Sartorial minefield

PHOTO: Sartorial minefield

You are what you wear to work.

Turn up in sequins and co-workers or clients might peg you as frivolous. Animal prints may not go down well in a conservative work place and a figure-hugging dress can be too risque for the office.

What to wear to work

  • As a rule, your lashes should not obstruct your view. If they do, then they are too long.
  • Pair animal prints with something basic such as a white shirt. White draws attention and will help to balance the boldness of the print.
  • Throw on a blazer or a cardigan and the look immediately becomes more appropriate.
  • Make sure they are not too short for work. To gauge what is an appropriate length, stand up with your arms beside you and see where your fingertips meet your leg. Your shorts should not be shorter than that.
  • Stick to sneakers that are classic in design, such as this one from Superga ($69.90, Rockstar, 22 Orchard Road).
  • This pair from Vans ($79, 02-07A Orchard Cineleisure).
  • The classic New Balance sneakers ($89, 02-07A Orchard Cineleisure) are all the rage now. We have seen women wearing them with dresses and suits. But avoid this look if you do not work in the creative industry.
  • You can wear a V-neck T-shirt, such as this one from Topshop ( $29), tucked into a pair of high-waisted trousers. To dress up the look, wear it with a blazer and statement necklace. The look is less stuffy than a dress shirt ensemble.
  • A striped T-shirt, such as this one from Kate Spade Saturday ($50, B1-27 Ion Orchard), should be a staple in your closet. It is a timeless classic that is smart enough for work and can also be dressed down for weekends. Match it with a pair of high-waisted pants or a pencil skirt for a very Parisian look.
  • Try T-shirts in more luxurious fabrics, such as this one from Alexander Wang ($634, www.net-a-porter.com) that is made of crepe-twill. This T-shirt looks more formal than one made of cotton. It would go well untucked with a pair of tailored cropped pants.
  • Sequins and glitter must be worn with simple pieces. For example, pair a glitter top with dark trousers.
  • A leather biker jacket is appropriate in creative industries.

Ms Jenny Lie, associate consultant at image consultancy company Imageworks, says: “We think that others shouldn’t judge us by what we wear, but truth be told, it takes only two seconds for a perception to be formed and it’s harder to change that perception once it’s been formed.”

12 fashion mistakes you should not make at work

  • Baggy or tight-fitting clothes are both unflattering and look unprofessional.
  • If you don't want to be known for over-exposure, don't wear short skirts. If you dress too seductively, you will also not be taken seriously at work.
  • Make sure your socks are long enough to cover your legs when your pants ride up. No one should be able to see how hairy your legs are when you are sitting down.
  • When you are in a professional conversation, you want your subject to look into your eyes and documents instead. Distracting them with your cleavage is counter-productive.
  • If you have a beach/pool event for work, do not go in a bikini. Again, you will be distracting your work partners as well as risking a fashion faux-pas.
  • Choose the colour of your clothes to match the occasion. For work, you should always go with subdued colours instead of those which scream for attention.
  • Make sure your clothes reflect maturity and sensibility.
  • Wear the right shoes, even if you think no one will notice. If you wear dirty or sloppy shoes, someone important is bound to notice your lack of effort.
  • Even if you are attending an office party, make sure your clothes reflect professionalism and not your weekend party spirit.
  • Pay attention to details. Make sure you have done all you can to look your best, including touching up chipped nails, wiping away smudged mascara, trimming your nose hair and more.
  • Mr Josh Goh says: They look too racy and lewd for the office environment. In Asian cultures, people might perceive the wearer as someone of undesirable character.
  • Ms Teo Ser Lee says: Most companies allow peep-toe heels, but draw the line at sandals. They’re just not professional. Be sure to get a proper pedicure when you’re wearing peep-toe heels to look more polished.
  • Ms Su Pei Lin says: Nail art tends to be associated with teenagers and younger staff in non-management roles. You don’t want colleagues to be distracted by your nails when you gesture.

While fashion trends can veer towards the outrageous, there are ways to make some of them work so that you do not have to stick to the commonly accepted office attire of plain collared blouses, trousers and skirts.

For instance, wearing a leopard-print skirt may be too bold, but a zebra-print one is more subtle. A sequinned top may be more appropriate for a night out at the club, but when coupled with a pair of simple black trousers, the look is instantly toned down.

But a large part of what is appropriate or inappropriate depends on the industry you work in.

The creative or IT industries may be more accepting towards a more casual dress sense, such as the wearing of shorts to work, while the banking, financial and legal sectors usually demand more formal and classic workwear.

Ms Sharon Connolly, an image consultant, says that a person’s role at work also determines what is appropriate to wear.

“Someone who meets customers needs to be more careful about what she’s wearing than someone in a call centre,” she adds.

Mr Josh Goh, assistant director of corporate services at human resources firm The GMP Group, says that people should dress for the role they aspire to perform and “not according to whims and fancies”.

“Working professionals should always remember that they need to communicate their desired attributes through their dressing. It helps to reaffirm their work performance and experience,” he adds.

Human resources experts and image consultants weigh in on some fads and whether or not they are appropriate for work.

MAYBE: BODY-CON DRESSES

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY

Mr Josh Goh, assistant director of corporate services at recruitment firm The GMP Group : Although the body-con dress is generally appropriate for work, the dress should not reveal too much skin. Cutouts are taboo and the dress should not be too low-cut.

Ms Jenny Lie, associate consultant at image consultancy company Imageworks: Figure-hugging dresses are less appropriate for very formal business wear. As a professional, the aim is to draw attention to your ideas and work, not your body. Wear them with caution. Go a size bigger so that it is not overly tight. Make sure there are no visible panty lines and that bra bulges are well concealed.

Ms Teo Ser Lee, image consultant : Figure-hugging dresses are fine as long as they are of a conservative cut. Avoid plunging necklines and dresses that are too short.

TIPS

  • Throw on a blazer or a cardigan and the look immediately becomes more appropriate.
  • Keep accessories to a minimum if you do not want to look like you are heading out to a party after work.


MAYBE: T-SHIRTS

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY

Mr Josh Goh : The humble T-shirt gives the impression of being laid-back, which is not desirable. When a T-shirt is worn, one should try and pair it with a blazer.

Ms Denise Ng, founder of image consulting company ImagoImage: Plain T-shirts are best worn in casual offices. All T-shirts for work must be ironed and in pristine condition. T-shirts with logos can be worn only in creative industries. In conservative industries, such as banking and finance, T-shirts are not appropriate even on Fridays.

Ms Teo Ser Lee : Many companies, such as those in the IT and research industries, allow their employees to wear T-shirts because they don’t need to meet clients. But T-shirts with silly slogans should not be worn to work.

TIPS

  • You can wear a V-neck T-shirt, such as this one from Topshop (photo 1, $29), tucked into a pair of high-waisted trousers. To dress up the look, wear it with a blazer and statement necklace. The look is less stuffy than a dress shirt ensemble.
  • A striped T-shirt, such as this one from Kate Spade Saturday (photo 2, $50, B1-27 Ion Orchard), should be a staple in your closet. It is a timeless classic that is smart enough for work and can also be dressed down for weekends. Match it with a pair of high-waisted pants or a pencil skirt for a very Parisian look.
  • Try T-shirts in more luxurious fabrics, such as this one from Alexander Wang (photo 3, $634, www.net-a-porter.com) that is made of crepe-twill. This T-shirt looks more formal than one made of cotton. It would go well untucked with a pair of tailored cropped pants.

MAYBE: SNEAKERS

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY

Ms Denise Ng: Sneakers can be worn in casual, hip workplaces or in jobs where you need to move around a lot.  Even then, you should change to more formal shoes when meeting important clients.

Ms Genny Chia, founder of image consultancy company Style Infinity: Sneakers are often seen as footwear for students. While they are acceptable in the creative industry, many would deem them inappropriate for organisations that have a formal dress code.

Ms Su Pei Lin, associate consultant at Imageworks : Unless you’re involved in the office clean-up or warehouse operations, it’s best to leave them for the weekends.

TIPS

  • Make sure your sneakers are in tip-top condition.
  • They should not look too worn out or dirty.
  • Stick to sneakers that are classic in design, such as this one from Superga (photo 1, $69.90, Rockstar, 22 Orchard Road) and this pair from Vans (photo 2, $79, 02-07A Orchard Cineleisure). Avoid those with embellishments.
  • The classic New Balance sneakers (photo 3, $89, 02-07A Orchard Cineleisure) are all the rage now. We have seen women wearing them with dresses and suits. But avoid this look if you do not work in the creative industry.

MAYBE: ANIMAL PRINTS

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY

Mr Josh Goh: People tend to associate animal prints with party animals. Use it very sparingly in your outfits.

Ms Jenny Lie: Animal prints have been around for so many seasons, they have become something of a modern classic. For this reason, it can be worn in both the creative and professional fields. To err on the side of caution, avoid wearing animal prints if you’re attending a job interview or meeting a client for the first time. For more conservative industries, keep the prints small or aim for small touches of animal prints.

Ms Teo Ser Lee: Animal prints give the impression that the wearer is outspoken and very carefree, which are not necessarily bad qualities. To look smart, don’t wear baggy animal-print clothing.

TIPS

  • Pair animal prints with something basic such as a white shirt. White draws attention and will help to balance the boldness of the print.
  • For more conservative industries, you can channel this look with a scarf or a handbag instead of in your clothing.
  • Leopard prints are one of the boldest prints you can wear for work. For a more subtle look, try zebra prints.


NO: LINGERIE-INSPIRED OUTFITS

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY

Mr Josh Goh : They look too racy and lewd for the office environment.  In Asian cultures, people might perceive the wearer as someone of undesirable character.

Ms Lani Chan, style services manager at Club 21: Lingerie-inspired outfits should be limited to celebrities.  It’s not easy to carry off these outfits and look professional at the same time.

Ms Genny Chia: Wearing revealing outfits at work is currently the No. 1 workplace dressing faux pas.  The last thing the management needs is a distracting female employee who is not wearing enough at work. She may be receiving a lot of attention but, at the same time, she is losing credibility.

MAYBE: SEQUINS AND GLITTER


WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY

Ms Annie Sachdev, procurement and supply chain manager at recruitment firm Robert Walters Singapore: Keeping a professional image at work is really important, especially when presenting yourself to management, shareholders or clients. Wearing something so attention-grabbing at work may send the wrong message.

Ms Genny Chia : Tops or skirts with light glitter may be acceptable in companies that have a less formal dress code. Outfits with sequins or glitter from top to toe should be avoided.

Ms Sharon Connolly, image consultant: With sequins and glitter, it’s about moderation. For instance, a blouse with a sequinned collar can spice up a boring outfit.

TIPS

  • Professionals can still try this trend, but instead of wearing glitter on your clothes, try a pair of sequinned shoes.
  • Sequins and glitter must be worn with simple pieces. For example, pair a glitter top with dark trousers (right).
  • You can also pair a sparkly top with a well-cut blazer to tame the look.


MAYBE: CLIP-ON COLOURED HAIR EXTENSIONS

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY

Ms Maninder Krishnan, image consultant at Image & Me : If you’re in the creative field, then hair extensions, when done tastefully, can be your way of highlighting your creative genius.
Even so, you should not use bold colours.

Ms Jenny Lie: Funky coloured hair extensions send a message that the wearer is playful, a little defiant and has loads of personality.
It doesn’t convey a message of trust.

Ms Karen Ng, image consultant : It’s fine if you use colours that are close to your natural hair colour. Keep it to one streak just for an edge.
Anything that is too bright sends a message that you can’t be bothered.


TIPS

  • Use clip-on hair extensions that are close to your natural hair colour, such as dark blue or dark red.
  • Coloured clip-on extensions can give off a wild vibe.
  • Tie your hair into a sleek ponytail for a polished look that still allows you to show off that coloured streak.


NO: SANDALS

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY

Mr Josh Goh: Sandals are no better than flip-flops. They are never work appropriate. They look sloppy and footwear that expose your toes are safety hazards as they cannot protect your feet.

Ms Teo Ser Lee: Most companies allow peep-toe heels, but draw the line at sandals. They’re just not professional. Be sure to get a proper pedicure when you’re wearing peep-toe heels to look more polished.

Ms Su Pei Lin: The more toes you show, the more casual your footwear is. Formal businesswear demands that only covered shoes or peep-toe shoes be worn, with no more than three toes showing.


NO: NAIL ART


WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY

Ms Annie Sachdev: I don’t recommend nail art for all industries. It’s too distracting in the workplace and can hinder daily work tasks such as typing.  The impression that the wearer is going to give is one of vanity and lack of both professionalism and credibility.

Mr Josh Goh: Nail art is not suited for conservative industries such as finance and banking.

Ms Su Pei Lin: Nail art tends to be associated with teenagers and younger staff in non-management roles.  You don’t want colleagues to be distracted by your nails when you gesture.


MAYBE: SHORTS


WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY

In organisations with less formal dress codes, shorts may be acceptable but they should be paired with a formal blouse or a blazer.

Ms Genny Chia: Incorporating shorts into workwear could bring a breath of fresh air to your whole look. However, there is a thin line between sloppy shorts and chic structured shorts that are workplace appropriate. Workplace-appropriate shorts include those made of linen and cotton twill.

Ms Lani Chan: If you’re wearing a pair of shorts, keep the rest of your look covered up. Pair shorts with a long-sleeved Oxford shirt on days that you get to dress down.
Ms Sharon Connolly

TIPS

  • Make sure they are not too short for work. To gauge what is an appropriate length, stand up with your arms beside you and see where your fingertips meet your leg. Your shorts should not be shorter than that.
  • Pair your shorts with a matching blazer for a look that is casual and still professional (left).
  • Do not wear sky-high heels when you wear shorts to work; they are just too racy.

YES: FALSE LASHES


WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY

Mr Josh Goh: False eyelashes are generally fine, but some ladies attempt to achieve the cute look by using fake lashes that are exceptionally long and thick. This is not advisable as it portrays an immature image.

Ms Jenny Lie: False lashes can be very flattering for those with short and sparse eyelashes. For everyone else, mascara does the trick to add volume and length to the lashes.

Ms Karen Ng: They are perfectly fine, but the rest of your make-up should be kept simple as you’re already drawing attention to your eyes.


TIPS

  • As a rule, your lashes should not obstruct your view.  If they do, then they are too long.
  • Keep the rest of your make-up simple.
  • Avoid bright-coloured eyeshadow if you are wearing false lashes to work.

MAYBE: LEATHER

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY

Mr Josh Goh: When done tastefully, leather exudes sophistication and stability, so it really depends on how the wearer coordinates it with other clothing items. As a rule, clothing should not be too tight. The wearer should also be mindful of personal hygiene as one can get too warm wearing leather.

Ms Lani Chan: The luxurious feel and look of a strong leather ensemble can lend a sensible, yet fashionable boost to the typical workplace attire.

Ms Denise Ng: Leather is very fashionable but if you work in a conservative industry, such as law or banking and finance, you may want to avoid wearing it.


TIPS

  • A leather pencil skirt such as this one from Topshop ($106) may be sexier than wearing one made of fabric, but it can still be work appropriate. Pair this skirt with something conservative, such as a button-up cotton shirt.
  • A leather biker jacket is appropriate in creative industries. Go for a simple leather jacket, such as this one from New Look ($103.90), and wear it over a blouse with a regular pencil skirt or with a dress. Do not sport the leather on leather look even in the creative industry.
  • A leather top, such as this one from The Outnet ($256, www.theoutnet.com), can be paired with silk cropped pants and high heels for work.
  • If you are wearing leather, keep accessories to a minimum. The leather is enough of a statement.

staceyc@sph.com.sg