Appropriate Office Attire
How to get dressed for work in the morning.
CLEAVAGE: If you are an older chick—I’m talking about that middle-aged receptionist with the Florida sun damage whose name is always Dolores—then the sight of your leathery cleavage will be welcome in any office environment. It’s comforting. It’s maternal. It’s nonthreatening. Not so younger gals. While granny-cleavage is totally innocuous in its effect, a prominently displayed youthful cleavage will cause disruption, division, and mayhem.
If you are young and lovely, and you wish to deploy your natural assets for career or personal advancement, then you must call upon subtler means. Yes, I’m talking about your legs. Think Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, but with panties. Few machers are immune to the crossing and recrossing of a well-shaped pair of gams, or even a mediocre-shaped pair.
TATTOOS: In a conventional office environment, visible tattoos feel somewhat inauthentic: “I may be crunching numbers in a cubicle, but make no mistake, I am a real bad-ass,” they seem, poignantly and unconvincingly, to be saying.
If you wish to ink up—neck, face, hands—then you may need to switch careers. While displays of heavy tats feel ludicrous in the average office, the same cannot be said of your local eatery. If you work in food services—it matters not whether it’s a groovy, locavore Portland tapas joint or an artisanal pickle factory in Brooklyn—then a plethora of tattoos is positively de rigueur. Don’t even think about becoming a top chef unless you have a full sleeve thingy. Every foodie dude is now obliged—don’t ask me why—to give the impression that he has a seriously troubled, outlaw past. “I used to cook meth and now I cook organic quail eggs,” his tattoos seem to say.
A SOLUTION: Years ago I attended a vogue-ing competition in Harlem. This was way back before Madonna popularized this mysterious subculture. As those of you who have seen the ’80s documentary Paris is Burning will be aware, these hilariously competitive events were structured around very specific categories: Executive Realness, First Time in Drag, Looking Like a Banshee Girl, etc.
On this particular night one of the categories made a strong impression on me. I realize now that it contains the ultimate solution to the conundrum of office attire circa 2012. The category was … drumroll … Looking Like You’re Going Someplace Better Later. As I struggle to concoct a new roadmap for office attire, balancing the need for a little self-expression with the need for decorum, this phrase floats back into my consciousness. Avoid the gruesome pitfalls of overdressing or underdressing. Simply dress like you are going someplace better later.
For gals this translates to a few sequins here, a fake lash there, an oversized bejeweled cuff here. For men it means a new suit with a more fitted jacket, a pocket square or a nifty iPad case. Are you freakishly fabulous? No. But neither are you turgid and dreary. When your mantra is to look like you’re going someplace better later, then you have permission to add that signature flourish which sets you apart.
And then, in the unlikely event that you are actually going someplace better later, you are good to go. Memo to you: Keep that blue stripper wig in your purse, just in case.
Simon Doonan is an author, fashion commentator, and creative ambassador for Barneys New York.(Photo by Roxanne Lowit.)