As the boundaries between work and home start to blur, so do the lines between business apparel and leisurewear. Casual Friday was replaced by business casual, but that laidback look can cross the line into unprofessional. In a survey by HR service provider Randstad US, 38% of 25- to 35-year-olds admit they’ve been asked to dress more professionally by their manager or HR.
Comfortable is one thing, but sloppy is another. Here are four items you may want to leave in your closet when it’s time to get dressed for work.
1. Ripped jeans
Nearly three-quarters of workers said that ripped jeans aren’t appropriate at work, according to the Randstad survey.
Patricia Brown, chair of the Virginia Commonwealth University Department of Fashion Design and Merchandising, agrees: “For most jobs, jeans—especially ripped jeans—are not appropriate. Some denim could be appropriate, but you have to be careful. It should be something polished, like a dark rinse denim trouser.”
“Unless your company sells them, ripped jeans are off the table,” says clothing designer Dara Lamb.
“Not only are flip-flops bad for your feet, your back, and your knees, having your bare feet and toes exposed to the elements in large cities can even lead to infections,” says Lamb. Save them for the beach.
3. Workout wear or leggings
The Randstad survey found that 56% of workers said leggings were not appropriate workwear, even in a business casual work setting.
Workout pants are a “no” if they’re revealing, says Brown. “It depends on how you might put them together,” she says. “Stretch woven or a beefier knit might be appropriate, but never pants that are tight stretchy, shiny, or sheer.”
Eric Holmes, who teaches public speaking and career and professional skills at Purdue University Global, sees attitudes about athleisure clothing evolving, though. “Pairing [yoga pants] with a long sweater wouldn’t raise as much as an eyebrow in virtually any workplace, which is a big shift from even early this century,” he says. “The standards have changed a lot and have done so very quickly.”
4. Ultra-high heels
Half of respondents in the Randstad survey said high heels (defined as more than three inches) look unprofessional. If your heels are so high they hinder your mobility, leave them at home, says Brown. “It’s not appropriate, especially if you have to make a presentation,” she says. “Keep that higher pair of shoes under your desk for the right occasion. If you can’t walk in something . . . don’t wear them.”
A rule of thumb
“You want to convey the right message when you go to work,” says Brown. “A little extra element of style can convey confidence. Casual isn’t bad, but choose clothing that’s more on the dressed-up side of casual. Dressing up is never a bad thing.”
Holmes suggests following this standard: “Would you wear it to a funeral?” he asks. “Not a weird Portland funeral with EDM, a Tarot card reader, and artisanal mead, but a funeral in Wichita? If the answer is ‘no,’ don’t wear it.”