By Huma Rashid
I received an email from an alert reader with an urgent question. Okay, fine, I’m fibbing: the reader wasn’t particularly alert, nor did she claim that her question was particularly urgent. I just wanted everyone to think I led an exciting life.
But her question is still an important one. The email reads in part:
…I have a pair of great printed shorts that end about two inches above my knee, and I know that they’re acceptable for my office where the dress code only prohibits short shorts, jeans, and tubed or spaghetti strap tops. I want to be able to wear them to work but I don’t want to look like I’m headed out to the beach after. In other words, I don’t want to look too casual. Any help?
April, you’re in luck, because I have a bit of advice about turning shorts into office-appropriate ensembles.
Note what April said about the length of the shorts. This is important. If your shorts are too short, they’re going to look too casual; and if they’re too short, they’re going to look wildly inappropriate.
When it comes to length, if your shorts are any shorter than 1-2 inches above your knee (3 is pushing it but I have no way of knowing whether or not your office dress code is lax enough to permit that – just use your best judgment), leave them at home. They should be just two inches above the knee, at minimum, and shouldn’t be made of the same fabric as beach shorts. No terrycloth, no super crinkly linen or anything.
Let’s take a look at how I emphasized the ‘business‘ end of an ensemble including a totally ‘casual’ article like shorts.
I was hoping to find a pair of pretty shorts in a nice tribal print for under $50, but it wasn’t happening, so I went with these pink and brown ones. Notice the length – totally appropriate.
To reduce the casual effect, I picked out a plain white top with full-ish sleeves. Okay, half sleeves. But not the slouchy kind of half sleeves. The informal kind of full sleeves. The white works well with the pink and brown, and it’s pretty fool-proof.
For the shoes, I opted to go with flats. You could easily pick out a pair of heels to go with this outfit, but I think the loafers here look better. And besides, high heels would just look awkward here. Kittens would look fine, but it would depend on the look of the shoe.
But I’m kind of into loafers right now, and I like the rich copper color of these ones. I picked out a pinkish teardrop stone bracelet, which ties into the gold embellishment on the shoe as well.
But take a minute to step back from the particulars here and note what I really did with this outfit. I added a fitted/tailored top – basically, anything that isn’t too billowy or slouchy that makes it look like you intend to spend the day with sunscreen on your nose, leaning back in your office chair and using your desk lamp to turn your cubicle into a mini tanning booth.
I picked closed toe shoes, because anything else would invite the beachy feel. Besides, I don’t like open toes in the office, anyway, and most dress codes reinforce that. It took me forever to warm up to peep toes at work.
Then I added accessories to make the whole thing look deliberate and planned, not like you just threw it on as a cover up like you would if you were running out to the beach.
And there we have a work-appropriate way to wear shorts!