Business Casual Isn't The Same For Everyone

Posted by Jen Anderson on

Business Casual Isn't The Same For Everyone

I'm a firm believer in fashion as armor. The right outfit lets everyone know that you're as smart as everyone else in the room. At some companies, you won't be taken seriously unless you're wearing a business suit. And if you work in finance, you might even get sent home to change if your suit isn't gray or navy blue. Strict dress codes are a hassle and kinda boring. But looser dress codes can be complicated.

plus size business casual workwearA couple of weeks ago, Goldman Sachs went business casual, which is a radical change for them. The LA Times did a story about the double standards we face in the office and how that affects how casual business casual can be for some people. Women and people of color have had to work hard to be taken seriously in the business world while wearing their most serious business suits. And now they're expected to do it in polo shirts? Oy.

I don't have anything against polo shirts per se, but they really don't work with boobs. On me, they're tight and make me look matronly. I find them physically uncomfortable. But they also don't convey the same vibe on everyone.

A man in khakis and a polo shirt looks reliable. You're confident asking that guy for tax advice. A woman in the same outfit looks sporty. People assume she can help them with their golf swing. (I'm not talking about uniforms here. When everyone is wearing matching polo shirts, there's less of a contrast.)

plus size business casual workwearOK, so women can wear a shirt with a different collar, right? Not necessarily. A round collar may be seen as too casual because it evokes the classic tee. The polo shirt is reminiscent of a collared button down, which is why it's a more "serious" shirt.

It's ridiculous, but that's sexism for you.

You have to walk a fine line with business casual. If you dress too formally, you won't seem like part of the team. But if you dress down too much, you may be perceived as sloppy by the bigwigs who own more neckties than I own earrings. And if you're plus size, those fools in the corner offices may already think you're sloppy and lazy, so you have no wiggle room.

Back in my techie days, there was a programmer at my company who wore denim bib overalls to work once a week. You're picturing a man right now because no woman would walk into even a casual office dressed that casually. He was so good at what he did that his bosses didn't care. One of the reasons I'm not a techie anymore is that no matter how good I was at my job, wearing bib overalls to the office would damage my career. Not that I want to wear bib overalls, but you know what I mean.

So what can a plus size gal wear to a business casual office? A good quality fabric adds the right amount of polish to any outfit, so Vikki Vi Classics would work. A print Shell would be fine, as well as some print dresses. But a print top on its own might look too casual. A scoop neckline, round neckline or v neckline should be appropriate, but that varies by company so pay attention and use your judgement. 

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Check out our other posts about working while plus size.


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Great insights!
In my home office –where no one sees me –even jammies are OK to work in!
But in public –I’m continually amazed at what I see some people wearing. Fortunately, or unfortunately, we’re a visual society –and how you look continues to shape how you are perceived by others. Going with “Classic”clothes never fails and makes decision-making about what to wear so much easier!

—Diane c gilson,

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