4 Things you Shouldn’t Wear to Work


While strict dress codes are not very common anymore, dressing professionally is highly encouraged in today’s work environments. Historically, the private sector has been known for the “corporate look”: sharp suits, sleek pencil skirts and shiny shoes. While you see some of that in government work environments, it is still not the “norm”. While I do believe in comfort, I also believe in looking professional. Yes, it is possible to find comfortable professional attire and shoes and still look sharp and professional. Below are four things you shouldn’t wear to work along with some alternatives that can serve the same purpose.

  1. Sneakers or Flip-flops– It is one thing to wear these on your way to work if you have to walk a long distance, but it’s another thing to continue to wear these throughout your work day. Wearing flip-flops or sandals in the office means your feet are basically bare and no one wants to look at your toes during the staff meeting. If you have a condition that makes it hard or impossible to wear closed work shoes, consider wearing work-appropriate flats or even orthopedic dress shoes. There are plenty of options out there that don’t include sneakers or flip-flops.
  2. Wrinkled anything– Whether it’s your shirt, your pants or your skirt, if they are wrinkled it makes you look sloppy. It sends the message that you don’t care enough about your job to take the time to iron your clothes. Yes, ironing is painful; I personally don’t enjoy it much. If this is your case, then go for wrinkle-free shirts or consider a steam iron. They are much easier to use and you get fantastic results faster.
  3. Glittery and/or dark eye shadow– Unless you are going to a disco straight after work, stay away from makeup that has glitter and dark eye shadow like electric blue or black. Keep it simple and tasteful with soft colors like earth tones.
  4. Leggings– Yes, they are super comfortable and also inappropriate for most work environments. They are tight and sometimes see-through and wore with a short top; they definitely don’t send the message “I take this job seriously.” While I highly discourage you to wear leggings for work, if you are going to wear them, please make sure they are not see-through and that you wear an appropriate top like a long blouse with a blazer like the picture below.

When it comes to dressing for the workplace we need to be more cautious with our choices. Although our appearance is not a reflection of our intellect or potential, it may have an impact on the opportunities we are provided at work. More often than not dressing for success leads to success.

Michelle Rosa is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Violet Ungemach

Thank you for this essential post Michelle! I am about to graduate college and through all my internships I have had the common struggle of simply trying to figure out what to wear. I’ll keep these tips in mind and consider your version of the legging, thanks!

Florence Petersen

WHAT? No advice for men’s wear? Like message t shirts, facial hair and golf shorts/shirts? Only women need to worry, is that the message? I guess the gender discrimination continues, ad nauseum. Shades of the Republican Senate vs. Senator Warren.


Thank you for reading. I am blogging on this topic in the way of a “series” so I do plan to address men’s wear in the office in a later post. I hope you also read and comment on that one 😉

Melanie M. Williams

Over the years, I have observed that the millennials care less about workplace dress codes as those of the Baby Boomers or Generation X eras. For example, piercings and tattoos that were once Taboo in the workplace are now common attire for the millennials. Evidence that this is a true statement is found in the fiction TV series such as CSI, NCIS, and others that show the workplace fashion has become more relaxed. It apperas as if the millenials care less about what they wear and more about what they know. The culture of the workplace attire as we know it is a dying phase and the dress attire takes a back seat when it comes to the knowledge a person possesses. Maybe we can learn a thing a two by following the millennials new dress code culture.


Thanks for readiing and for your comment. As a Millennial, I still see the importance of dressing appropiatly for work. Notice I am not talking about strict dress codes, because I do agree those are a thing of the past, but rather common sense choices. I have yet to meet a Millennial that does not care about their attire when it comes to work. Every work environment is different, but I am a strong believer in dressing for success!

Elisabeth Leiting

I think it’s important to be both knowledgeable and dress well. These two things are not mutually exclusive. In fact, I have have dressed to match others, while at other times I have worn the pencil skirts and other recommended items. Typically I get more respect from outsiders when I wear nicer clothing, though there are occasions where they perceive it as a sign that I am overpaid because they may not have the same opportunities.

richard regan

I think this post crosses a dangerous line of creating workplaces where employees can not show up as their real selves. It reinforces apparent effectiveness which answers the question of potential at the expense of talent. It asks the question do you look the part as opposed to can you do the part. It promotes hiring for cultural fit.

It fails to address the question as to who decides what appropriate dress should be in the workplace. Is it the dominant group who has most of the power that tells the subordinate group this is how we do things around here? This forces the subordinate group to cover by blending in to a workplace where you have to leave a piece of yourselves at the door.

At the end of the day, our workplaces should be about results and not how we look as we deliver results.

Lets move from apparent effectiveness to real effectiveness. That way we focus on accomplishments, serving our customers and furthering the objectives and goals of the organization.


Thanks for reading and commenting. I respectfully disagree with some of your statements. I am all for being ourselves in the workplace, but I also think there is a place and time to wear sandals, sneakers and wrinkled clothes, and that place is not the worklplace. Dressing well is a way of showing respect to our customers, our peers and superiors. Ofcourse this also depends on your workplace. If you work in the field or similar environments where casual attire makes more sense, then that is a completely different thing. But if you work in the typical professional business office work environment, then I believe we should be more cautious about what we choose to wear. We can still be ourselves, but keeping in mind that our superiors and coworkers may not want to look at our toes during the staff meeting. Or that if asked to attend an important meeting with executives, we may not want to be wearing wrinkled clothes or sneakers. I believe its more about reapect than appearances.

richard regan

Lets take your “I may not want to look at your toes” analogy. I may not like to look at the unusual hair style of African Americans. Remedy-straighten your hair. I may not agree with same sex marriage. Remedy-don’t put pictures of your partner on your desk. I don’t have a problem talking about my sports team that has an American Indian mascot. Remedy-American Indians cannot speak out against this objectification. I think a woman should put career before family. Remedy-I can’t talk about what it means to be a mother in the workplace. I don’t think Muslim women should not wear head coverings. Remedy-I can’t express my religious values.

Creating barriers to bringing your full self to work forces people to cover, blend in, not stand out and be their full selves at work.

The goal of building diverse and inclusive workplaces (something you appeared to support in an earlier post) should be to not force everyone to look, act, talk and dress in ways that hide differences. We should be crafting work spaces where we unite by keeping our differences intact!


I have been reading lots of your comments lately, Richard. I am a super-fan. You are very thoughtful and your points are consistently well made. You’re a voice that needs to be heard. Please keep posting!


Sure, nobody at work wants to smell you or see flashes of skin when you bend over, but much of Michelle’s advice is outdated, designed for corporate culture, and/or simply bunk.

1) Michelle consistently talks about not wearing open-toed shoes because “no one wants to look at your feet.” I’m disappointed that she failed to mention the real reason open-toed footwear is often prohibited in offices: employee safety! If a 50 pound box of paper drops on your bare toes, it is likely to do far more damage than if it is dropped on your shoe.

2) I have worn my heavy black eyeliner, bright red lipstick and nose ring long before I started working for the government and I intend to keep them long after I leave. Do I throw on a blazer to interview people? Absolutely. Has my non-conservative style prevented me from rising through the ranks very quickly? Not at all. I work in a meritocracy and I earn respect through my conduct and work results, which is as it should be.

3) As a recruiter, it is actually refreshing for applicants and new staff to see me representing my Agency. It makes government work seem less stiff, cold, and off-putting. I have hired wonderful people with all sorts of styles and modes of self-expression. Not requiring employees to wear traditional business uniforms, much less judging on the quality of those clothes, actually helps us to attract and retain quality employees. It makes our customers feel more comfortable, too.


I had to keep reading the rebuttals before I posted. You folks have echoed my sentiments. I have been in the federal worforce for almost 15 years and while there has never been a dress code conscous, professional employees seem to be able to gauge the tone of their workplace. Articles like these come off as controlling sometimes. While I understand what the tone is I simply disagree with the overall message which I coclude is you cant be successful if you are not dressed a certain way.


Yes, I will wear sandals in the summer when the outside temperature is above 90* and the inside temperature approaches +80*, as it always does in the summer in my geography of the US. I will also wear short sleeves and skirts. Did I mention that my office HVAC cannot keep up with the outside temperature? It can’t. What I will not wear is spaghetti straps blouses or dresses, as I do not consider that professional.

I also wear leggings in the fall and winter months, however I wear them with a tunic that goes nearly to my knees.

In these snowy months, I even wear sneakers, of course they are all black and look really close to the “professional” shoes I normally wear. The reason for me to wear sneakers and not my “professional” shoes is so that I do not fall in the snow and ice. Work really does not want me to have to go through worker’s comp.

The thing with professional wear is that they have to match the culture of the office AND the environment where you work.

Frank Merritt

Let’s join the 21st Century please. why should my clothes be the determining factor in how well I do my job? What’s the difference between sneakers, walking shoes, and let’s say, docksiders? As long as the person is presentable, who cares? It’s the level of value and productivity the person brings to the table that’s more important. I want to feel comfortable whether in the office, teleworking, etc. Formality has it place but it doesn’t have to be 5 days a week 52 weeks a year. Come on loosen up. What fashion God laid down the commandments in the first place?


if your uncle was a CEO of, say, an advertising agency, would you wear blue jeans, sneakers and a tee shirt to his funeral? Keep in mind that he was dedicated to his work and his image reflected that. I would think that, out of respect for him you would dress nicely. I dress professionally for work because I want to convey a professional image to my clients. It has nothing to do with what century we live in, it has to do with respect for self and others.

Jean Mayne

In many ways I find myself on the side of objectors–occasional glittery makeup or shorts will not have any overall impact toward furthering or hampering our work. In today’s diverse work arena, judging the appropriateness of wear isn’t a one-size fits all situation.

I work with a lot of men and women who operate sewage treatment plants. While a few wear business casual polos, far more show up to meetings in tee-shirts and jeans (often stained)–because it doesn’t make sense to dress up for their work. If I dress to the nines, it only serves to make them feel insufficient and judged, never mind the crucial service they provide for their communities. They would resent having to work with someone who spent so much time and effort on their looks instead of hard, often dirty, work.

If I go out into the field, I’m not going to wear a dress, skirt, or any light-weight shoes because in most cases it wouldn’t be safe where I’m going. It wouldn’t provide me with the adequate protection and could potentially wind up caught in machinery–which could be deadly.

I’ve also dealt with several women who are pregnant. Trust me–leggings are a good thing. Practical, affordable, comfortable, and they allow the woman to continue to be productive throughout their pregnancy. I’m also pretty forgiving when it comes to new parents (men or women) wearing the occasional wrinkled item. The wrinkle doesn’t make them any less of a valued worker.

What you have really explained here is the prejudice of some higher-ups on who they choose to promote or who they choose to offer opportunities to. Clothing really says nothing about the ability of the person within.