very interesting post! I'm glad you feel you can remain "you" in your workplace and I think your compromises are very reasonable.

I have had several different jobs, with different dress codes, and I have come to despise dress codes (written and unwritten) in general. :)

I got so sick of "business appropriate" black pants and button-downs when I was working in a more conservative office. Suits and button-down shirts I could afford never fit me right (I'm tall), and my conservative officey flats/pumps were usually not cute because I had so few options (I have big feet). I was so relieved on days we could wear jeans. Now, if I had been payed well enough to afford gorgeous, well-fitting suits and blouses and dresses, I think I'd have been fine with that part of corporate dress, but really restrictive dress codes still aren't for me. I think most people are smart enough to dress appropriately most of the time.

I now work in an incredibly casual office, and I don't think I could ever happily go back to business-casual! I actually threw my black pants and my boring flats out when I got my current job. So I get to wear untamed hair without feeling guilty (which is good, because I've never successfully gotten my hair to look "professional"), bare legs, open-toed-shoes, deeper necklines, bright colors, and even occasionally (on the hottest days) shorts or tank tops... It's such a relief to feel like me again.

I am not at ALL ragging on people who have to dress the way I used to (or even more conservatively), but I'm so relieved I don't. In fact, I quit my last job in part because their dress code was more strict than necessary. There were lots of other reasons, but that certainly was a factor.

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