Can you wear leather in the office? This is one of the age old questions. It is right up there with “Can you wear shorts at work?” Leather is all the rage this fall (if you don’t have a pair of Prada leather toe socks then you are seriously behind) and now that it is cool enough to wear it, you may want to. But can you bring this trend into the office without looking like a dominatrix or (even worse) Sandy from Grease? We talked to some experts about this.
Kat Griffin, founder of Corporette, told The Grindstone:
“Leather can be tricky in a professional setting — it’s one of those things where more senior women, who have built a bank of credibility, can get away with it much more than younger women who are still proving themselves. Leather details are fine across all ages, I think (elbow patches, trim, etc). Leather jackets are fine for everyone as outerwear, and a leather jacket that looks like a blazer (not a motorcycle jacket) can be fine for women who have that bank of credibility. Leather skirts — which are very popular right now — are trickier, but might be acceptable, on casual days, with dark hose or tights. Leather pants should probably not be attempted by anyone for the office.”
Kat brings up the point that you have to earn the right to wear certain items. Last year Business Insider reported that multiple women have been spotted wearing leopard print shoes at Goldman Sachs. The article found that it was the older, more respected women at the firm that were wearing these more daring prints. If a younger woman tried something like that she would be judged severely. When you’re new (and particularly if you’re young and inexperienced) at the firm, don’t take chances,” Courtney Comstock reported.
Leather pants would definitely fall under the daring clothing category, even if you wear it just right. But even when established and powerful women wear leather, it still definitely gets noticed. Christine Lagarde, the first female Managing Director of the IMF, wore leather pants and a leather jacket to a cocktail party for the prestigious DC law firm, Baker & McKenzie. Lagarde, then chairman of the firm, definitely made a splash with this ensemble. Wamaid Mestey-Borges, a civil rights attorney told Forbes, “[they] told me that she was comfortable in her own skin, confident in her skills and not dressing for an audience.”
But you will have an audience if you wear leather in the office so you have to be subtle about it. Christine Lagarde pulls it off because she acted like it was just an ordinary suit and wore it with confidence. “Here is a woman who can wear black leather thigh-length boots and a leather jacket to a finance summit, is unafraid of shortish skirts, color, and even when she is in a trouser suit manages to invigorate it with a Birkin bag and Hermès scarf,” wrote a Financial Times reporter last December. Plus, you know, she is French. That helps too. But not all of us are French and cool.
But in some industries, including law, some people think leather is absolutely out of the question. Though Griffin supported it, a poll on her site found that 51% of almost 1,300 readers say no to leather skirts at work. One reader told The Careerist leather would “attract creeps.” Another worried about the “weird sounds” of a leather skirt rubbing against the leather chair in her office (excellent point.) Too dangerous,” says a Fortune 100 counsel. “Sends the wrong message. Like you’re into S&M.” Adds another lawyer: “It always looks cheap.”