Ask Belle Roundup Vol. IV, No. Twenty-Three

Jun 2, 2014

Hi Belle,

I will be attending a work picnic next month and am a bit puzzled about how to dress. What would you deem appropriate (or inappropriate) attire for a casual weekend event with colleagues?

Thanks! Maria

This is always a difficult question to answer.  We spend so much time thinking about how to dress for the office, that when we have to turn extracurricular activities into work events, we’re never sure how much to blur the lines.

Let’s start with the inappropriate things: No shorts with an inseam shorter than 3″.  No spaghetti strap tops.  No exposed bra straps.  No jean shorts.  No v-neck halter tops.  For men, no tank or sleeveless tops.  No t-shirts with graphics that advertise, are provocative or silly.  No athletic shorts.  And for both sexes, if you plan to wear sandals/flip-flops, clean up your nails and feet.

As for what to wear, try a navy chino short with a sleeveless cotton top.  If you don’t plan to play sports, try a polo dress or a striped t-shirt dress.  I also like the look of a pale pink ankle-length chino with navy printed top.  Or wear a maxi dress with a sun hat for a boho-chic casual look.

Hi Belle,

The trend is – and has been for a while – flowy tops. Where can I find a good structured shirt that isn’t a button down?

Thanks! Megan

While I’m pleased to say that empire-waist tops and their maternity-wear-like design are fading away, it is tough to find blouses that fit close to the body.  I like the flowy tops tucked into snug-fitting, pencil skirts, but sometimes it’s nice to find something with structure.  Here are a few choices:


Ann Taylor Silk Blouse ($90) // Tahari Colby Blouse ($67) // Warehouse Organza Blouse ($67)

Sometimes, you need buttons to give you the right fit.  However, there are other styles besides the traditional oxford button-up.  If you like silk, this Ann Taylor blouse is nice.  I also found this short-sleeve Rebecca Taylor dotted blouse and this Lafayette Suri top with a pleated front hiding the buttons.  You can also try a button-up, tie-neck blouse like this one from Wyatt in four lovely colors.

A structured blouse like this one from Tahari is also a great choice.  I also found this Joie blouse in a vivid shade of green.  And I love this wide-stripe blouse from Hugo Boss with pale pink and grey color blocking.

Plus-size?  This eggplant sleeveless 148 blouse is lovely.  Petite? Have a look at this tie-neck blouse from LOFT.

If you have difficulty finding fitted tops, you can buy any silk, crepe or cotton blouse and give it more structure using tailoring.  Slimming the seams of a blouse is a fairly inexpensive procedure, and it can make a huge (HUGE!) difference in the look and fit of your clothes.

Hi Belle!

I read your thoughts in The Post yesterday on flip flops in the work place and it sparked a question of my own. A lot of women make the argument that they can wear flip flops for their commute and change into appropriate shoes at work. You disagree with this. Here’s my question: what are your thoughts on sneakers as commuting shoes?

Thanks! Christy

Here are my issues with wearing flip-flops to the office, even on a commute: 1) They’re loud.  That slap, slap, slapping is like a herald.  2) Walking down a city street in them?  You’re exposing your bare feet to dirt and germs, and you’re not washing before you put on your pumps.  3) If you need to walk a long distance while at work (quick run to the Senate side, meeting cross town), you can’t just slip on your flips when your male colleagues are wearing wingtips.  You’re either going to get stuck in your pumps for the jaunt or look like the intern.  Same goes for post-work drinks.

So let’s talk about a few alternatives.  First, try a close-toe cage sandal like these strappy Seychelles sandals or these dark tan Ralph Lauren flats.  These sandals give you air flow for hot summer days and enough foot coverage to keep things casual but not pool-deck reminiscent.

I also like open-toe flats for my summer commute.  If you can find a nice-looking, comfortable pair, you are in good shape.  I like these Nine West d’Orsay flats and these gold ones, also from Nine West.  If you don’t need or want open-toe, I’d check out these Cole Haan air ballet flats or these Geox Lola flats that give you air circulation with complete coverage.

Lastly, if you must insist on wearing flip-flops to work, do not wear the cheap, rubber ones from the bin at Old Navy or Target.  Don’t bust out your Reefs, either.  A simple pair of leather flip-flops is a small, but important step up.

Dear Belle,

I walk fourteen blocks to work every morning and I feel disgusting when I arrive.  I read your post last week on keeping fresh, but what do you do when that fails?  I’m tired of feeling like a sweaty/dirty mess.

Help. Kailyn

If you have a long, hot commute or you don’t have time to shower after lunch-hour yoga, you need to look into Herban Essentials cleansing wipes.  They clean off the sweat and the grime and leave you feeling better and smelling fresher.  For a less expensive alternative, you can try baby wipes or adult washcloths.

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  1. Sara says:

    I totally agree with your point on not wearing flip flops to work. It’s unprofessional and distracting. However, as commuting shoes, I don’t mind when women wear flip flops with their suits or dresses. I have lost a lot of good shoes to DC’s crooked and uneven street surfaces so there’s no need to commute in heels when a flimsy pair of flip flops saves those pricey shoes. Still, even as I don’t mind this strategic commuting staple on other pepole, I try to find a pair of skimmers that are both athletic and cute, and I’ve seen a number of shoe manufacturers make shoes that look like ballet flats but have the structure of a running shoe and I choose to commute in those. For a city that is as walk-able as DC, we should try to suspend the rules on flip flops when commuting to work in the summer but when you walk in the door, you’re at work and flip flops don’t belong there.

  2. I recently went on a work outing to a horse racing track, and I wore a printed dress with short sleeves and ballet flats.

  3. DCQ says:

    It doesn’t seem that Belle answered the sneaker part of the question. I still maintain that you should look put together outside of the office as well as in and agree with Belle’s suggestions of comfortable non-sneaker non-flip-flop shoes. Sneakers just look wrong with office attire. Throw them in your gym bag or leave them at the office but please don’t wear them with a suit.

    • Belle says:

      Right. I missed that. Sneakers with workwear are not okay. This isn’t the 80s. Let them go the way of shoulder pads and Aqua Net.

      • anon says:

        Disagree, sort of.

        I love a killer pair of kicks with the work wear on the commute on women who can pull it off. Sorry, I am on team healthy feet over looking cute.

        The white hightops that epitomize the late 70’s – 80’s. Oh.Hell.No.

  4. I’m pretty sure that many people commuting in flip flops don’t realize we can see the bottoms of their feet, and that the bottoms of their feet are dirty. It’s gross. Please don’t.

  5. GingerR says:

    Friday I was returning to work from the dentist. At 19th & K, I walked right past someone depositing a gross-looking loogey on the sidewalk. I for one was glad I had shoes that minimized the contact my feet and toes would have with the sidewalk. A little bit of drizzle on the sidewalk and your feet are slip-sliding in snot with a pair of flip-flops.

    Plenty of manufactures make shoes, some more bare than others, that will do to walk in town that aren’t an athletic shoe.

  6. Amanda says:

    I am tired of seeing flip-flops and sneakers worn with workwear. Even on the commute. Sorry. Unless you’ve got some serious foot issues that need to be corrected with specialty footwear, I just can’t think of any situation in which flip flops or sneakers would be more appropriate than, for instance, a simple pair of ballet flats, skimmers or even (non flip-flop) sandals. Belle makes a good point: commuting might not be the only time when you need to slip out of your pumps. I’m thinking about spontaneous lunches across town, fire drills, etc. I also agree with the comments about dirty city streets creating icky, dirty feet. Plus, you never know who you’re going to run into or when you’ll have an opportunity to network. Flip-flops belong at the pool and the beach. Sneakers belong in the gym/on the field/in your weekend wardrobe/etc. You wouldn’t wear 6 inch heels to play a game of soccer. You wouldn’t wear your bikini to a black-tie wedding. So why are ladies wearing flip-flops to work? To me, knowing how to dress appropriately for the occasion is part of knowing how to be prepared in general for the tasks ahead.

  7. GC says:

    Shoes at work can be very tricky and I think you need to commit to a variety of options. I think flip-flops are definitely bad to commute and wear to work. Even sandals can be iffy, but it must at least have some more structure and still “go” with the outfit to a certain extent. For instance, not with a suit, but maybe if you were just wearing a dress to work that day. I have 3 types of shoes for work: 1. Heels that I leave at the office; 2. Nice flats that I predominantly leave at the office to either wear with my outfit that day or for when I need to walk further distances for meetings, lunches, etc and still look professional; 3. Commuting ballet flats. The commuting flats are comfortable and definitely get a beating from DC streets. They’re a little more casual than my nicer flats, but still keeps me looking professional when I’m going to and from work. Right now I commute in Cole Haan Maria Sharpova flats from a few seasons ago. They’ve held up well and I have the patent leather version so rain isn’t really an issue either.

    As for dealing with a long commute, especially in the heat, see if you can wear your hair up in a bun and only put moisturizer/spf when you leave the house, then hop into the bathroom when you get to work, freshen up, fix you hair, and apply your makeup. I actually have a gym and locker room in my building a few floors below my office, so I sneak in there and freshen up before heading upstairs to work. Also, in the summertime, I leave my neutral cardigans and blazers in my office so I don’t have to worry about wearing or carrying them in the heat. Lastly, if you’re mainly wearing separates, then you can wear a thin t-shirt to work and change into your blouse there as well. My husband actually uses this trick when it gets particularly bad in the summer. Experiment with some options and see what works for you!

  8. I wouldn’t wear them with a suit, but on more casual days the sort of trendy New Balance type shoes that are in right now could work if they match the outfit okay. I walk about 1.5 miles to work and typically find Tory Burch flats to be fairly comfy (though frankly the last few pairs haven’t lasted all that well so I may have to make a change).

    • AM says:

      I’m with you on the sneakers for a long walking commute. I also walk to work (nearly 2 miles each way) and I think even flats would be bad on my feet for that kind of length, so as much as the look of sneakers with professional clothes pains me, I think I owe it to my feet 🙂

      • LB says:

        My feet also vote for as-cute-as-possible sneakers for walking any particular distance. Even my most comfortable flats rub toes or heels after some walking, or irritate the soles of my feet. They just don’t have enough structure. Definitely not subscribing to cruddy running shoes with professional wear, but a low profile sneaker in a dark or neutral color is a lifesaver.

        • anon says:

          We are all on the same team.

        • SSarah says:

          I agree. I walk thirty minutes to work each way, and often, even an otherwise comfortable pair of flats will end up hurting my feet in a major way. I wear Toms sometimes, which probably is a fashion no no according to this blog, but sometimes you just have to go for an option that won’t leave you in pain.

  9. Chloe says:

    I recently started walking the 1.5 mi back from the T stop instead of taking the bus after work and bought a pair of TOMS (black and white ones that match with pretty much everything – I know, I know … there’s a lot of flack about TOMS. But seriously. They’re comfy.

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