Bosses reveal worst wardrobe don’ts

By Sarah B. Weir

Certified Image Consultant and Chair of the Association of Image Consultants International, Kelly Machbitz worries about what messages some women today are sending with their office attire. "I've noticed that Casual Fridays have morphed into 'Happy Hour' Fridays -- you can tell who's got a date that night by what they wear to the office that day."

(Photo: Getty Images)(Photo: Getty Images)

She points out that you only have 30-40 seconds to make a first impression on your boss or co-worker so what you wear is going to instantly signal how smart and competent you are, for better or worse. Kelly feels the more skin you show, the less power you project: "If you are sitting next to a male colleague in a three-piece suit and you are wearing a strappy dress, who do you think is going to command the respect?"

Kelly recommends that women have three separate wardrobes: one for the office, one for the weekend, and another for special occasions. While this might seem a little old school, she explains that fashion magazines like to mix casual and professional clothing, but the average person simply doesn't have the eye or the experience to combine styles in one outfit.

We talked to some managers and executives around the country about the worst wardrobe blunders, and bosses agree that conservative professional attire is still relevant today. It seems that looks can kill…your job prospects.


"My personal secretary was a very presentable young woman, well educated, neat, and pulled together. After about a year on the job, her wardrobe fell off a cliff: she started showing up in men's wool pants that looked like they had been pulled from a dumpster and moth-eaten sweaters. It was a crystal clear sign that she no longer cared about the work and needed to move on."

--Alan, Senior Diplomat

(Photo: Getty Images)(Photo: Getty Images)

"Over the two decades I've been practicing law, I've noticed women going from professional suits (great) to lovely dresses (all good) to strappy sundresses and flip flops (pathetic)! Dressing this way for Court takes away from their credibility. Clothes in the office have gotten very casual, which is okay, I suppose, but there are certain venues that one needs to respect and dress appropriately for."

--Anne, Law Partner


"Too much skin and too much perfume. One of my sales reps is just shy of inappropriate: Her clothes are stylish and made with quality fabrics, but the skirts are a couple of inches too short, the heels a couple of inches too high, and the camisoles a couple of shades too sheer. A strapless cocktail dress has appeared a few times. I'm not going to complain to HR, but with the party look and the perfume, she makes people uncomfortable."

--Greg, Financial Services Head of Marketing

"When our company first established Casual Fridays, some of the employees took it too far with their Daisy Dukes-the cutoffs that ride very high. HR had to send out a dress code memo. One memorable rule was 'no cleavage' - toe cleavage, that is."

--Stephanie, Money Manager


"My cosmetics studio is close to the beach. One day a young woman pranced in wearing a bikini and flip flops and asked for a job application. Needless to say, we were 'out of applications' that day."

--Kara, Professional Make-up Artist

"One of our crazy reporters showed up in her wedding dress. And it looked like it had been quite a party-pretty grubby around the edges!"

--Leslie, Newspaper Publisher

(Photo: Getty Images)(Photo: Getty Images)

"The charter school where I work strives for excellence and professionalism-from both students and teachers. Male teachers simply wear a tie, but for women the dress code is a little less clear, especially since many of them are right out of college and used to dressing in jeans. One woman is always straddling the line with her outfits and is the subject of regular teacher's lounge debates about whether or not she has crossed it. Parent-teacher conference day rolled around and she appeared for breakfast in the cafeteria in black high-heeled boots, a tee-shirt mini dress with a keyhole back and a wide patent leather belt. I made a mental note to mention it to the principal before the parents came in the afternoon. At lunch I noticed the teacher wasn't there-turns out the principal had already sent her home."

--Abby, Assistant Principal

"A couple of years ago, we merged with a French company. The new HR representative came to do a workshop with my team-a bunch of young science geeks who build robots in their spare time. Well, she was wearing one of those clingy wrap dresses that was cut very low in front. The guys definitely had their minds on something aside from the presentation that day."

--Mary, Biotech Vice President

(Photo: Getty Images)(Photo: Getty Images)

"Our summer interns are notorious for their outfits. From bra straps hanging out to hot pants. Thank goodness the bare midriff style seems to have waned. They would wear a cropped top with low cut jeans and a thong peeking out the back! It's one thing hanging out with your girlfriends, but at your workplace? Come on."

--Laurie, Film Producer