Ask Belle: Sleeveless Tops for Work

May 28, 2013

Hi Belle,

I’m getting ready to start on the Hill as a staffer this summer and I was wondering if you always need to wear a blazer or sweater with sleeveless blouses. And I mean conservative borderline short-sleeve blouses. Thank you so much!

Best,  Stephanie

After questions about nylons and tights, whether you can wear a sleeveless blouse without a jacket is the question I get the most.  My thoughts on the subject are multi-pronged.

1) Do your boss or your co-worker peers (not the employees below you in rank) ever wear sleeveless or cap sleeve blouses to work sans sweater/blazer?  Then, the answer to your question is yes, you can.

2) The blouse, however, should come all the way to the edge of your shoulder or at the very least, be more than three finger-widths wide.  This DKNY blouse, this Calvin Klein blouse and this Walter blouse would fit the criteria.

3) You should always bring a sweater or a jacket just in case someone drops by the office unexpectedly or your Boss asks you sit in on a meeting that wasn’t previously on your calendar.

4) You know your office, and if you are at all hesitant to wear the outfit to work without a jacket or sweater, then don’t.  It’s not worth feeling uncomfortable all day.

5) Lastly, I think it’s easier to wear a sleeveless dress than a sleeveless blouse with separates.  Why?  A dress is, for lack of a better word, dressier than separates.  However, I think the same width rules apply to dresses, so make sure they come all the way to the shoulder or are at least three finger-widths wide.  This peplum dress, this coral jacquard dress and this teal dress all meet the criteria.

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  1. Addison says:

    I second Belle on it being appropriate in most settings as long as you have something to cover up with just in case. DC offices are usually air conditioned to the point of refrigeration anyway, so I can’t imagine going the whole day without needing a jacket or sweater at some point.

  2. barchbo says:

    I love this post. I live in Austin and wear jeans and flip-flops almost every day to my work – I am in publishing. It’s so interesting to read about the different expectations and dress codes for other careers and regions. Thanks.

    Love the blog!

  3. Julie says:

    I’d say this is very true. I work in an industry where I could wear a sleeveless top or dress (web development) but I always have a blazer or cardigan on hand just in case.

    Style by Joules

  4. Elizabeth says:

    Three finger-widths! Oh Belle, you’ve just taken me back to my high school’s dress code (but now my skirts are longer than finger-tip length).

  5. Katy says:

    Here’s a good idea that I got from other women in my office: when at my desk working, I wear a sleeveless top with a very lightweight scarf flounced around my shoulders. It’s breezier than a cardigan but still covers everything. Of course, if I have a meeting I will switch into a cardigan or blazer, which I always keep in my desk.

  6. CH says:

    I would add that if there’s any visible bra (whether on the shoulder or under the arm – so many sleeveless blouses seem to have gape-y arm holes), it’s a no-go for my office. That should be a given, but more than one of our department’s new hires needed a “you can’t show your bra at work” talk.

    • Ann says:

      I’ve had to have a “you can’t wear a neon green bra under a white shirt at work” talk with young, new hire. Granted, this was after the “you have to wear a bra to work” talk. I guess I should have been more specific the first time.

  7. Caroline says:

    My coworkers are male, so I always erred on the side of caution and wore cardigans with my sleeveless. But last year I noticed my female client was wearing a lot of sleeveless so I figured it was ok to start doing it. A lot of the sleeveless blouses I own look better on their own (especially tie-necks).

    • Caroline says:

      Oh, and that reminds me of a question I had… is there any way to wear a jacket or sweater over a sleeveless peplum top without it looking strange?

  8. Mara says:

    You poor creatures. The last time I was on the east coast for summer, I was in school so it was ok to wear sleeveless things. It is so disgusting and humid out there I don’t think I could have a job that required me to wear real clothes. Happy to be back in N. California where it’s always cool enough to warrant a sleeve or a blazer.

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