Does Your Office Have a Dress Code?

Little Black Dress with Long Sleeves

Black Dress with Pearl Sleeves (on sale for $84) / Black Leather Clutch (c/o) / NARS Matte Lip Pencil in ‘Damned’

Last year, I shared my slightly crazy, definitely non-linear career path. If you’ve read the entire article, you’ll know that I’ve worked at a few very different companies in the past five years. From a conservative legal office to a fashion-forward retailer, each of them came with their own pros and cons and of course, their own dress codes. Every time I started a new job, I had to get a sense of the accepted office attire and adapted my wardrobe accordingly. So that got me thinking — does your office have a dress code (either spoken or unspoken)? I’ll share three of the work environments that I’ve worked in and what I wore for each

Little Black Dress with Long Sleeves

1. The Conservative Office

My first job in New York City was at a small, privately-owned marketing and communications firm for corporate real estate professionals. Random, I know (spoiler alert: I hated it). As part of our job, we would organize networking events for our clients anywhere from small gatherings at a law firm to breakfast meetings at the Harvard Club to big holiday parties at swanky places the Plaza Hotel and Cipriani.

I’ll never forget manning the registration desk at one event — I was wearing a tasteful black sleeveless dress, nothing too crazy with the neckline (probably something like this). My female boss/the owner of the firm came up to me and told me I needed to put on a jacket. I was slightly mortified, but also confused because I didn’t think anything was wrong with my outfit. Of course, as a small company with no HR department, there was no formalized dress code and it was really subject to how our boss felt in that moment. From then on, I played it safe and on event days, you’d find me in a long-sleeve button-up blouse, a pencil skirt and a pair of sensible pumps. It wasn’t the most exciting wardrobe, mostly because I didn’t make much money and I was still very much used to conservative clothes from my days working in a law office.

If you work in a conservative office, I think you can still have a lot of fun with some beautifully tailored pieces. I love J.Crew’s blazers – I actually wore this navy version with a notched collar when interviewing for my current job and I love the classic cut of this camel colored one. I’d also like to think that even if your office’s dress code is a little old fashion, you can still inject a little novelty into your wardrobe with small special details like a neck tie or pearl buttons on your blouse. As for footwear? There are plenty of tasteful closed-toe shoes that still have plenty of personality like these tweed bow flats or these pink suede pumps.

Little Black Dress with Long Sleeves

2. The Creative Office / Fashion Industry

After I landed my next job managing internal communications at Ann Taylor & LOFT, I immediately donated all of my suits to Goodwill and never looked back. I remember there was a 50% off everything sale going on before my first day at work. It was the same deal as the associate discount so I figured I’d get a headstart on my new work wardrobe. Not knowing how other people dressed in the office, I erred on the side of caution and bought a few sensible pieces like a pair of navy slacks, a flowy cream blouse and a pair of colorblock pumps. After I started, I realized that it was an “anything goes” kind of dress code.

Working in the fashion industry offered me the freedom to wear pretty much whatever I wanted, as long as I looked on brand and in season. That meant that a lot of my paycheck went back into buying the clothes we were selling, but that also meant I could wear jeans (any day I wanted), leggings, oversized sweaters, rompers and even shorts in the summers. If I had a go-to outfit during my time there, it would probably a sleeveless swing dress, a jean jacket and a pair of ankle strap sandals.

If you’re in a creative office environment, you probably don’t need my advice on what to wear since anything is fair game. You do you girl!

Little Black Dress with Long Sleeves

3. Somewhere in Between

Most likely, you’re like me in my current job where the office dress code is somewhere in between conservative and creative. I knew it was going to be more formal than working in the fashion industry, so I invested in a few new pairs of slacks (these ankle pants are my favorite – I love them so much I bought them in three colors) and more button upon blouses. Our employee handbook just asks us to dress in a professional, clean manner which some people interpret on the casual side of the spectrum (usually marketing and It) and others go full on suit (usually finance, legal and execs).

I love that there’s wiggle room to flex my style depending on how much effort I want to put into my look. In the summer, you’ll most likely catch me in a romantic, easy-to-wear dress. In the winter, I love wearing a bell sleeve sweater, a flare skirt and over the knee boots.

What’s your office dress code like? Let me know in the comments section below!

Little Black Dress with Long Sleeves

Get the Look:
Black Dress with Pearl Sleeves
 (on sale for $84) / Black Leather Clutch (c/o) / NARS Matte Lip Pencil in ‘Damned’


  1. My office’s dress code is definitely more on the conservative side. I work in politics and advocacy and we meet with federal agency regulators and congressional staff meaning it’s suits all day every day!

  2. Emily M

    I also live and work in NYC at a small, family-owned event venue. Our unspoken dress code definitely fits in the “in-between” category. It also depends on if I have in-person meetings scheduled with clients. Some days is a slacks and blazer day, and others are a black denim and sweater day. Previously I worked for a start-up where I could show up in ripped jeans and a cat t-shirt. That was my favorite dress code by far 🙂

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