Ask Belle: Dressing Up at the Office

Oct 21, 2010

Dear Belle,

Have you noticed a style hierarchy in your office? I’m a Staff Assistant, and I’d like to start wearing suit jackets (instead of cardigans), but one of our LAs doesn’t even wear them! Is there an unspoken rule about not dressing more professionally than the higher-ups?

Thanks for your advice – and for continuing to post with consistency. Much appreciated.

C

While I wouldn’t recommend wearing Chanel if everyone else is wearing Zara, I don’t see anything wrong with raising the bar a bit.

If the senior staffers in your office choose not to wear a suit or a blazer, that is their business.  I don’t always wear blazer because I prefer dresses, so it’s not that unusual for staffers to skip the jacket.  But since the understood dress code is professional attire, you shouldn’t feel uncomfortable about dressing up.  I certainly wouldn’t mind if my Staff Asst. was wearing a suit and I was in a cardi.

I highly doubt that your betters will lecture you for trying to bring a bit of professionalism to the front desk.  So I say, go for it.

It’s important to note, however, that this advice doesn’t apply to the campaign trail.  Your don’t want to be dressed better than your candidate/Member when he or she is out on the stump.  But dressing a bit more professionally than your co-workers while in the confines of the Hill, should be fine.

What do you ladies think?

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  1. LL says:

    I think the more junior you are, the more professional you need to dress. Your baby face doesn't help you in this scenario; the extra professional dress overcomes the lack of weather beaten skin and gray hair. I'm at an awkward point of in-between — a young executive who looks younger by wearing suits, but doesn't have the gray hair to let a cardi pass as a blazer.

  2. LL says:

    I think the more junior you are, the more professional you need to dress. Your baby face doesn't help you in this scenario; the extra professional dress overcomes the lack of weather beaten skin and gray hair. I'm at an awkward point of in-between — a young executive who looks younger by wearing suits, but doesn't have the gray hair to let a cardi pass as a blazer.

  3. EE says:

    I think SAs should be one of the more dressed up people in the office anyway– they are the ones up front greeting everyone who comes in. Much more “face of the office.” As an LC who hides in the back all day, I would think it would be much more important for the SA to look nicer than I do.

  4. E says:

    To quote Stacey London, “dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” 🙂

  5. AL says:

    I say wear the suit.

  6. SW says:

    This LD says go for it! I love when I want to compliment my coworkers on their outfits (interns, too)!

  7. Katie says:

    I think SAs shouldn't be afraid to dress professionally. You're usually the one interacting with visitors and dressing up projects a nice image of the office.

  8. LL says:

    I think the more junior you are, the more professional you need to dress. Your baby face doesn't help you in this scenario; the extra professional dress overcomes the lack of weather beaten skin and gray hair. I'm at an awkward point of in-between — a young executive who looks younger by wearing suits, but doesn't have the gray hair to let a cardi pass as a blazer.

  9. Jane says:

    I still think a suit in less than a directorial position screams 'assistant' louder than anything else.
    And you can dress as well as your boss, but better is a very risky business.

  10. gingerr says:

    I kind of agree with Jane.

    I think dress for the next job, always have a jacket ready for un-expected meetings/events, but don't get out of synch with the tone of the office.

  11. Em says:

    As a former SA, LC, and LA I think that you, the SA, can certainly wear a suit jacket. I always admire someone that is putting effort into looking good and professional at the office. As an LA, I always thought it was a little strange that our SAs were wearing outfits that were more suited for casual Friday in the middle of the week. That being said, it is all about attitude and being age appropriate. Wear the suit jacket, but make it fun with bright accessories. Most importantly, if you are respecting those in higher positions already no one if going to think you are trying to “one-up” them!
    🙂

  12. Belle says:

    Jane- Maybe the tone of the office needs to be changed? Some offices on the Hill have gotten way too casual, maybe if the SA throws on suit from time to time the rest of the office will try to up their game as well?

    And Em, I agree that if your behavior is professional and deferent to your bosses, they won't be concerned because you wear a suit. Unless, of course, they really lack confidence and self-esteem, in which case, you're already in trouble suit or no suit.

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