Feb 042011

The quintessential business casual uniform template for men:

khakis + leather shoes +  polo shirt

If only it were so easy for women!  Consider the following insightful comment made (several years ago) by Mella DP:

My job: engineering consulting. That often means having to demonstrate credibility in the executive conference room and on the plant floor on the same day. Dressing in a way that works for both situations is tricky. It’s easier for the guys – most men can wear chinos and a polo shirt and and sturdy shoes and look decent and functional (if a little dull). Most women in a similar outfit would look like an Applebees hostess.   (Emphasis added.)


The other primary reason, IMO, polos don’t work for women’s business casual is this:  historically the polo is athletic wear, making it fall into the leisure category.   Although I’m not entirely certain why it is otherwise for men.

My advice?  When you hear the word “polo” substitute “sweater”.

  6 Responses to “Polos Are NOT Business Casual for Women”

  1. Good advice. I’m not even thrilled with button downs for women. It might just be because I have trouble with the shoulder fit of most of them, but white ones looks a bit too hostess-esq too.

  2. Ha! As soon as I read the headline, clicked over to comment, but I’ve already been quoted. 😉

  3. Aside from what you mentioned, I think the template is too wannabe mannish.
    Reminds me of the days when women wore those navy boxy suits and a little funny
    crossover tie piece.

    But here’s something else about the sweater substitution. I’m a huge believer in the
    idea of having to wear a collar to show authority. If I understand polo shirt correctly, then it is like a golf shirt with a usually knit collar. Collared sweaters not around so much.

  4. Yes, I don’t think this is the final word. The other thing about sweaters is that it’s such a broad category, containing so many minefields for professional women. Many of the complaints I hear from men about what their female coworkers wear concern sweaters. Trendy sweaters.

    And, ha ha, I actually do have a short-sleeved cashmere sweater with a collar. It is exactly a polo shirt, navy with green tipping.

    The issue of collars is one which needs more development. I heard the idea that a collar conveys authority for the first time about three months ago. But I don’t think there is proof that, for a woman, a collarless jacket worn with a collarless blouse is any less authoritative than the same combination with a collar or two. Nevertheless, there must be something to it, or you and the other person I heard it from would not have mentioned it.

    I love this! There is always something interesting to think about! 😉

  5. My particular sensibility is that, if the identical piece of clothing is worn by men, I don’t wear it. I’ve worked too long and hard to be a woman in business to look like a guy. Sure, I’ll wear pants but not Docker type khakis and not fly front.

    I don’t wear jackets that look just like men’s either, or pant suits that look like a guy’s suit. But I don’t wear short skirts, high heels or frilly stuff either. I just like to look like a woman.

  6. I think that sensibility is respected by both men and women in the business world. Elegant, lady-like business wear is something almost anybody can understand. 🙂

    At least it makes sense to me. Even though I don’t work, it makes me happy that I have two pretty, feminine skirt suits now: a brown wool tweed Tahari and the black silk tweed Ann Taylor.

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