Women Dressing for Success in the Workplace

As a woman in today’s workplace, do you feel like you are a little more scrutinized in what you wear than your male counterparts?

While women would like to think they are judged for their brains and skills and not their appearance, there is little doubt there are still some offices where what female employees wear to work is given greater scrutiny than men.

In a setting where standard company uniforms like a hospital or eatery usually means no big deal, other venues can lead to an array of options for dressing up or dressing down.

For women dressing for the office or to attend a work-related business function, it is important to dress the role without pushing the envelope.

While a number of women no doubt enjoy the attention they get in the office or at a business function, drawing too much negative attention is not a good routine to get into.

When females are dressing for the office, the most important thing to remember is who your audience is, especially if you are in sales and will be having contact with current and prospective clients.

Don’t Be Tempted for the Model Look

If you work in a setting where you will be coming in contact with clients on a regular basis, do not dress like a model.

Yes, it is okay to be attractive in your presentation, but be sure you’re not flaunting too much so that the client is more interested in your wardrobe than what you and your company have to offer. Not being taken seriously can kill that opportunity to pitch a product and/or make a sale.

Next it is a good idea if there are other females in the office to pattern your clothing appearances after them. That holds true assuming they dress in a professional manner and not something deemed too risky. The last thing you want is for a client to disregard your intelligence and think that you’re the next pinup model.

Another no-no is showing up on a regular basis in clothing that is too loud. While a purple fluorescent outfit may work well for a night out on the town, you are showing up for work, not a movie premiere. On the flip side, it is not advisable to show up for work wearing bland colors that make you appear drab and unwelcoming.

Does Age Factor into What to Wear?

Age also plays a role in how women should dress for their 9 to 5 routine.

If you are in your 40s, 50s or older, do not try and dress like a woman just out of college. If you want to be taken seriously don’t try and live your past in front of your co-workers and/or clients.

At the end of the day, common sense plays the most pivotal role in how your dress for jobs.

Remember, if you think something you’re going to wear will by any means call too much attention to you, keep it in the closet.

Dave Thomas writes extensively for Business.com, an online resource destination for businesses of all sizes to research, find, and compare the products and services they need to run their businesses.

Views: 2303

Comment by Samantha Lacey on February 27, 2012 at 9:46am

Something about this article doesn't sit quite right with me. I can't tell if it's the tone (somewhat patronising) or the content but it comes across as a little bit, "Women, know your place!" 

Comment by David Sanders on February 27, 2012 at 10:46am

I'm with Samantha, this article would carry more weight if written by a woman.  I'm sure women have insights that we men wouldn't even consider.

Comment by Samantha Lacey on February 27, 2012 at 11:01am

Thanks David. I think the days of a woman being judged on her outfit in the workplace are on their way out, we're not in Mad Men. Besides, most (if not all) women I know dress professionally. This article seems to imply women have no common sense. The difficulty I have as a woman is the decision between heels and flats, I'm quite petite, but find heels a pain on a daily basis. I have read many articles stating women should wear heels as it makes them appear taller and more on the same level as men, but I do resent being told how I should dress. High heels are not comfortable, no matter the design of the shoe, if you have to wear them all day. 

Comment by Dave Thomas on February 27, 2012 at 11:10am

Having worked in the job arena for 23 years now, I have seen quite a lot of people come and go. The article is not meant to imply women are clueless when it comes to the proper attire for work. I have seen more than my share of men look like they just rolled out of a bar on their way into work with their attire. While I do not judge women by their clothes at work, whether we like it or not, there still is a stereotype out there. I judge the person by their work effort and if they can contribute to the team, male or female.

Comment by Samantha Lacey on February 27, 2012 at 11:20am

David, with all respect, if you don't think women need help in choosing what to wear, why write the article in the first place? If you want to avoid giving women, or anyone for that matter, the wrong idea about your opinion of women you might want to avoid phrases like "a number of women no doubt enjoy the attention they get in the office or at a business function" I understand that you don't mean to insult but you should be careful as many of the things you are saying do come across as patronising or down right rude "Age also plays a role in how women should dress for their 9 to 5 routine"  I doubt you would write an article exclusively about how men should dress in the office. I hope you take this constructively, I appreciate you didn't mean it to come across this way, but by writing an article like this you are only pushing the stereotype you acknowledge as being prevalent. 

Comment by Dave Thomas on February 27, 2012 at 11:27am

One of the jobs of a writer is to put stories/information/thoughts out there and let people decide whether true or not. I have observed both men and women not dress the part over time, whether it was for a job interview, an interview with a client, or just their appearance around the office on a daily basis. We can try and brush stereotypes under the rug, but we all know they exist. I personally find fault with the fact that many women news anchors, reporters etc. must have a "certain look" or they will be gone from in front of the camera. It is also not uncommon for bosses (male or female) to encourage some women in advertising etc. to dress a certain way to attract a potential sale. I don't agree with that thinking, but we know it exists. Hopefully this article breaks down some of those thoughts and leads bosses (male and female) to value the person and not the look. I do appreciate your feedback and value your comments.

Comment by Valentino Martinez on February 27, 2012 at 1:17pm


While you meant well, I have to agree with Samantha--your advice came across as a little paternalistic (not that there's anything wrong with that a la Sienfeld) in a Father Knows Best routine out of the '30s & '40s.

You probably didn't get it (and I wasn't very clear), but my earlier post of the A League of Their Own film clip from the movie captured for me how women were expected to act and look in the '40s, particularly as they were being allowed to enter a Man's domain at work and play (baseball in this case).  The clip is both instructive and demeaning, depending on how you interpret.  For me it captures how old and new thinking can collide. 


I shared it for both reasons.  When women did enter the workforce in mass during WWII that door was kicked open...never to be closed again.  If you do not get Samantha's double take you're partly still living in the MAD MEN's hype of this is a man's world philosophy handed down by those men who are still trying to adjust to women in management much less at work.  The "Me Tarzan you Jane" mindset has been long rejected in some cultures and societies but not entirely.  And clearly it was not your intention...but that's what such advice can conjure up.  It simply shows how close to the surface those feelings still run...and for good reason.

Yes, we men can offer advice to women...but tread lightly when and how you go there. My mom was actually one of the original Rosie the Riveter who worked in the War Factories when her four brothers went off to fight in Italy during WWII.  She suffered no fools when it came to helping her understand exactly what "woman's place" should be.

Comment by Dave Thomas on February 27, 2012 at 1:28pm

The good thing here is that we are talking about this subject. As I noted to Samantha, workers should be judged by their contributions to the company and not on their appearance. That being said, there are still stereotypes out there whether we want to admit it or not. I think all employers should have a refresher course once a year to BOTH male and female employees on how they should dress when representing the company. I appreciate your feedback.

Comment by lisa rokusek on February 27, 2012 at 1:40pm

Perhaps your article might not have come off as so paternalistic if you actually addressed both men and women in it.

As it was, any validity your points might have had was overshadowed by the arrogance of a man telling a woman how she should behave in a business setting.  And the potential for any redemption was absolutely lost when Samantha questioned your stance and your response was (paraphrased) "I am a writer and have been around the block for 23 years...."  You might have just as soon patted her head and said "There there little girl...I know better than you."

I realize I am overstating slightly but you haven't reacted to her central critique.  Instead of telling women how to act why don't you write about how both genders can dress like boneheads in the workplace and help managers navigate that more successfully.

That might leave less of a bad taste.

Comment by Dave Thomas on February 27, 2012 at 1:44pm

If Samantha felt that way....she should certainly state that. I would say "overstating slightly" is a bit of an understatement. I do appreciate you taking the time to read the article and for your feedback.


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