Across the world, many offices are relaxing the demand for the stiff and formal look. Moreover, while we’re gung-ho about shedding uncomfortable heels, stifling ties and heavy jackets, it doesn’t mean we’ve got permission to swing the other way and go with Friday casuals all week through.
Be fashionable, by all means, but allow subtlety to have a say in the choices you make. Here are a few tips on how you can be stylish and yet not upset invisible lines of decorum.
#1 Your footwear
Let’s start at the bottom.
If you thought no one pays attention to shoes, you are terribly wrong. Ever been in an elevator in a corporate building? If you’re not staring at your phone screen, you’re mostly looking down, where all the shoes are, including yours.
Shoes should be well-maintained, clean and coordinated with the clothes you’re wearing. Of course, comfort is paramount, since you’re going to be in them for 8-10 hours at least.
For women: Stick to heels that are under 2”. If you must wear heels for a meeting, get out of them at the earliest. Vary the height of your heels in the week, which means you must own at least 3-4 types of shoes. However, that was never a problem, was it?
It’s a tad easier for men: Pick up a few pairs of superior quality Oxford style shoes. You can also throw in slip-on, loafers, and muted boots.
#2 Length of your pants
Unfortunately, you cannot wear the same pants with flats and heels. With heels, the hem of your pants should be long enough to cover the top of your shoe in front, but just off the ground behind. For flats, the hem should cover almost all the shoe in the back without grazing the ground.
This method works just as well for men too.
#3 Length of your sleeves
This is another debatable issue. The length, according to some experts, depends on the type of office you go to.
For women: If you work in a corporate environment and have a customer facing role, go with sleeves that are between short and elbow-length. If yours is a creative environment, you can go as short as a cap sleeve. Sleeveless is also fine, as long as the top is structured. No strappy tops, please. No, not even on a Friday.
Men get the rough end of the deal: A fully-corporate environment calls for buttoned down, full sleeves. No compromise on that. You could go casual on a Friday with shorter sleeves but keep a jacket handy for an unexpected meeting.
#4 Belt it up, if and when needed
A belt is more than just an accessory.
On men, it is the metaphorical equivalent of ‘dotting your I’s and crossing the T’s’. It gives a clean finish, and you will look well-turned-out. Always make sure your belt matches your shoes. Also, make sure it is the right length, so it stays within the loops and doesn’t hang out shabbily.
Women can wear belts on pants, skirts and dresses too. Ensure your dress has belt loops to prevent awkward shifting when you sit down.
#5 Your hair
Hair can be a bit of a touchy subject at work.
Whether to keep it long or short is your personal choice. What you must do, however, is ensure that your hair is clean and well-maintained. Keep it out of the way of work, and don’t let it be a distraction to yourself or others.
For men, hair also includes your facial hair. Like a haircut, you must determine what kind of facial growth will look good on you. The scruffy, spotty-beard look will just not work in the office, whether a corporate setting or a more casual one. Like a hairstyle, regularly trim and maintain your beard and moustache.
#6 Well-maintained nails
Men and women, both, must have neat, well-maintained and clean nails.
If you want to keep them short, with just a hint of nude colour, that’s great. However, if you love the colour, what is really acceptable? Can you get away with nail art? If yours is a backend, no customer interaction kind of a role, you just could. For more formal setups, try and stay with neutral colours that will not look too bold. Remove the polish when it starts to chip off.
#7 Accessorizing done right
Office life needn’t be sans accessories. You need a dash of colour or for your personal style to show through. However, and we can’t stress that enough, play down rather than playing up.
Do not wear accessories that jangle as you work or walk about. If you must wear bold jewellery, choose either earrings or a neckpiece, never both. Accessories needn’t be jewellery. You can use a scarf or even a classy brooch to make a statement.
Men can wear accessories too, with tie-pins, cufflinks, designer watches, etc. Keep it subtle and ensure it complements your look.
#8 What else?
Before you step out, check that your perfume isn’t too overpowering. And your teeth don’t have lunch or lipstick on them.
Keep these points in mind before heading out to work the next time.