What Not to Wear to Work


professional young woman shopping with an N95 mask on

I feel like we’ve had a lot of discussions lately about how it feels like fashion is all over the place at this moment in time. What’s trendy? What’s out? What’s classic vs. what’s dated? So let’s discuss.

Some of our previous discussions on trends can be helpful here because you can see what era some of the trends originated in. We’ve talked about 2019 fashion trends we hate (no one liked ruffles, and Elizabeth called the Doc Marten trend!), trends you won’t wear to work (2016 edition), trends and the conservative office (2015 edition), and trends you’re totally sick of (2013 edition).

Trends I Would Not Wear to Work in 2021

For my $.02, trends from yesteryear that I’m going to avoid wearing include:

ruffles everywheresharkbite hemstrumpet or bell sleeves (if you must, bubble sleeves are more in right now)trumpet skirtshigh-low skirts (although I’m not sure those were ever appropriate for the office…)clear plastic/lucite details on shoes

Newer trends that I’d wait a bit before seeing whether they fly at my office:

headbandslug soles (loafers, boots, combat boots, etc)anything with a grandma aesthetic — heavily embroidered sweaters, oversize sweaters — they may be acceptable when balanced with a structured piece, but know your officeoversized white button-frontssweater vests (although I’d guess that these will be acceptable as long as you’re wearing them as a layer)white sneakers with dresses (see below — they might be acceptable at a business casual office, but I’d presume they’re not until you see others wearing the look)skirts and dresses with trains/trails (see, e.g., Burberry)

Newer trends that probably aren’t acceptable for work (unless anything flies at your office):

nap dresses or smocked detailsprairie dressesjoggers/leggings everywherebike pants with boots (cute… but weekend)cardigan sets with crop tops (ditto — cute, but weekend)slip dressesmidi-skirts that have a sheer layer on top of a miniskirt

Items I’d Skip Unless I Really Liked Them

This list could be handy if you’re interested in buying clothes secondhand… you can still buy them and wear them, but don’t consider them basics — they have to really be something you love.

peplumsarchitectural heelscolorblocked dresses (especially with an exposed zipper) — many will say that these have been out for at least five years, but I’m still seeing new ones come out. I wouldn’t recommend buying the new ones, but if you already own colorblocked dresses you love, I think they’re still wearable.tunic sweaters — I’m still going to wear them, but it’s because I like them.ankle pants — I still think you can wear the older ones you like, but I’d hold off on buying new until you see what’s popular at your office. Consider wearing them with loafers or mid-calf boots to make them more current; avoid the ballet flats + ankle pants look.round toe flats — Curious to hear your thoughts, but I feel like it’s either pointy flat or loafer at this point.exposed zippers — We’re still seeing these! No one, at any point, ever liked them for work, but manufacturers have yet to get the message (or maybe it’s cheaper to make dresses this way). You do you, but I wouldn’t buy a dress with an exposed zipper unless I really like the rest of the dress.

{related: how to cultivate style (aka style vs. trend vs. frump)}

Items You Should Never Wear to Work (But Know Your Office)

I’d be curious for your thoughts on this list, as my own advice to women is largely unchanged over the 15 years of this blog — it’s not that you can’t wear these items, but if you’re new to an office, wait to wear these items until you see mid-levels wearing them. (The theory here is that a junior employee should follow mid-levels, because the bosses can wear what they want.)

What Not to Wear to Conservative Offices in General

I’d define a conservative office as one where people wouldn’t look out of place wearing a suit.

anything that makes noise (bracelets, pants, shoes, whatever)shoes (especially heels) you cannot walk a few blocks inpants with five-pocket styles cut like denim — including corduroy, velvet, etc.leggings as pantslong dresses and skirts (maxi for sure, maybe even midi)anything denim (including denim jackets or blazers)over-the-knee boots (I’d LOVE your thoughts on that one, readers — I still think it’s a know your office situation.)anything that wasn’t commonly worn five years agoanything requiring a special bra or exposing unusual skin (including slash-neck sweaters, crop tops, and even those half-sweaters meant to be worn over a camisole so there are flashes of skin)“anchorwoman style,” like camisoles with blazers (or at least go into it knowing you probably can’t remove your blazer if you get hot)sheer/lace/chiffon detailssleeveless arms and bare legs — but I expect this one will vary greatly by region and office culture (but! see the conversation in the comments re pantyhose. Maybe the answer finally is “presume bare legs are ok unless your office makes a big deal about how bare legs are not acceptable.”)(see the below list also)

What Not to Wear to a Business Casual Office

Again, these aren’t definite nos, just “presume it’s a no until you’ve worked there a while.” Proposed safe outfit until you know your office: Pants without back pockets (Pixie pants from Old Navy would be great here but lots of higher-end options also — note that they now have styles other than ankle pants) and a blouse, sweater, or cardigan & tee.

I’d still go with much of the above list until you’ve worked at your office a bitripped denim (including “raw” hems), anything other than dark rinse denimanything with a mid-thigh slitsneakers, sandals, commuting shoes (rainboots, Sorel, Sperry, etc.) — keep a pair of simple flats or heels at the office. I’d include the “white sneakers with everything” trend — just wait a while and see if it will fly at your office.graphic tees and sports paraphernaliahoodies (even if they’re cashmere) — but know your officeI don’t think this is a trend right now, but I’ll add it anyway: shorts with tights(summertime: shorts and any shoe that exposes your toes)

{related: The Ultimate Guide to Business Casual for Women}

Iffy Trends That are PROBABLY OK (but I Wouldn’t Wear the First Week)

As always: know your office.

Jumpsuits — I still think these can be very hit or miss for work, but they’ve been around for long enough and have been popular in workwear stores for long enough…Knee-high boots — I hope we are way past the days when, if you wore knee-high boots (not even OTK!), you’d have to deal with jokes from coworkers about pirates (or dominatrixes). But it wasn’t that long ago that knee-high boots were suspect — so know your office.Split hems – I’m not a huge fan of the trend but I don’t think there’s anything inherently inappropriate for the office about the look. (See, e.g., The Row or Ted Baker.)

Readers, over to you — what will you not be wearing to work in 2021? What trends scream “2017” (or earlier) — what trends seem inappropriate now?

Stock photo via Stencil.

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