Some jobs have a strict dress code (e.g. formal wear in the legal profession), require a uniform (e.g. the military), or involve special clothing (e.g. the crocs and scrubs worn by hospital staff). These work environments definitely simplify the daily dressing routine. Dress codes in other professions are often more lenient. This is especially true in creative industries like advertizing, fashion and interior design.

I’ve spent my career in these more flexible office environments, and I’m still often taken aback by some of the outfit choices that I see. While I can appreciate daring looks in the evening and on weekends, my belief is that modesty is the best policy in most work environments. Here are my guidelines on what is inappropriate at work: 

  • Strappy and strapless tops: But sleeveless tops with built-up shoulders are fine. If you’re going to wear something strappy or strapless to work, keep it covered with a jacket or cardigan so that it acts as a layering piece instead of the focal point.
  • Mini-skirts and short-shorts: Anything shorter than two to three inches above the kneecap is too short. Remember that skirts ride up when you sit down so do the “sit down test” before you commit to a shorter hemline. In some situations, you’ll get away with a shorter skirt if you pair it with leggings or opaque tights, especially if you’re petite.
  • Super low necklines: Camisoles usually solve the cleavage issue, but not always. Bustier gals can’t help but sport a bit of cleavage with camisoles and that’s perfectly fine. Well endowed ladies look best in lower necklines which makes a spot of cleavage unavoidable.
  • Overly tight clothing: Tailoring is superb but excessive clinging is not.
  • See-through items: Wearing something sheer to work requires a bra and camisole. If you can’t make a see-through item opaque for work purposes, don’t wear it.

Unless your dress code enforces “the hose and closed-toe shoe rule”, I’m all for bare legs and pretty open-toed sandals in professional settings. In my mind there’s nothing immodest about revealing the lower leg and part of the foot. There’s a lot of subjectivity here though, and norms vary by industry, culture and geography. What are your views on modesty in the workplace and office appropriate attire?