me talking about office dress codes in the summer, flip flops, and that biting letter

I was on public radio’s Marketplace this weekend, talking about what to wear to work in the summer, flip flops, and what to do when someone is dressed wildly inappropriately for the office — including a story about leather shorts. And we talked about remote work and last week’s letter about biting too.

You can listen here:

{ 180 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Anne

    My office is technically business casual, but unless we’re doing some sort of event, no one cares if you wear (un-ripped) jeans and (nice, fitted, non-graphical) tees. It’s great.

    …that being said, a while ago all of the management-level people were on break and one employee (who I had only ever seen wearing button-ups before then ) took the opportunity to wear tees which happened to be thin enough to advertise his nipple piercings to the world. No matter how casual your office might be, unless you’re in the sex work industry maybe consider work clothing that conceals your body piercings.

    Reply
    1. Blue Anne

      That is amazing. Both heck yeah and oh no to that guy.

      My office is also business casual, but – at the risk of stereotyping – all the staff are women and all the bosses are middle aged men, and they just don’t seem that interested in policing it. My colleagues often dress in clothing I would think is too casual for the office, but it’s on the “summer dresses with bare shoulders” end rather than the “t-shirt and jeans” end, so they still all look very put-together.

      I’m not complaining, though. As long as my jeans aren’t blue, I can pass them off as business trousers with a blouse and cardi, which works for me.

      Reply
      1. aebhel

        I am totally guilty of this, but in my defense, my building doesn’t have central air and it’s that or boil. We’re definitely on the ‘casual’ side of business casual, though.

        Reply
      2. Not The Droid You Are Looking For

        I’ve totally been doing this…it’s a bazillion degrees outside so I’m dying by the time I get from my parking garage to my office.

        I always have a sweater or blazer with me to pull over the dress, but it is always awkward when someone stops me in the hallway before I get to my office.

        Reply
  2. Kowalski! Options!

    I’m starting to wonder if the Ministry of Teapots even *has* a dress code, because you see a little bit of everything around here, and on my coffee break a couple of moments ago, I counted no fewer than five guys wearing shorts. (Last summer, the IT department even had a co-op student who came dressed in full-blast Goth gear, and no one batted an eye.) True, the go-getters here do tend to favor more conservative tastes, and we’re not exactly located in the fashionista capital of the world…but the wide variety of dress codes took some getting used to when I began here.

    Reply
    1. Kowalski! Options!

      …”wide variety of clothing styles took some getting used to…”
      (Not dress codes, obviously. Going for another coffee.)

      Reply
    2. Kyrielle

      The joke (but it’s a true thing also, just a funny one) here is that if you want to be a manager, you must switch up to at least polo shirts, and sometimes you might want to wear button-down shirts, with your jeans.

      Reply
  3. Laney M.

    I’m actually about to start a more-senior role in a more-casual office, and I need to figure out how to negotiate that! I want to come off as respectable/mature (considering this will be my first-ever job where I outrank, well, anyone!) but I also don’t want to be the weirdo who shows up in a Banana Republic ensemble when some of the people who interviewed me were wearing khaki shorts…

    Reply
    1. MAB

      I have a pretty casual work force under me (we do have a dress code but its mostly in regard to food safety and good manufacturing practices). I tend to wear nice items paired with jeans or today is a simple shirt with jeans slacks. I also make sure everything I wear isn’t thread worn or super out of style. (No 80’s power suits for me.) But on casual friday I have been known to wear a fun t-shirt with jeans.

      Reply
    2. k.k

      If jeans are acceptable at your office, that will usually instantly casual-ize your outfit. A nice clean, wrinkle free shirt, dress shoes, and jeans is very pulled together, but still casual. If you’re comfortable in dresses there is a lot to work with there. A dress or skirt always feels fancier than pants to me, but in a casual style and fabric it’s still far from stuffy.
      Congrats on your new role and good luck!

      Reply
      1. Callalily

        A lot of times people felt the need to ‘remind’ me that it was casual Friday because I was wearing a dress or skirt… it felt super-casual to wear a light sundress and everyone thought that I was dressed up and missing out on the casual day. I love summer for the opportunity to wear dresses.

        Reply
        1. Laney M.

          I never ever wear dresses anymore (actually I’m the person who sent in the question about butch haircuts in the workplace!), but when I did, I always thought it was so funny how guys would say “oh wow you look nice” when I showed up in a dress – because it was literally the same amount of effort as pulling on a shirt and no pants!

          Reply
          1. Gadfly

            There are a lot of jersey dresses that are the dress equivalent of yoga pants and many guys still always seem to still go to dress=dressed up

            Reply
                1. RabbitRabbit

                  This, and my pale as hell and not-pretty legs, are why I’ve said no to dresses/skirts. (And no open-toed shoes/sandals at work due to not wanting to bother with pedicures.)

                2. Anxa

                  Same. I much prefer dresses, but there’s two problems:

                  Finding shoes that go with it that cover my whole foot (tops included).
                  Leg shaving. It takes me hours to shave my legs and it lasts about 1 day for dressing up, and about 3 days of casual bare legs

                3. Anion

                  @Anxa Have you considered another hair-removal method? Nair (or other depilatory creams) are pretty simple and quick to use, if a tad messy. I use an epilator; it hurts a bit (it hurts kind of a lot the first couple of times, though they sell sprays you can use to “numb” your skin a bit, and it helps to pull the skin taut. After the first three or four uses, though, it’s not anywhere near as painful) but it leaves you hair-free for weeks. And again, once you get to the less-painful point you’re also at the hair-is-thinning point, so even when it starts growing back it’s less visible.

                  Obviously you do what’s best for you, I just wondered if you’d considered trying other methods. I bought my epilator on Amazon; it’s a basic Phillips model and was only $30. For a little more you can get one with a razor head, too, so you can use that on your legs if you want; it’s not as close a shave but it’s decent and faster than a blade razor.

          2. LizM

            This is how I feel. I love dresses in the summer because all I have to do is decide, do I wear brown shoes or black shoes? And maybe pick out a jacket. Honestly, it’s a lot easier than pulling together an outfit with pants, a shirt, a jacket, etc.

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          3. Dr. Ruthless

            When I started at my current place, about a week in, my boss pulled me aside and said that I didn’t need to wear [unstructured, pretty casual] dresses every day–jeans were fine! He was wearing shorts!

            Then, he stopped mid sentence and said, “oh, unless, you, um, like wearing dresses and then you should keep wearing dresses, of course.” ding ding ding!

            Reply
        2. blackcat

          I have had to teach in a way too hot lecture hall (I had a kid pass out last semester!! Not fall asleep! Get up to go get water and then BAM on the floor!). I was very grateful for being able to wear cotton shirt-dress style dresses and sundresses (with sleeves!), rather than having to wear pants like the men who taught in the room (and everyone else who taught there last semester was a dude).

          Cotton sundresses are the best when it is way too hot.

          Reply
        3. Jadelyn

          I used to never ever wear dresses or leggings/tunics on Fridays since I’d be damned if I was going to give up a chance to wear jeans to work, so I get why your coworkers would say that, lol.

          But then we switched to a casual dress code overall, and now I wear jeans every day, so I do dresses whenever the urge strikes me – which usually ends up being about 3x a year, but still.

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        4. MCMonkeyBean

          Yeah, I can’t count the number of times I’ve had this exact conversation with a woman at work: Her–it’s Friday, why aren’t you wearing jeans!? Me–It’s 90 degrees outside, why are you wearing jeans???

          I’d prefer to cover as little of myself as is appropriate in that kind of heat, and since shorts are not generally accepted office wear it’ll have to be skirts and dresses.

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        5. Elizabeth West

          I HAAAAATE dresses.
          Reasons:
          1. In summer, chafing (especially now that nobody wears hose so I can’t without looking weird, unless it’s black hose with a black skirt and shoes).
          2. In winter, freezing.
          3. I can’t wear flats or heels because there is no arch support and heels hurt my back. In winter, I can at least wear boots and/or other shoes with tights.
          4. WIND.
          5. I feel really vulnerable. Like Wonder Woman saying, “How can a woman possibly fight in this?” (Principles and fisticuffs! ;) ) However, skating dresses never bothered me, even though the skirt is practically invisible. Probably because I was also wearing two pairs of tights and literal weapons strapped to my feet.

          But in the right setting, if I’ve chosen to wear a dress and my feet aren’t killing me, I also feel really feminine. Figure that one out, because I haven’t!

          Reply
          1. Anion

            Bike shorts (or similar) are your friend! Look online; you can buy really cute little spandex shorts to wear under dresses, for really cheap. I bought my daughter a couple of pairs to wear under her school skirts (in England pretty much all schools are uniform schools) last year and she loved them and never had to worry about a stiff breeze again. :-) Heck, even a pair of men’s boxer briefs can do the trick; though they’re less cute, they’re inexpensive and you can get them everywhere.

            Also, have you tried oxfords (the shoes) in paler colors? They can look really cute with skirts, and they have slight heels and lace up/cover the top of the foot, so you can wear really low ankle socks etc. without them showing. You can usually find them in nice soft leather, too. (If you can’t find low enough socks, try cutting pantyhose off at the right point. It works surprisingly well–they don’t run or unravel, though you do need to hand-wash them carefully.)

            Personally, I love pale colored tights with dresses, but I know not everyone does. Ivory, pale pink, very light blue…I have all those colors and wear them regularly.

            Reply
    3. myswtghst

      Seconding both MAB and k.k – I’ve found the easiest way to navigate a casual dress code when I’m trying to maintain some authority is to pair jeans with nicer tops / jewelry / shoes. Since I train new employees, I usually start with dark wash jeans, boots, and sweaters / blouses on the first few days, then downshift to sneakers and company-branded or plain-colored hoodies / tee-shirts once I’ve established myself a bit more. I’d also agree with MAB on wearing casual pieces but making sure they’re clean, neat, and not faded or worn, and I’d add in avoiding things with logos or graphics (that aren’t your-company-branded), outside of casual Fridays. Best of luck in your new role!

      Reply
      1. Falling Diphthong

        Mary Berry (on The Great British BakeOff) usually wears jeans, flat shoes, a bright top, and a jacket. I think it’s a good example of how to mix jeans with an air of authority, while being a small woman.

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          1. Clever Name

            But this doesn’t negate the comment that how she dresses on the GBBS is a good example of how to wear jeans in a casual office without looking too casual.

            Reply
          2. Gadfly

            A professional chose it to help convey that that impression, suggesting she is an example of what someone who dresses people for a living recommends as a solution.

            Reply
          3. kitryan

            Agreed with others that she isn’t fully in charge of her ‘look’ as it’s on TV, but if the designer/costumer is any good, when someone’s essentially playing ‘themselves’, their own preferences will be taken into account heavily. In that kind of situation, you want the presenters/judges to look like a better, more harmonious and well fitting version of themselves, not a different character as you might in a drama or other fictional setting.

            Reply
        1. An Inspector of Gadgets

          All three of those women’s outfits always strike such a good balance between comfortable and presentable (sometimes I don’t LOVE the baggy jeans aesthetic on Sue, but generally really nice overall).

          Reply
    4. Junior Dev

      I work in a more casual workplace and j like to mix some dressier items with casual ones, e.g.:

      Pencil skirt, blouse and blazer with Converse

      Button up shirt with well-fitted jeans

      Nice dress, hoodie and flat sandals

      Reply
      1. Rae

        Non-ripped jeans or capris, v-neck tee, nice statement necklace or earrings, and cute shoes with a 2-3 inch heel is my go-to. Dress it up by adding sparkles and dress it down by switching to geek jewelry (Star Wars, Firefly, Doctor Who, Supernatural, etc.).

        Reply
      2. Ashie

        I love the idea of wearing sneakers with skirts but I just can’t quite make myself do it, it just doesn’t look right on me.

        Reply
    5. Sal

      I’ve found ponte blazers to be perfect for this. They can be paired with jeans or dressier pants with a nice shirt, or over a casual-ish dress, but since they are that slightly stretchy but still structured material, they don’t look too formal. ASOS has some ones with modern cuts that also help to keep them more casual than, say, a regular lined blazer with buttons and lapels.

      Reply
  4. Tata

    A few years ago, my company started allowing Bermuda shorts as long as we were not client facing or meeting with a client that day. We can wear sleeveless shirts as well but not spaghetti straps. I also see a lot of flip flops with jeans. My company is large, Fortune 500. Leather shorts or pants would get you sent home though.

    Reply
    1. Callalily

      The thought of leather pants makes me think of Ross from Friends… can you imagine such a kerfuffle happening in the work washroom???

      Reply
      1. WellRed

        And then someone else would asking Alison if they should report a coworkers extended bathroom time as suspicious to HR.

        Reply
  5. Mockingjay

    My company’s business casual leans more toward casual, especially for the women. In summer most wear capris and flipflops (btw, I’m with Alison on the issue of flipflops. Just nope.). Winter is slightly dressier. I’ve had to downgrade my wardrobe. Men wear khakis or jeans with polos pretty much year round.

    At least the business casual here is much neater and clean than my last job!

    Reply
    1. ThatGirl

      I am starting a new job Monday and the dresscode is explicitly on the casual side of business casual – jeans are totally fine unless you’re in some fancy meeting or something. I was told capris are also fine. However, shorts, flipflops, sneakers and anything you would wear to the gym is a no-no.

      Reply
  6. The Supreme Troll

    Kind of off-topic, but Alison, this was the first time that I was hearing (meaning listening) to you, and you made excellent points.

    Reply
  7. The Supreme Troll

    Back in the 90s, the fashion advice that you were NOT supposed to follow was that of the executive offices and law firms on Melrose Place and Ally McBeal.

    Reply
  8. Falling Diphthong

    Another intern is told “hey, don’t do this,” and decides to put their head down, take it to the mat, and be immortalized as a cautionary tale rather than go for the good future references. Definitely a theme today. (Depending on how the nude snap chat thing works out.)

    Reply
    1. NotAnotherManager!

      I truly do not understand clothing choice being a hill to die on. It never seems to be about affordability, either, but rather someone’s “right” to wear whatever they want, whenever they want.

      Reply
      1. Alton

        I think it depends on the type of clothes and how important the issue is to you. Insisting on wearing leather shorts sounds pretty silly, but there’s no way I would voluntarily work anywhere that pressured or required women to wear skirts, makeup, or pantyhose, or that had extremely gendered dress codes in general, because that’s a deal breaker for me. It’s a matter of knowing what’s really an appropriate compromise for you. I’m not compromising anything important by not wearing overly casual clothes, but I would be if I had to go against my gender identity and preferred gender presentation. But if someone was seriously committed to wearing jeans every day, I’d encourage them to look for jobs that would allow that.

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        1. blackcat

          +1

          It was in a comment section recently that I learned there are still companies that force women to wear pantyhose and skirts. 1960 called, and would like its dress code back.

          Reply
        2. Pebbles

          +42

          The computer screen does NOT care whether I have a full face on or not, and I would job search if somebody higher up thought it did.

          Reply
        3. NotAnotherManager!

          But, to me, what you’re doing is selecting a workplace that meets your needs/preferences, not marching into a workplace and demanding that they let you wear whatever you want. I think it’s totally fine (in fact, really smart) to decide you want to work somewhere that leather short-shorts are not going to be an issue, it’s the arguing with someone (as an intern!) about why your leather short-shorts are totally fine to wear to work that bugs me.

          Reply
          1. Falling Diphthong

            Yes, expected dressiness is something you figure out in the interview stage, and if it’s a hill to die on you do it there. It’s weird to interview and accept a job somewhere with a certain group of norms–business formal, easily washable, or whatever adjective–and then insist that something way outside it is The Essence Of Who I Am As A Person And Cannot Be Suppressed.

            Reply
    2. Starwatcher

      Not an intern, but one place I at worked for one year (they had lots of issues and couldn’t keep staff for longer than 3 months on average) had a receptionist who wore low-waisted miniskirts and short, tight tops that revealed her thongs whenever she got up from the desk.

      She also flirted relentlessly with the married salesmen against their clearly-verbalized wishes, and did her nails at the desk instead of filing. All the cliches! But she was terrible at filing, so … that wasn’t the worst thing?

      Reply
      1. DecorativeCacti

        There was an issue like that at my job before I got here. They ordered long cardigans that the receptionists were required to wear instead of dealing with the issue.

        Reply
  9. mcr-red

    Someone in my office literally just went walking by me in flip-flops. I think of this column every time I or my direct supervisor wear a cold-shoulder top. So scandalous! LOL

    Reply
    1. Saturnalia

      Ditto on the cold shoulder tops bringing AAM to mind!! I actually learned the term here although I’d seen the shirts before, so every time I see one in the wild now I have to chuckle over the controversy :-)

      Reply
      1. mcr-red

        I had bought a cold-shoulder dress right around when that letter came out and had to go and ask my direct supervisor if it was OK after that letter. She didn’t care and didn’t get why anyone else would care.

        Several months later, she showed up to work in an outfit that her buyer had picked out – and it was a cold-shoulder top! She made sure to point it out to me, LOL.

        Reply
    2. NotAnotherManager!

      I work in a conservative environment (law firm) but don’t drive, so I wear my comfy shoes on the train and keep my business shoes under my desk. I figure it’s okay for me to walk in wearing my flip-flops in the summer when I’m trailing one of the senior-partner, higher-up on the governing committee who is wearing the exact same shoes. :)

      And cold-shoulder tops – truly, I do not get these. I get boat neck, off the shoulder, tank tops, etc. I’m not scandalized by shoulders! I rocked the banded, off the shoulder top in the 80s. But a shirt that just has the shoulders cut out? I find them really bizarre looking and kind of ugly. (And HR had to add these to the “no” list on the dress code because people started wearing them to work.)

      Reply
      1. Falling Diphthong

        I find them perplexing because I hate having cold shoulders. It’s like if a restaurant offered cold french fries.

        Reply
      2. aebhel

        I find them infuriating because they’re often otherwise nice tops! But I’d feel weird wearing them to work (and I agree that they’re ugly) even though I wear sleeveless blouses pretty regularly in the summer. Just something about the random cutouts weirds me out.

        Reply
    3. Temperance

      The day that letter ran, one of the assistants on my floor wore one of those along with a leather vest. She has a quirky style, but I definitely did a double take thanks to that letter.

      Reply
  10. Fronzel Neekburm

    I’ve always wondered at the non-managers and non-senior people that have time to critique whether someone is adhering to a dress code. I remember a few years ago I was at a job and the office busybody complained because the men in the office stopped wearing ties on Fridays during the summer. This was a contractor position, and all of our clients had instructed us to stop wearing ties when it was hot and we weren’t meeting with people. This affected her job in no way, but she felt a need to do that.

    Even looking through the comments I keep seeing people saying “why did so and so wear this?” Does it affect your job? Do you have so little to do that you must watch what people are wearing at all times?

    That being said, the fact that we consider ourselves “smart” but still require people to wear extra jackets and long clothes in the middle of the summer because otherwise we wouldn’t “look nice” is sad. How about we dress nicely for the season, rather than monitoring what people wear and adhering to arbitrary dress codes.

    Reply
    1. Greengirl

      To be fair, sometimes you are in a job where what your coworker wears COULD impact your job. I worked in a theater administration office where we all interacted with patrons frequently. If a disgruntled patron would not take your young Director of Patron Services seriously because she was wearing leather shorts and flip-flops, that would make it harder for you to defuse the situation. Like many nonprofit performing arts organizations, our staff was full of young women so we had to work harder to get our 60+ patrons, volunteers, and donors to listen to us.

      Like are there jobs where not following the dress code wouldn’t matter at all? Sure! Are there office busybodies? Absolutely. But there are also jobs where as a non-senior person, you would have reason to care about others following the dress code.

      Reply
    2. Paul

      There’s lines though. I’ll never forget the former coworker that wore incredibly tight, sheer leggings as pants; you could tell she wasn’t wearing underwear (hell you could nearly tell if she’d shaved). That was…a bit much, you know?

      Reply
    3. Hiring Mgr

      I would wonder even more at the mangers or senior people….As one of those I have no time and less interest in what anyone wears. Hopefully we’ve hired people with good basic judgment!

      Reply
    4. Mac

      I wouldn’t say anything, but I’d side-eye someone who’s just blatantly ignoring what would be any office’s base-level dress code because it suggests a lack of professionalism. Mostly I’m saying this because there’s a guy at my office who wears shorts even after having asked other employees, who told him they weren’t allowed. I probably wouldn’t really notice if he wasn’t extremely unprofessional in every other way too. It’s just another way he seems to convey that he thinks the rules don’t apply to him. And hey, if I can’t wear cargo shorts to the office, neither can you, buddy.

      Reply
      1. Julia

        This. I was once told to wear a suit for an event, which I did, freezing my legs off in pantyhose during the Swiss autumn. When I got there, my co-worker who also worked the event was wearing her usual clothes, even though we had the same role.

        You can bet I pushed back the next time someone asked me to wear a suit during the cold/hot season. If there are rules, they need to apply to everyone.

        (Before you say it sounds like she got an exception for some reason: None of the rules ever seemed to apply to her.)

        Reply
  11. Hannah

    My company does not have a dress code of any sort, and shorts are OK, although not that many people wear them. I will occasionally throw on a bermuda short (actually, I used to have a pretty nice outfit that included a little short-sleeved blazer with some bermuda shorts, or at least I thought it was nice!). It is confusing when there are so many “fancy” shorts options being shown that actually look really put together and nice. I’m lucky because I think our only dress code rule is that you have to wear clothes, and having your underwear showing isn’t cool.

    As for flip flops, what really counts as a flip flop? There is not a solid line, IMO, between flip flop and sandal styled like a thong. Also, plenty of other kinds of shoes can make the flip-flop sound, like clogs or slides or other styles of sandals. I don’t really know, though, because I’m just not a fan of wearing flip flops, for the most part. I don’t find them comfortable.

    Reply
    1. Mike C.

      Isn’t the difference between a flip flop and not a flip flop the complete lack of some connection between the shoe and the heel?

      Reply
      1. Falling Diphthong

        So they flop around on your feet, exactly. (I don’t wear flip flops because fulfilling their onomatopoeia drives me mad.)

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      2. Admin of Sys

        But there are cute nice-looking women’s sandals that don’t have the heel connection, which I would think are just as professional as other sandals. Clogs count as valid shoes, and they don’t have heels. Honestly, I think the only problem with flipflops is if they’re prone to making the flip-flop noise or falling off, which is not the case with many sandal designs, heel connection or not.

        Reply
        1. Starbuck

          No, that’s a slide, it’s definitely a different type of shoe. Same with mules, and clogs, they’re just seen as more professional because of the historical context in which they’ve been worn. Still, slides are open-toe, so many dress codes would forbid them. Same for anything else missing a heel strap.

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      3. Hannah

        Sure but how about these?

        http://www.zappos.com/p/paul-green-monet-sandal-red-patent/product/8848020/color/1141

        Are they flip flops? No. Do they go flip flop? Probably.

        And there are plenty of other nice looking sandals that are shaped even more like a flip flop, but the material they are made from is fancier so they feel fancier. I personally don’t see anything wrong with these. I think it might be more useful in a dress code to say something like “no plastic or foam shoes, such as shower shoes, jellies, or beach flip flops.”

        Reply
          1. Emi.

            The spam filter automatically sends links to moderation so they have to wait for Alison to approve them. (You can get around that by putting it in the “Website” field, so it’ll be linked in your username.)

            Reply
        1. Mike C.

          That’s a really fair point. I guess I’m just imagining footwear that is loose and flopping around, whereas your example wouldn’t.

          Women’s clothing is endlessly complicated.

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        2. bookish

          Yeah, the problem with “flip flops” in the purest sense is that they are extremely casual and don’t look professional. And I feel like your classic beach flip flop tends to be the worst offender for the “flip flop” noise, too. Others may clap against the heel a bit but not in such a loud, obnoxious way, and if you can’t stand any noise at all from someone taking a step you may as well suggest they come to the office in socks, lol

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        3. kitryan

          Technically, they’d be slides :)
          I have the same issue personally, since I love the flip flop style for ease and comfort so I bought some ‘fancy’ flip flops with slightly platform cork soles and gold leather thong material that I could use to expand my floppin’ range.

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    2. Clever Name

      I’ve had the same question. I have what I call leather flip flops, and I boldly wore them to the office when we were having a massive heat wave. I was trying to skulk in without anyone see them, and I was relieved to note that our CEO (also a woman) was wearing very similar leather flip flops. I said something to the effect of being glad she was wearing flip flops too, and she said, “These really aren’t flip flops; they’re leather sandals”. I mean, I do agree that leather thong sandals are not the same shoe as foam and plastic flip flops, but if our dress code specifically said “no flip flops” I wouldn’t wear the leather thongs either.

      Reply
      1. E

        Our dress code was once edited to specifically tell employees that summer shoes that had something between the toes were not allowed, because of the kerfuffle that ensued over what was/wasn’t a flip flop and what shoes would be considered business casual/work appropriate at our office. It felt like way too much drama for adults.

        Reply
          1. Julia

            I don’t think they’re boots. But they make a lot of noise as well. And you usually wear them with socks, so they’re hot.

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    3. M-C

      My silver-leather Crocs sandals would be flip-flops by most of these definitions (no heel connection, between the toes thing, foam sole) but they look a lot more business-like than much of the women’s shoes I see around at work. And they neither flip nor flop, unlike my winter clogs which -creak- in the most distressing, groaning way. Anyway, I’m sticking to the Crocs.

      Reply
  12. Elemeno P.

    I describe my work environment as business-very-casual, and my usual garb is a sleeveless dress with a cardigan to cover my arms (the men usually wear jeans/khakis and polos). I’ve been leaving the cardigan off lately and the men have been wearing shorts, but we’ve also been doing outdoor work in a water park, so even flip-flops have been acceptable lately.

    Reply
  13. Pebbles

    The entirety of our dress code policy from HR:

    “Dress Standard Policy
    Dress for your day; use good judgment. “

    Reply
    1. Yzma, Put Your Hands In The Air!

      I wish we had mature, able-minded adults where I work, so that we could have a simple dress code like this. But I work in a state government agency, and, I kid you not, there is a list of “Inappropriate Attire – Not Allowed” items, including “Leggings (including jeggings and similar pants) worn without a dress or long length blouse/sweater”, as well as this gem: “Beach flip flops/thongs/jandals/shower shoes (Definition: A type of waterproof open-toed sandal intended for use at the beach or poolside, made solely of plastic and/or rubber, and consisting of a flat or slightly elevated sole held loosely on the foot by a Y-shaped strap that passes between the first and second toes and around either side.)”

      Clearly the “jandals” should be sandals, but I typed it verbatim.

      Reply
      1. AMT

        I assumed “jandals” was some kind of neologism for an even *more* casual type of sandal (in the vein of jorts or jeggings)!

        Reply
      2. Pebbles

        I know I’ve seen jeggings occasionally here and I’m currently working while wearing Teva sandals! I would have worn shorts today but unfortunately I need to do laundry so I’m wearing jeans instead.

        Reply
        1. Yzma, Put Your Hands In The Air!

          And I’m not opposed to people wearing work-appropriate attire, at all, so I hope I haven’t come across as such. But I work in an office building. There are 8 floors of offices in this building. They had the dress code as “no flip-flops” but then had to add the full definition since people were still wearing “house shoes” (literal slippers!) and flip-flops all the time. Our offices are between 70 and 74 degrees year-round. There is no need for flip-flops while working in the building.

          Reply
    2. Red Reader

      I once worked at a nonprofit where my dress code, as given me by my manager, was “Cover your tits.”

      Reply
    3. MicroChic

      When I got my first job in my field I was nervous about dressing appropriately so I asked my trainer what the dress code was and he said “wear something you won’t mind getting blood and bleach on.”

      Reply
  14. Lisa from Michigan

    I was so excited to hear Alison this weekend on Marketplace! I wasn’t completely sure it was her until the host brought up the biting letter.

    Reply
  15. HR Artist

    I wear Birkenstocks with jeans and a nice casual top on Fridays. It’s not a problem at my work plus I spend 90% of my time at my desk so footwear isn’t an issue.So comy!

    Reply
    1. aebhel

      I’ve been living in Birkenstocks and sundresses this summer. It is not, I will grant, the most professional look, but I’m almost 8 months pregnant right now so I get a little bit of a pass from my coworkers.

      Reply
  16. Clever Name

    Thanks for posting the audio here, Alison! I was interested that you didn’t really get a chance to talk about how the person phrased the request that an intern go home because she was wearing not only shorts, but short-shorts, and leather ones at that. I think if shorts are prohibited by the dress code saying “shorts are not allowed under the dress code” and leave out the possibility of sounding judgemental of someone’s sartorial choices. It would be a kindness to the intern to provide her with examples of what *is* appropriate officewear.

    Reply
    1. Falling Diphthong

      I think she was summarizing the dress code, but accidentally through the ongoing example of the shorts:
      • No shorts
      • No hemlines more than x inches above the knee
      • Leather for accessories only

      Reply
  17. Allison

    Gonna jot down some thoughts as I listen here . . .

    I don’t think I’ve ever thought of shorts as work appropriate, because pretty much every job I’ve had with a dress code prohibited them. That said, as you mentioned, there are fashion magazines with misguided notions on workplace attire, and sometimes stores and clothing websites put stuff in the “work attire” section that doesn’t belong there, so I can’t blame younger women for making bad choices when they’re starting out. ModCloth’s “work appropriate” section was slightly helpful, but only if you had a good idea of what your office and industry deemed appropriate.

    Looking back, there were definitely shirts I wore to work at a local bookstore that, in hindsight, were much too short for just about any workplace. But the only person who commented was my super Christian coworker who said “what’s with all the leg showing, Allison?” Not helpful.

    That said, the intern that got really defensive and insisted there was nothing wrong with her shorts . . . I mean, she really didn’t consider the possibility that they wouldn’t be okay? She didn’t think maybe she was taking a big risk? When you’re young, you gotta play it safe and take feedback graciously, because any employer who gives you feedback on your attire is doing you a huge favor.

    I agree that shorts do need to be expressly prohibited. Common sense is not all that common, especially among younger employees and interns. I’ve worked a lot of places that had “no dress code” and people could be as laid back or dressed up as they deemed appropriate (different departments had different norms), but even in places like that, a few rules or guidelines can really help.

    I sympathize with the caller who hates flip-flops, but if they’re generally accepted in your office, you gotta deal with it or find an office or profession with higher standards for footwear.

    Reply
    1. Snark

      “I agree that shorts do need to be expressly prohibited. Common sense is not all that common, especially among younger employees and interns.”

      Can I ask why you think so? Because frankly, I stand at a desk all day, and it’s 90 out, and I cannot think of a single reason other than convention and norms that wearing shorts would be a bad idea. Unless there’s a protective need for pants, I think shorts are just fine. But I generally find the idea of workplace dress codes idiotic for non-client facing jobs.

      Reply
      1. Allison

        Sorry, should have been more clear. If you don’t want people wearing shorts, you have to say so, you can’t assume people who are new to the workplace will already know that.

        Reply
      2. Yzma, Put Your Hands In The Air!

        My SO is a crematory operator. They told him no shorts this summer. We laughed. He wears shorts almost every day, because standing in, essentially, a huge oven (a brick structure with a metal roof), with, essentially, two incredibly hot ovens (retorts) in it, when it’s already 98 degrees outside, and feels like 108…Yeah. He’s wearing shorts. And nobody else does his job, so he wears what he wants and they just deal with it.

        Reply
    2. Marillenbaum

      This is so interesting! I’m currently working in the Caribbean, and business shorts are very much a Thing here. Sadly, my very-American office still puts the kibosh on them, but one day…one day…

      Reply
    3. Paul

      We consider knee length-ish shorts OK on casual fridays but verboten every other day. I’ve got some slighter longer than knee length jean shorts (they’re almost capris really) that I’ll wear.

      Reply
    4. Rhodoferax

      I used to work at a dairy bottle factory. The combination of high temperatures for melting plastic pellets and poor ventilation meant the factory became swelteringly hot in summer, so we all wore shorts since the only rule at the time was that we had to wear a the PPEs.

      For some reason, the drivers weren’t allowed to wear shorts, allegedly because it looked unprofessional (despite the fact that they were driving trucks between the rear loading bays of buildings full of blue-collar workers). When they complained to the boss about it, his solution was to declare that nobody was allowed to wear shorts.

      We couldn’t wear skirts in protest, because they were already (sensibly!) banned as a safety hazard.

      This was a small company without a dedicated HR department. The boss in question was also responsible for resolving HR disputes.

      Reply
  18. Grits McGee

    Does anyone remember that story on Buzzfeed about the woman who was fired* from JC Penny’s for wearing the same shorts the store was selling as “businesswear”?

    *Well, fired because she refused to change out of the shorts.

    Reply
    1. Nan

      I remember that. It was odd. I felt bad for her, because I understood why she was confused. And the outfit wasn’t work appropriate, if I recall.

      Reply
    2. Allison

      I remember. I may have even sided with her at the time, because at her age she can’t possibly know that shorts are generally a no-no at work, and they were sold as businesswear. At her age, shorts are what you wear when it’s hot out.

      Reply
      1. Starwatcher

        I also find it bizarre that skirts shorter than many dressy shorts are allowed, and considered perfectly “businesslike” but shorts no matter how long or well-tailored are considered “unprofessional.”

        Reply
  19. Ms. Meow

    I’m always interested in hearing about this topic. In my first job with a casual dress code where jeans and t-shirts were par for the course, I got spoken to about wearing a t-shirt with an innuendo on it. Most of my peers were fresh out of school, too, so we learned a lot about what was appropriate to wear.
    Things are different in my current job, though. Our official dress code is focused mostly on laboratory/greenhouse safety, but I’m in a more administrative role. What mainly dictates the unspoken dress code is the culture: the average age on-site is 45+, current average tenure is about 22-23 years, and the workforce here is about 70% male. Because of this, and the fact that our office area is always cold, I probably own more plain cardigans than most 30 year olds. At least it’s comfortable ^-^

    Reply
  20. Nan

    My problem with no shorts is that it’s not fair to the males. Us lady people can wear skirts or dresses when it’s a bajillon degrees outside. Men are always stuck in some form of pants. I suppose they could wear kilts, but I’m not sure what HR would think of that. There was that blip on the news a few weeks back about the guy in England who came back to work in his girlfriend’s dress because it was so hot and they weren’t allowed to wear shorts. I thought it was kinda funny.

    It’s pretty casual where I’m at now, except for if we have clients coming in. But the norm is jeans and sneakers. Sandals are ok, but flip flops are not. No spaghetti straps, excessively tight or short clothes, leggings are ok, but your business needs to be covered by a longer top. Ladies can wear capris, but guys are still stuck in pants. I suppose guys could wear man-capris (are those a thing?) but they might look silly.

    I think more casual offices could wear shorts, as long as they are longer, more work appropriate type shorts. Not booty shorts or torn jean shorts.

    Reply
    1. Snark

      Heh, I said much the same above. It’s 90 here today. I’d really appreciate being able to wear a pair of tailored, cleanly styled shorts with my polo shirt. And frankly, it’d be cool if I could wear a pair of sandals too, as my cube neighbor is.

      Reply
    2. Casey

      We got into a long discussion on this when I was a public library branch manager. I had a teenaged male page who wanted to wear long shorts. Honestly these shorts were sometimes longer than the capris some of the female staff wore. But somehow I didn’t bend the rules.

      Years later this page is now a genderqueer adult. I feel badly that I didn’t take their issue with dress code more seriously, and I like to think I’ve learned a bit about equity and inclusion since that job long ago. I also wish they had come to work in some of the outfits they wear now, they have a lot of style.

      Reply
    3. Frozen Ginger

      Agreed. My workplace allows jeans, so I don’t think there’s any reason to prohibit nice Bermuda shorts.

      Also, oddly enough, I did see a guy at work wearing a kilt last month.

      Reply
      1. Snark

        I used to live in Boulder. Utilikilts were a thing there. It’s basically a cargo kilt, for your carpenter who also prefers to free-ball it, I guess.

        Reply
    4. Paul

      We explicitly ban kilts; I have no idea why/how it happened. I like to imagine a drunken office party and a utilikilt were involved.

      Reply
      1. Snark

        Certain rules and regulations you read and go, “and there’s a story there. A really, really good one.”

        Reply
    5. bookish

      I’ve never loved this argument because there’s a world of difference between men’s shorts and women’s skirts or shorts. I tend to avoid wearing skirts that are shorts-length anyway (I prefer longer ones, especially for work) and when I’m wearing a skirt, I have to wear bike shorts underneath it as well to prevent thigh chafing (I’m not what you would call heavy, but haven’t been able to comfortably wear a dress in the summer since high school without taking this precaution). Men’s shorts are just far more comfortable and easy. And, yeah, tend to look sloppy because they tend to be fairly baggy. Women aren’t allowed to wear shorts either, and I fully support men wearing business kilts to the office.

      Reply
    6. PepperVL

      I work in an office where, unless it’s an audit day (when we have to dress business casual), the dress code is “Don’t violate public decency laws and no shorts.” People wear everything from workout clothes & basically pajamas to business casual every day.

      Some of the guys in the office tried to push back against the no shorts rule. They said it wasn’t fair to men in the summer because women had the option to wear skirts or dresses and stay cooler. The response from management was that the men could also wear shorts or dresses. No one could wear shorts.

      Reply
    7. AnonyDress

      Honestly, I feel more comfortable in light fabric khakis or even dress slacks than skirts when it’s hot out, because I hate having my naked thighs rub against eachother especially when it’s hot enough to sweat.

      Reply
      1. PepperVL

        Slip shorts are your friend. The best ones (for me and people I know, anyway) are the JKY by Jockey from target. Super light, don’t roll or climb up your leg, and keep your thighs from rubbing together.

        Reply
      2. Sandra wishes you a heavenly day

        I love thigh society underwear for that – it’s pricey per pair but they’re comfortable, not shapewear, the thighs don’t roll up, and you’re not adding an extra layer. (The not shapewear thing is huge to me because I really don’t want to spend the day with something sucking in my gut.)

        Reply
  21. GrandBargain

    I heard it. It was a very good show. And, I enjoyed hearing your voice… just like your writing. Helped wile away some of the time driving through southern Idaho on the way home from Sun Valley (no, not the Allen conference).

    Reply
  22. JacqOfAllTrades

    Interesting read as I sit in my office wearing shorts and watching my boss walk by in flip flops.

    Reply
  23. RB

    I listened to the piece. It didn’t mention anything about what is workplace appropriate on casual Fridays. I also think longer Bermuda-style shorts can be appropriate on non-casual-Friday days if they’re knee-length and a businesslike fabric. I almost wore mine today. Also, there are plenty of sandals that have the thong thing between the toe but that have an ankle strap, making them a step up from your standard flip flop. A dress code is not going to be able to draw a line between all these nuanced differences. To attempt that is silly, unless the company has a lot of really young workers who have never worked in an office environment before.

    Reply
  24. As if

    Boo to the male supervisor who farmed out the dress code talk to a female colleague. Similarly, a friend was asked by her male boss to talk to a new female colleague about dressing appropriately. He said he was too embarrassed to do it himself. Friend was a peer to New Colleague and found it awkward enough- and then New Colleague replied, “But I asked the boss last week if my clothing was okay, and he said it was fine!” Turns out the boss had said okay just to avoid having the conversation, and then a little while later decided it needed to be addressed. (New Colleague was mortified, btw.)

    Reply
  25. NPOQueen

    Am I the only one who wants to know more about how the manager handled the intern with the short leather shorts? I’d love to know how that talk about attitude went, and what happened afterward. I’d be much more willing to forgive an intern over a clothing mistake over an attitude issue. They might not know what clothes to wear, but they should know to be respectful to your superiors.

    Reply
      1. RB

        I’m picturing an office of old fuddy-duddies and the young assistant trying to style up the place. She should have started small, with some leggings and cage sandals.

        Reply
    1. bookish

      Yup. I can see why an intern doesn’t know she can’t wear the leather shorts. And I think there’s been some discussion about dress codes in schools (like, high school) being sexist, because the argument given for those tends to be “girls will distract boys if they wear spaghetti straps” or something. So I can see where the intern is coming from and why she might think she should take a stand.

      However, this is the time for her to learn about acceptable businesswear. If you even just google what to wear to work, you’ll find that shorts are pretty much never acceptable in an office setting, and that certain materials/fabrics might be avoided or used at one’s discretion – such as leather or lace. I think if I were the person asking this question, I would have responded to her arguments with an explanation that part of an internship is to learn about office culture and what’s generally appropriate there, so this is part of her learning experience.

      Reply
      1. Drew

        I taught summer school at my alma mater once. Between the time I graduated and the time I came back there, they had clarified one section of the dress code, which I quote verbatim: HAIRY ARMPITS SHALL NOT BE EXPOSED. I found that refreshingly direct and also hilarious, as I envisioned the fustercluck of a faculty meeting that led to that wording.

        Reply
    2. Regular commenter going anon

      I’d gone into the convo thinking it would be no big deal. Awkward but really straightforward. She was very defiant in our conversation and was pretty rude when she asked why I cared what she was wearing. I explained to her a bit about roles and attitude–that she needs to be respectful to everyone and can’t speak to people this way. And that an office isn’t a democracy–we have a clear dress code that she’d violated.
      She had attitude all summer. We generally hire our interns on after the program ends but she was not offered a full time position.

      Reply
  26. Ange

    I’m just glad I wear a uniform. As long as my work ID is not on they don’t care what I wear in/out of the building so long as it is covering all the relevant bits.
    Of course the dress code for my first hospital job did include “must bathe or shower daily and use deodorant” so they can always get more specific than no flipflops!

    Reply
    1. Starwatcher

      I have worked at places where “must wash daily” SHOULD have been in the dress code. And both of the offenders were close-standers/touchy-feely types too! (Both women, both New Age types, one an original vintage hippie who biked to work and the other a recently-graduated art student who covered her garlic-and-mate funk with essential oils.) It was awkward and traumatic and I learned to carry on a conversation while holding my breath.

      Reply
    1. Falling Diphthong

      The difference–which I’ve seen mentioned in high heel discussions here–is the extra boost on the front of the sole. Basically, your heels need to be low enough that the front of the shoe can be a normal thickness, not 1-2 inches thick to accommodate the extra 1-2 inches of heel.

      I think the first pair would be ruled out of a lot of offices for being open toe. (And open heel.) In offices where the first pair flies, the second one has too many sequins to be desirable as daywear–but you could just point to the bulked up platform as why it’s too much.

      Reply
  27. Coming Up Milhouse

    Teapots Benefits Inc, a subsidiary of Teapots International does not have a dress code. We can wear shorts, tank tops, jeans, flip flops…it’s really jarring from corporate where I came from. Our office is tiny and doesn’t see clients so we get to enjoy a relaxed atmosphere.

    That being said…some people do need a wardrobe update.

    Reply
  28. Melissa

    I wouldn’t really care what people are working except when it disrupts my concentration. So noisy flip flops (and noisy heels) bother me. I wish my workplace would reevaluate our dress code. We’re a (US) west coast government agency, so our “business casual” is more casual than business, but jeans are for Fridays only. We literally never meet with face to face with the public, though, so I’d rather see us just go full casual. I can do my job whether I’m in a hoodie/t-shirt or a blouse, but I’m more comfortable in the former.

    Reply
    1. Dr. Ruthless

      I went to a client visit in Berkeley a couple of years ago, and the lawyer I met with was wearing board shorts and a tank top. What a stretch for business casual!

      Reply
  29. Shelby Drink the Juice

    Our official dress code is that you must be dressed appropriately for your job. Depending on what’s going on that could be jeans and a t-shirt or a suit. Most days I wear business casual – slacks and a nice top or dress and usually a cardigan. If I don’t have any meetings with a director or customer and I’m just sitting in my cube all day working then I’ll wear jeans.

    The only time I wore flip flops was when I hurt my foot and they were the most comfortable (I had tried sneakers and other shoes as well).

    Reply
  30. Drew

    We work in a VERY laid-back industry, and our dress code for most purposes is “dress for comfort, as long as your clothes are in good repair.” But we’re in the south and 100+ days are not uncommon, and our facility includes a non-climate-controlled warehouse, so dressing for comfort is a necessity a lot of times.

    Reply
  31. Lindsay

    I do insurance stuff for a doctor’s office and we have to wear scrubs from X/Y/Z brand in such and such colors, but we can choose any style in those brands and colors, and then we all wear green on Monday, blue to Tuesday, etc. Friday is casual scrubs day, or scrub pants with a clinic t-shirt. Shoes must be black/white/gray sneakers but you can wear any jewelry you like. It pretty much eliminates any dress code arguments.

    Now, the clinic gives a generous allowance for scrubs, which I appreciate because that frees up my entire clothing budget to buy cool things that would not be ok to wear to work. I used to work for a different clinic that gave a smaller allowance so I had to buy most of my scrubs, insisted on boxy unisex styles despite all the employees being women, and in ugly colors (brown! khaki! olive green!)

    Reply
    1. nnn

      Any idea why they implemented a different colour for each day rather than the same colour (or set of colours) all the time? My first thought on reading that was if you’re a bit bleary when you wake up in the morning and forget what day it is, then you’re dressed wrong!

      Reply
      1. Lindsay

        No, I don’t know why they have daily colors. I hang my shirts up in order and just grab the next one daily, which has messed me up on days where I’ve had Monday off for example. There’s no penalty for wearing the wrong color, except everyone will tease you a little.

        Reply
  32. Nic

    Amusing story about “know your workplace”. I once worked for a big name video game company’s customer service department. Jeans or pajama pants and t-shirts (usually with nerdy something printed on it) was the dress code, and if you came in wearing business casual most folks figured it was laundry day and you had run out of clothes.

    The company hired a new director. He was well known and respected in his previous field; one that required suits every day. He showed up in the office with a short and sophisticated hair cut, shiny shoes, and a suit that cost more than most of us got per month. Needless to say, there were some looks exchanged both directions.

    Six months later he’s wearing cargo shorts, a polo, and birkenstocks. He hasn’t had a hair cut since joining, and was known to show up in a full great kilt in his family’s tartan from time to time. When talking to new hire classes he would specifically highlight how happy he was to move to this culture and put away all his nice suits.

    Side note: The CEO was known to sneak into the back of meetings or new hire training classes, decked in polo and cargo shorts. He’d put his feet up on the desk and listen till someone inevitably noticed him and (if a new hire class) introduce him.

    It was the perfect dress code for a leader in that environment and that culture.

    Reply
  33. Rian Diem

    I work at a nonprofit, and I wear both shorts and flip flops all the time. Our dress code basically says you can’t wear ‘short shorts’ or stuff with rips/holes in it, but other than that it’s a free-for-all. A good half of the office also walks around inside barefoot and no one bats an eye.

    We have to dress up for our convention and occasionally when members drop by the office, but other than that we wear graphic tees, sweatpants, shorts, whatever. It’s really nice. We are all working very hard all day long, getting our job done, so who cares if you are doing your job in business slacks versus shorts? Maybe it’s because I’m younger, but I just do not understand the ‘No Shorts’ rule if you are surrounded by coworkers and not members/clients all day?

    Reply
  34. Sandra wishes you a heavenly day

    My office isn’t business casual, it’s business. If you’re a teapot maker and male. All the men wear suits, though in the office they’ll be in just shirt and tie. Unless you’re senior enough to just do what you want which is generally khakis, a button down and tie. The senior women tend to be formal, but not to the point of suits. Some are in pant suits, but it’s a deconstructed view of it, not conservative. And then there’s the rest of us. Some dress more the like the teapot makers. One of the staff wears skinny black jeans, black flats, and a oversized sweater in grey or beige every day. One the front desk staff wears jeans every single day.

    There’s no casual Friday, but we’re technically only supposed to wear jeans once a month and we should donate to the monthly charity to have that privilege.

    Reply
  35. Matt

    As someone who runs very hot, and prone to heat sickness I personally find dress codes against shorts sexist at best, and hazardous to my own health as I’ve gotten sick from wearing business casual clothes. Women have skirts/dresses but men have no other option other than pants. I exclusively have to wear only light and breathable fabrics but even then, I often sweat and over heat, and have had to go home because of heat sickness (in an air conditioned office set at 72). My boss finally caved and let me start wearing shorts to work in the summer because I kept getting sick and overheating, and I had to argue that people seeing me all hot, red and sweaty was not good “business” attire either, so now I have to dress in light (one layer) clothing, shorts, nice shirts, etc.s.

    Reply
  36. law office anon

    In my office, I’ve occasionally had to visit construction sites in the morning and assist with client conferences in the afternoon. It’s great fun, and it also taught me that it’s OK to *ask* about dress code as a new employee! (Hint: wearing a suit in a hard hat area is unnecessary and bad for one’s dry cleaning bill.)

    Despite the industry, we’re surprisingly casual in the office when clients aren’t around. The summer dress code tends toward khakis and a short-sleeved dress shirt (men) or sundress with a cardigan (women). Goes to show, it all depends on the company culture.

    Reply
  37. BookCocoon

    I was so confused because the first link goes to an episode from April about interviewing that has nothing to do with work attire or biting! After I listened to the whole thing I realized that I had to click the embedded player to hear the more recent episode.

    Reply
  38. Not a Morning Person

    Hi Alison! I happened to be driving around running errands and heard you talking on Marketplace Weekend this past Saturday. What a treat!
    Congratulations!

    Reply

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