Sunday, June 5, 2016

Sunday's Best is NOT Monday Dress: Church Clothes vs. Work Clothes

Many young Black professionals in Corporate America find a network, a support system and a morale boost by frequenting Sunday houses of worship. In more traditional church settings suits, ties, dresses and satellite-dish-sculptured hats are common attire.

Church styles are often inappropriate for the corporate office. Despite the recent evolution of corporate fashion, bright colored suits, wide lapels, frilly tops, and satin ties are still deal breakers.

Women's Fashion

The rules of engagement for women's office attire have been changing far more rapidly than for men. We'll have to devote another post to the confusion that is the women's "work wear" section of stores and websites.

Let's start with these ensembles:

1. Hats: In a corporate office, hats are only appropriate as outerwear, not to be worn indoors. Wide brims, bright colors and frills should be avoided even if you are only wearing it on your way to the office.

2. The Set: If your outfit came as a set e.g. jacket and pants, dress and sweater, or jacket and dress like the picture above, proceed with caution. Take each piece of the set and ask yourself: Is this office attire? Church sets are often accented with glitter, sequins, satin detailing or other forms of flair. No. Not in the office. None of the jackets shown above, no matter what color they come in, are appropriate in a corporate setting. Traditional business suits are a little bit easier to recognize, but women are often presented with far more choices by way of color, pattern and material even for so-called office attire.

3.  Separates: Tea length or ankle length skirts are great for church, but those lengths are too long for the office. If you feel the need to wear a skirt more than 2 inches below the knee, wear pants. Even in a business casual setting, skirts and pants should often be darker, neutral colors: black, gray and navy. Other colors can be worn with a certain expert eye and discernment, but at more junior levels, it is better to take less fashion risks.

4. Jewelry: Church jewelry often consists of bigger statement pieces, necklaces, earrings, even brooches. Do not wear a brooch to the office. It is also best to avoid matching earring-necklace sets. Work jewelry should typically be simple, conservative and unmemorable. If you do go for a statement piece, only make one statement.

5. Though not shown in the picture above, let's run through a few other articles of women's fashion:

Pantyhose: White - NO. Pantyhose, if worn at all, should be sheer, run free and either in black or as close as you can get to your natural skin tone. Many women simply choose to go hose-free in the office.

Shoes: Church shoes usually come in as many different styles and colors as church sets. While there is much more flexibility around office footwear, avoid the same loud, bright colors that you would avoid when picking a suit: pink, white, lime green, and orange are a few colors that come to mind. The same rules about glitter and sequins apply here.

Men's Fashion

The line between church and work becomes even more blurred for men, but here are some general tips. Let's start with the man pictured here:

1.  Matching tie and pocket square: At work, your tie and pocket square (if you even wear one) should not match. For newcomers, avoid pocket squares altogether. Also, this light, patterned satin looking tie is a church tie. There's no good way to describe a church tie, but generally wide, satin or silk ties with bold colors and patterns are church ties. If the tie and pocket square come as a set, it's probably a church tie.

2.  The Vest: While a matching tie and pocket square are forgivable, a matching vest to go with them is not, not for corporate settings. Vests, when worn at all, should be worn as part of a traditional 3-piece suit. This vest will generally be the same color and material as the rest of the suit. The vest will be lower cut than the one in the picture and it will not have lapels.

3.  4-button, un-tailored suit: Generally, men in Corporate America stick to 1-2 buttons. We've seen 3 buttons, but never 4 buttons. Church suits tend to be big and loose-fitting, while work suits are more tailored and have a tighter fit. This jacket is too long for an office setting and the lapels are far too wide.

4. Though not shown in the picture above, let's run through a few other articles of men's fashion:

Jewelry: The safest course is that the only jewelry a man should wear in a corporate office is a watch and a wedding ring. That gold cross mom gave you for Christmas can be discreetly tucked within your undershirt, but that's as far we recommend.

Cuff links: Simple and unmemorable.

Socks: Men's corporate fashion has taken a turn towards "fun socks"with bright colors and patterns. Have fun with it, but know your audience.

Shoes:  In more traditional corporate settings, men's shoes should be black, brown or (maybe) navy blue. Just because you can find a dress shoe in other colors does not mean that it is appropriate work wear. Simple and unmemorable applies to men's shoes too.

Parting Thoughts

Fashion is highly personal and evolves over time. Knowing your office culture and general norms in your industry are key. While these tips are not universal rules, we hope to help you avoid some fashion missteps that may result in a determination that you are oblivious to corporate culture or unprofessional. For many readers, we're probably preaching to the choir. Share your "church not work" thoughts below.

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