Your Cheat Sheet for What to Wear to Work

Photograph by Jeff Elkins

There are two timeless struggles when it comes to work attire: (1) how to have fun with fashion when the office dress code requires pantyhose and (2) how to look sharp—but not too stand-out-from-the-crowd—when you’re not ready to ruffle any HR feathers. Four local style experts* helped us tackle both issues in ways that work for creative and conservative offices alike.

Conservative Office

Here’s how to play it up:

Photo by Jeff Elkins
  • Tie on a silk knit tie.
  • Play with jewelry! Layer necklaces instead of wearing a single strand.
  • Stick with dark shades, but try them in leather and cashmere.
  • Shades of green are a fail-safe way to add more color to your closet.


  • Choose deep oxblood instead of black for lace-ups.
  • Peak lapels are more fashionable than the traditional notch.
  • Modernize your suit. Look for a shorter jacket and flat-front pants.
Photo by Jeff Elkins
  • Stack different hues of the same shade.

Here’s how to play it safe:

  • Follow the lead of office leadership. Wear what they wear.
  • Dresses should cover your arms. Add a jacket if they don’t.
  • Navy blue and charcoal belong in every closet.
Photo of nude shoe by Jeff Elkins
  • Never show toe (even in July).
  • Your shoes should match your belt.


Creative Office

Here’s how to play it up:

Photo of folio courtesy of Mark & Graham.
  • Gents: Tote electronics and office papers in a leather folio.
  • A crop top isn’t out of the question if your pants completely cover your midriff.
  • Trade that button-up for a pop-over or piqué polo.
Photo of mule by Diane Von Furstenberg/Nordstrom.
  • Flat mules = the fashion girl’s loafer.
  • Untucked shirts are tempting for guys. Don’t give in.
  • All-white ensembles in contrasting textures feel powerful and chic.

Here’s how to play it safe:

  • Try sport coats in Glen plaid and windowpane patterns.
Folded shirt by Courtesy.
  • Chambray = the business-casual version of French blue.
  • A cutaway collar is a subtlety that only fashion fiends will notice.
  • Nougat and blush brighten things up for women.
Photograph of Woman in jeans courtesy of DL1961.
  • Fitted to the ankle with a bit of stretch, DL1961’s Margaux jeans are Julia Farr’s pick for workplace denim.


  • When in doubt on outerwear, go with a belted jacket that hits at mid-calf.


*Our experts : Julia Farr, former lawyer and owner of Julia Farr boutique in Friendship Heights; Read Wall, owner of the local classic American menswear brand Read Wall; Andrea Zacharias, DC head of sales for Trunk Club; and Curtis Spaulding, assistant general manager and 11-year veteran of Saks Fifth Avenue Men’s Store in Chevy Chase DC.


This article appears in our April 2016 issue of Washingtonian.

Sarah is the Editor-in-Chief of Washingtonian Bride & Groom, and writes about weddings, fashion, and shopping. Her work has also appeared in Refinery29, Bethesda Magazine, and Washington City Paper, among others. She is a Georgetown University graduate, lives in Columbia Heights, and you can find her on Instagram at @washbridegroom and @sarahzlot.