Hose or No? Decoding the Modern Office Dress Code

Amanda Harper


Dressing for the modern office has become a bit of a question mark. What used to be hard and clear rules have loosened over the years, blurring the lines of what “office attire” really means. While there are some rules we’re not sad to see go, there are some that remain up for debate. While you should obviously follow your workplace’s policy, officers with looser policies can look to these guidelines for help decoding the dress code.



It’s almost universally agreed that pantyhose are no longer required attire. Some business formal or service industry workplaces still cling to this outdated rule, but most have given up the ghost on this one. If you’re visiting an offi ce that requires hose, don’t feel obligated to put them on unless there’s a pressing cul-tural sensitivity issue. And if you prefer wearing hose, you’re always welcome to do so – in any environment!



Hats are making a comeback in a big way. But most people still agree that hats should be removed when indoors. If you want to avoid the dreaded “hat head” when you take doff your chapeau, bring along a hair clip or comb.



In many modern offices, tidy jeans with clean lines (and no holes) are considered perfectly appropri-ate, especially on days when there are no important client meetings. While this may have some of the old guard clutching their pearls, it’s actually a key strategic move. Not only does allowing jeans make employees feel more comfortable–physically, obviously, but also socially with one another–it can convey to clients a relaxed, welcoming environment. 



The hard-and-fast rule has long been that knee-length (or longer) is appropriate for skirts and shorts in the office. But we’re comfortable saying that in all but the most formal business environments, four inches above the knee is probably not going to raise any eyebrows.


Open-Toed Shoes

This is such a contentious issue, and one we’re happy to settle. Pool sides, flip flops and sports sandals should be left in the closet, even if you were planning to (heaven help you) wear them with socks. Dressy sandals and peep-toe pumps are just fine for women.


Showing Skin

Most office dress codes hold that employees should avoid showing as much of their skin as possible for the comfort of clients as well as other employees. We agree with the sentiment of it, but feel that there’s lots of room for nuance. We think sleeveless tops and dresses are fine for women–after all, what’s more classically office chic than a shift dress–but inappropriate for men. For everyone, a good guide for necklines is to hold your hand crosswise at the base of your throat; exposing more than that is iffy territory. Outfits that reveal bellies, backs or peeks that skin that a traditional one-piece bathing suit wouldn’t cover should be left at home.



With the rise of WFH, athleisure crept into standard casual workwear. And designers responded by making athleisure pieces that cleverly bridge the gap between the streets and the office! So while we’d be remiss to write this category off entirely, this is a case where it’s best to tread lightly. We recommend only using one athleisure piece, then compensating with more dressy, structured pieces elsewhere in the outfit. For example, try a pair of (thick, preferably black or brown) leggings beneath an oversized button-up. A casual athleisure top with slacks and a sharp blazer can be quite casual-chic. In very casual offices, dressy sneakers are welcome with a pretty dress or well-tailored outfit. That said, as a rule of thumb, hoodies, jogging pants and super-tight workout gear are best left in your gym bag.



Unless you work in mattress quality control testing, the answer is a resounding “no…” even if you’re on a Zoom call. 


The Last Word

The old adage used to be, "Dress for the job you want, not the job you have." Well, if we all did that, we'd show up to meetings dressed as either Batman or Mark Zuckerberg. 

In today's world, the best advice is to look to the sharpest dresser in your office for cues on how to style yourself. From there, consider what impression you want to give the people with whom you interact. If you want to appear trustworthy, professional and knowledgeable, you want to dress as traditionally "professional" as possible for your industry. On the other hand, if you want to seem approachable, down-to-earth and honest, a more relaxed look may be in line. For creative industries, looking unique and on-trend is the order of the day.

If you're worried about dressing yourself to visit another office for a meeting or interview, look to their social me-dia to get clues on the office's style culture. If that doesn't turn up anything, aim for formal and subdued with one accessory that shows off your personality. Remember, you can't go wrong with the classics! 

It's important to remember that there is generally a lot of leeway in office dress codes. If your staff seems confused by the messaging, take the initiative to lead by style example. Each person in an office has a hand in setting the culture, so show 'em what you think the dress code should be!