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5 Rules for Mastering Office Style in Philly

Local style pros and human resources experts want to help you out of those workplace wardrobe ruts.

5 rules for mastering office style in Philly.

The rules around what you should and shouldn’t wear to the office seem to be in constant flux. Creative startups have ushered in the ultra casual with workplaces where employees in sweatpants, shorts and t-shirts don’t get second looks. But in settings where business casual is the guideline are denim items and flip flops — even if they’re super clean and fancy — always a no? And in business professional settings, is a full suit the expectation? Philadelphia style and human resources pros helped BizPhilly sort through these questions. The result is five simple rules that’ll help you avoid office style ruts.

Recognize the difference between business professional and business casual

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BizPhilly polled about a dozen Philly style professionals who mostly agreed that offices are leaning business casual nowadays, and Sophy Curson co-owner David Schwartz explains how to make the distinction between business casual and business professional:

“Business casual is when you are not meeting clients and business professional is when you are meeting clients. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself, “Would I wear this to meet the boss for the first time?” If the answer is no, you’re in business casual territory.

Plus, there’s a new category emerging, which Men’s Style Pro founder Sabir Peele calls “business chic.” “Many work environments have adopted a hybrid business style that could be considered business chic,” he told Philadelphia magazine. “Pieces should be well tailored but that doesn’t mean you have to be in a completed suit. It airs on the side of business casual; but, there’s an expectation that you could hold a meeting with a major client and represent your company at the highest level.”

Learn your office’s dress code

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What’s considered business casual in one setting may be considered casual in another. It’s important to play by the rules of your industry and particular workplace.

For Lark+Lace co-founder E.M. Ricchini, business casual at her creative agency usually means casual. “I’ve found that my ideal ‘work uniform’ has become a pair of nice, clean-cut jeans, a tee shirt, and a casual blazer,” said Ricchini. “I think for people in their mid-20s like me, startup culture — and the work-life balance movement that came along with it — shifted traditional “business casual” to simply “casual,” while “business professional” sort of stayed the same across generations.”

Your work attire is also subject to workplace culture, and not just on labels like “professional” or “casual.” “Some companies uphold a stricter policy due to the nature of the work but many companies like Saxbys are more casual with dress code policy when it comes to our headquarters, recognizing work culture helps retain and attract talent,” Saxbys team resources manager Katie McClure told Philly Mag.

She added:

Saxbys HQ has chosen a “Dress for Your Day” policy. If a team member has a meeting or is hosting guests in our space, we would expect them to dress appropriately in business casual attire for their job responsibilities that day. Other days, that same team member might be behind a computer screen all day and will wear jeans. If a team member needs to squeeze in a workout and change into athleisure before leaving the office, that is okay! Allowing team members this flexibility, we have found to be a win-win for all parties involved.

Keeping your workplace’s dress code in mind, it’s important to not ever go too casual or even too formal:

“Regardless of the official company policy, it is important to be mindful of your appearance in the workplace,” said McClure. “New research from the Society of Human Resource Management shows that too casual of clothing choices can affect someone’s chances of being promoted.”

On the flip side, wearing clothing that consistently counters a workplace’s casual nature can be harmful.

“With Saxbys’s more casual dress code, it may not be culturally aligned for a team member to wear a business suit every day,” McClure said. “That type of strict professional dress is not reflective of the culture we thrive in, which is people-focused, friendly, open, collaborative, creative and inviting to new and different types of individuals.”

Always go for comfort

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The worst outfit that someone could wear to work is anything that they are uncomfortable in, said Peele. Stay away from clothing that is too baggy, too tight or ill fitting in some other way. In many cases, the person wearing those pieces will always be adjusting, whether consciously or subconsciously, Peele explained.

“Everyone knows there is nothing worse than feeling uncomfortable in an outfit, such as a skirt or pants a size too small — we have all been there!” said McClure.

Being uncomfortable can also mean wearing an item that’s unflattering or simply part of your workplace’s dress code. “Being someone with a curvier figure, I find business professional to be a bit challenging for me, especially because many of the options out there for people shaped like me are not the most flattering, Ricchini told Philly Mag. “And as much as I wish this wasn’t the case, I think it’ll be a long time before crop tops are considered acceptable office attire.”

Pepper your look with some personality

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Though work outfits need to fit into a company’s dress code and culture, they should still reflect your personal style.

“Even if your company adopts a stricter dress code, you can still style it up with elements of you such as funky socks, bold jewelry, or a pocket square on a blazer,” said McClure.

“Invest in a colorful scarf to spruce up your top,” said Schwartz. “Accessories are the area where you can spruce up your image at work.”

And don’t forget about the shoes. “Don’t be afraid to inject the right amount of personality in your outfit,” said Peele. “A pop of color with a funky sock or a stylish shoe never hurt.”

Invest in staple items

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Consensus says that you can’t go wrong with a blazer. “It is the perfect addition to dress up an outfit, no matter how formal or informal,” said McClure. “Having one on hand at work can be the difference between looking professional or unprofessional in a meeting.”

“I think everyone needs a navy or black blazer to throw over a dress or to wear with pants,” Schwartz told Philadelphia magazine.

And you can’t go wrong with white shirts either.

“A white button down collar shirt is the one thing both men and women should have in their closet,” said Peele. “It pairs well with every piece of work attire and never goes out of style.”

“You can never have enough crisp white shirts. We carry many different white shirts in our store to finish a suit or to match back to a great pant,” Schwartz said.

And even if you wear business casual most of the time, you should still invest in a well-tailored suit, said Amanda Culen, a blogger for The Penny Parlor. “Spend the money for something that fits you great and makes you feel like a million bucks.”