Can Dressing ‘Too Girly’ Be A Career Killer?

By  |This post can originally be found on

“And now, I’m just trying to change the world, one sequin at a time.” ― Lady Gaga

A recent CareerBuilder survey found that pink and red are the least preferred choice (1% or less) for CEOs. The presumption is that these colors are too girly and are not taken as seriously as the corporate world’s favorite colors, the always exciting navy blue and black (navy blue was the top choice at 36% amongst CEOs, with black falling behind at 26%.) And even though The Wall Street Journal declared this spring that the power suit look for professional women is over and that floral patterns and pastel colors, once thought to be office fashions sins, are now acceptable we aren’t quite sure. We decided to ask some experts if dressing too girly or feminine can actually hurt your career?

Sam Russel of the told The Grindstone:

“I have often expressed to my female clients the importance of finding feminine and masculine balance in your work attire. Male counter-parts are visual people, but you always want to be remembered for the right things. Flower-y patterns in the workplace can exude too much emotion and comes across as not strong or confident.”

Jennifer Vickery is the President/CEO of a Public Relations firm called National Strategies Public Relations. She believes there is a fine line of dressing professional with a sense of personality/style and simply dressing too girly. She defines too girly as wearing too much pink, too many accessories, floral prints or cuts versus wearing more professional attire with accents of a bright or stylish color. Too girly can involve too short of dress attire, too low of blouse cuts, hairstyling, etc., according to Vickery. She also believes that dressing too feminine can impact your salary. She told The Grindstone:

“How dressing too girly can effect someone’s pay is all about perception. If a client feels their account representative or professional is too girly (which doesn’t refer to age, as this is an issue with younger and older women alike), they may not believe in their professional contributions, may second-guess their work, may seek advice or approval from other colleagues. This can delay projects, cause frustration, waste organizational hours, therefore having a real cost to the bottom line. When a manager reviews the employee’s performance, this will be taken into affect. Managers commonly evaluate people on communication, organization, time effectiveness, and client relations. If these areas are suffering because the client doesn’t believe this person is truly professional simply because of their girly appearance, it really can impact this person’s salary/pay raise potential.

Dressing too girly can also hurt a team internally for the reasons mentioned above. Team members may not value or trust the opinion of a person who wears matching pink bracelets, shows up with an iPhone with pink sparkled gems, a pink laptop cover on a consistent basis. Whether or not people want to admit it, we evaluate and assess someone on a very visual level and decide whether we believe in their expertise, experience, thoughts, contributions and viability in the workforce.”

With PR being such a female dominated field perhaps women have to fight even harder to be taken seriously. And when a younger woman sports way too many bright colors or florals it can hurt the woman who has been working for a longer time that would like to wear an accent of bright color. According to a new survey from LinkedIn,  when it came to employees dressing inappropriately (too low-cut, etc) in the workplace, 62% of women said that this bothered them versus only 29% of men. “Women pay more attention to how people dress,” says Brooke Moreland, the CEO of told The Grindstone,“I think a lot of women have a group mentality and feel that if one woman dresses inappropriately it represents us all in a negative light. We don’t want our own sexuality to be a factor of how we are perceived in the workplace so we resent the women who ‘take it there’.”

Former event planner Marion Green wrote on her blog that a female CFO friend of her said, “I had to earn the right to wear red.” Berry said it took this woman, who worked in banking,  25 years of wearing beige, black and grays before she could inject more color. Last year Business Insider reported that multiple women have been spotted wearing leopard print shoes at Goldman Sachs. “[Shoes] can’t be wild,” says a source, “but you can wear any color that looks professional.”  But for women that were new at the firm, wearing leopard shoes would have been more of a risk. You have to earn the right to wear certain things and pink and florals may fall into this group too.

Green’s post insighted a lot of comments on the subject. It depends on the industry but it seems that those bright colors are still a bit taboo.

BmoreLoveLeigh said:

“For the first 8 years of my career I stuck to basic black and grey, and I couldn’t imagine wearing red pants or a bright skirt. Regardless of how confident you are, it draws alot of attention in a conservative corporate office like the one I worked in. However, the longer I have been in my career the more confident I have become. I would not hesitate to wear bright colors or skirts without pantyhose or open toed shoes.

Jen said:

“I would love to wear a bright color like pink to work, but it probably wouldn’t go over well. Our handbook states attire is business casual, but mostly everyone is super casual here and even then dress in darker colors. I wore a navy polka dot dress last week and was asked by several people why I was so dressed up.”

It’s partly that many men don’t appreciate or understand fashion as well as women and so when they see a bright color or a pattern in a business setting, it is considered odd. Marion M. Chamberlain, Life Strategist, said:

“I remember wearing a skirt and cardigan in coral colors at a corporate retreat and having to listen to comments that I looked like a box of cracker jacks. I’ve encountered similar experiences with my clients. You’ve got to wear the “uniform” to be taken seriously. The uniform also constrains you into holding back on your emotions and playing into that cool and calm look.”

And many women do fall into the trap of losing any sort of femininity and pretty much just dressing like a man except they have a bra on underneath. Elaine Reed, who works in business, said she has noticed women dressing the way men think they would dress if they were a woman. “Not only have I noticed women dressing the way they think men would, I’ve actually had a male business coach tell me that women need to develop a “uniform” for their business activities.” There is that great line in Working Girl in which Harrison Ford’s character, Jack Trainer, is so relieved to see Melanie Griffith’s Tess wearing a dress (a sexy polka dot dress which sounds like an oxymoron), even though they are at a business function. He says, “You’re the first woman I’ve seen in one of these things that dresses like a woman, not like a woman thinks a man would dress if he was a woman.”

One commenter on Green’s post wrote:

“I used to wear pink all the time when I worked in an office setting. I worked in a field on men and I felt it saved a little femininity over the supposed “dominate” sex. Pleh…dominate….they melt at the sight of a pretty woman. Us on the other hand? We have the power to play hard to get. So yes…color rocks…embrace the feminine in a largely “masculine” corporate setting.”

According to Sam Russel, if women style those signature feminine pieces they can actually give themselves an advantage.  He told The Grindstone: “A power suit with a flower detail conveys a whole different meaning. It says strength and education with a dash of nurturing. Women and men will never dress the same and women have the one up .They can communicate strength and “I am a good listener” all in one stroke.”

So I’m not sure if the power suit is completely dead but I wouldn’t wear a head to toe pink one anytime soon. A pink blouse or accent scarf sounds completely acceptable though and may just give you a bit more confidence.  Di – City and Burbs said:

“I was at a Women in Technology Forum on Tuesday and our CTO got up on stage wearing a fabulous cream suit, strappy sandals (we were in CA) and her hair was in perfect loose curls. She talked about her passions, including fashion. I have been much bolder in my work outfits in the past year (thanks to blogging), but she just reassured me that it’s ok to like fashion and to show that side of you even in the workplace (in a male dominated field). I have worn pink to the office. It was a shirt underneath a suit. That day, I walked a little taller and spoke a little louder.”

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  1. […] could moan about it and ask for flexible working hours, we could worry about what we wear, we could allow people to typecast our personalities. Or we could just play to our strengths, have […]

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