What Not to Wear?

Perhaps no issue is more of a hot button in offices these days than that of summer corporate attire. "I'm almost glad summer is nearly over," writes Pamela Fiori in the editor's letter of September's Town and Country. "It's not that I object to the sometimes sweltering heat... It's what summer does to people's style sense (and common sense) that troubles me... Is it too much to expect a certain decorum when it comes to office dress?" She goes on to rail against un-pedicured feet in flip flops, exposed belly buttons and lower back tattoos, "garish" prints, platform sandals, tent dresses, t-shirts, shorts, and even underwater watches.

Her mention of a male attorney's "underwater watch" highlighted one factor behind the controversy: male-female communication difficulties. Isn't a $3,500 Breitling watch an "underwater watch"? Similarly, a male banker friend defined "open-toed shoes" as synonymous with "sandals." Louboutin would surely disagree.

To cut through the confusion, a brief survey was conducted to determine dress codes at corporate offices across the country.

A friend who works at a Manhattan hedge fund says that sandals are not allowed at her firm, but that management looks the other way if they are Manolos or Jimmy Choos. Class distinctions abound in the perception of what's appropriate and what's not: if it costs enough, the logic seems to be, it must be OK.

Ironically - or perhaps not, given the history of the Burqa - the more male-dominated the corporate culture, the less skin women are allowed to show. At Bear Stearns, sleeveless tops, open-toe shoes, flip flops, shorts, jeans, cargo pants, and t-shirts are banned, though nice sleeveless tops are tolerated. At Sullivan & Cromwell, in a lawyerly twist, there is no published dress code, but sleeveless tops and open-toe shoes are avoided by most. Pantyhose is welcomed.

Meanwhile, at the Conde Nast building, fellow workers would "totally look askance" at pantyhose, though Wolford tights would be heartily embraced. "You can pretty much wear anything" at Conde, where tank tops and even short shorts make an appearance at the office. And at Victoria's Secret, a friend was showing so much cleavage that she could "be in Maxim right now" as a coworker "just sailed by in a very short skirt" that would impede her from even picking up a pencil.

A friend at an LA venture capital fund writes: "I have not seen pantyhose on anyone in the state of California." The CAA ladies across the street wear "fewer open-toed shoes" than at her casual office, "but much more extravagant heels than what you'd find in NY." Presumably because they don't have to walk too far in them.

And the award for the office with the most casual dress goes to Wieden & Kennedy in Portland. Shorts, t-shirts, and flip flops are OK. The only restriction at this advertising firm is that "when you wear sneakers, they have to be Nike."

All of the photos below were taken in the World Financial Center, where women streamed out of the Merrill Lynch and Amex buildings for lunch. Appropriate? Who knows. But this is what women in corporate America are wearing.


lauren said...

I win! I win!

Supercasual west coast style!