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what not to wear
Work Style

Ultimate guide to what NOT to wear in a corporate environment

I love this phrase, “Dress the way you want to be addressed.” Doesn’t it say it all? We may tend to forget sometimes how much we are judged by our appearance. It even goes as far as affecting people’s opinion about how competent we are. So knowing what NOT to wear is a good starter to nailing the corporate look.

It may be unconscious but it’s there

In just a few seconds a person will form an opinion on who you are, based on your general appearance, body language and choice of clothing. And we all do this, without even thinking about it.

This article from Psychology Today talks about how we are all unconsciously influenced by political candidates appearances when we vote. This is so true. We have seen examples of very intelligent politicians who never managed to get the popularity they needed, primarily because of an image problem.

The corporate world is no different. The dressing code may have gotten a bit more flexible over time with some companies accepting casual Fridays for example. Yet, I sort of find it ok if it remains on the conservative side. Isn’t it in our interest to look the part for what we are there to accomplish? Just as you adapt your outfit when you go to a wedding or a pool party?

Of course your leeway will vary substantially depending on the kind of business you’re in. A woman working in a small tech shop will have more freedom to get creative with fashion than the one working in corporate finance for a large firm.


So my recommendations below on what NOT to wear are focused on the woman who works in a business that requires professional attire. Although, I would add that the “Too Sexy” category should be applicable in any kind of work — no matter how small the company is.

And since a picture is worth a thousand words, I put together a ‘What NOT to Wear’ board on Pinterest, so you can quickly see what I mean.

Too Fashion – See it in pictures

  • Pajama style tops or pants.
  • Side-stripe trousers.
  • Camo pants (camouflage style).
  • Floral pants.
  • Baggy floral midi dress.
  • Extravagant shoes.
  • Ankle boots in a print or flashy colour.
  • Extra wide-legged pants.
  • 2-inch platform shoes.

Let’s be clear. I LOVE fashion clothes. And sometimes I too feel like stretching it a little. In the end, it comes back to a matter of dosage. If you really feel like wearing a piece that’s bound to make a statement, make sure the rest of your outfit is very conservative.

RELATED: 9 spring fashion trends to refresh your work wardrobe

Too Sexy – See it in pictures

  • Short skirts – If it’s already short when standing, imagine once sitting down.
  • A top with no bra.
  • Off-the-shoulder tops.
  • Deep v-neck tops – Even if we don’t see your breasts, if the v goes all the way down between your breasts, it is too suggestive.
  • Anything see-through exposing your undergarments – Although a see-through top worn with a camisole will be fine.
  • Crop top.
  • Cleavage exposing part of your breasts – See this post on the subject.
  • Leggings – Unless you wear them with a long top covering your butt, and on a casual Friday.

The rule is simple. Aim for the feminine-elegant look. You can always wear the feminine-sexy look on the weekend.

Too Chic or Party Style – See it in pictures

  • Leopard or animal prints – One item at a time, like a blouse, or a scarf or belt will pass. But pants become too much. And leopard shoes somehow just don’t cut the corporate look.
  • Anything with glitter – Like a sequins top or a skirt with sparkling details.
  • Any item you bought to go clubbing.

Too Laid Back – See it in pictures

  • Anything you would wear to the gym.
  • Print letter t-shirts – Even if worn under a blazer.
  • Bermuda shorts.
  • Ripped jeans – Not appropriate either on casual Fridays, sorry.
  • Chic shorts – No matter how chic the fabric is, they’re still shorts.
  • Loose or stretched t-shirts.
  • Sneakers – Perfect for commuting to work and to do your errands at lunchtime though.
  • Spaghetti strap tops & camisoles.
  • Jumpsuits.
  • Long summer dresses.
  • Flip-flop sandals.

In conclusion?

When hesitating in the morning, choose to be on the safe side and pick the more conservative piece. That way you’ll always be ready for that impromptu meeting with the big boss!

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