Television rarely gives a realistic perspective of work. On television, coworkers are always best friends or mortal enemies. On television, people rarely get fired. On television, people can dress completely inappropriately for their jobs.
Television shows today are filled with shows demonstrating unrealistic workwear. Waitresses with designer wardrobes, teachers in tiny dresses and cops with cleavage are common on every channel. HBO’s Veep shows Julia Louise-Dreyfus as the Vice President of the United States, in tank dresses with cleavage and no cover-up. Far less scandalous choices have put our females politicians in the hot seat: Hillary Clinton was the topic of endless criticism in the news when she wore a blouse with a hint of cleavage to the Senate, and even Sarah Palin’s glasses were a common topic in the 2008 election. Female politicians must be scrupulous when dressing themselves, and the news programs would go bonkers over a Veep wardrobe. Other examples of shockingly unrealistic attire include Alyssa Milano’s cleavage-centric lawyer character Savannah on Mistresses, the tight pencil skirted female attorneys of Suits, and Serena Van Der Woodsen’s school uniform in Gossip Girl. Not to mention, the post-boob job Jan on The Office (pictured above).
There are marked differences in wardrobe between reality and television. In your own professional life, it is important to not mistake the “reel” for the real. On television, heels are always higher and dresses are always tighter and shorter. You might like the look, but that doesn’t mean you should risk it at your own office today. This is an important phenomenon to be aware of, as female leads on TV shows become, in essence, fashion models for the costume team to mold with the latest styles and trends. TV shows often stress the importance of female characters dressing in high fashion, as it often garners attention for the show. Yet, a few television shows dare to break the over-sexed mold. So what shows out there today show unique, beautiful, and appropriate workwear that we can emulate without getting fired?
ABC’s Scandal features Olivia Pope, a Washington DC fixer entangled in her own national scandals. Yet, she looks like a million bucks doing it. Pope’s wardrobe is mostly creams and grays, with lots of structured jackets. A monochromatic palette creates a versatile elegance that makes her always ready to meet with her top political clients or offer statements to the press. Her graceful choices give her a distinct power, while maintaining her femininity. Looking to try out the monochrome look? White House Black Market features plenty of white, cream, black and gray to create your own affordable look worthy of Olivia Pope.
Kate Beckett, Castle
Beckett might wear high heels to work, but at least she knows that cleavage is a no-no as a detective. She always buttons her shirts ups to the collar and pairs them with slim-cut blazers. (Lucky for her, this look is very ‘in’ at the moment.) She keeps it covered and professional, in and out of the interrogation room. Her look is more traditional office-wear than Olivia Pope. Replicate it by getting a slim-cut suit and button-up blouse from any major workwear retailer, such as J. Crew or Banana Republic. But if your office wardrobe now feels a little bland, try spicing it up with a new hairstyle, unique scarf, or piece of jewelry, like a vintage brooch from Etsy.
Ziva David might be one of the most practically dressed professional women on television. As a Special Agent for the Navy, her job involves a lot of chasing after bad guys and kicking butt. She often wears practical, flat leather boots, wide leg trousers and a sweater -- comfy and effective for running around all day. But you don’t have to be taking down terrorists to take this practical approach. Anyone who spends a lot of time on their feet, yet needs to also look professional, can take after Ziva. Classy comfort is the name of the game. Wondering how flat leather boots could be made to look office appropriate? Cole Haan offers a range of options.
Office politics are always tough to navigate. How personal is too personal? How casual is too casual? To help you with the ins and outs of the office, Marie Claire offers a monthly section called Marie Claire @ Work featuring helpful tips on office politics and assistance for those mornings when you stand in front of your closet for 20 minutes, deciding what to wear.
A good rule to always live by is play it safe. But that doesn’t mean you have to be frumpy, a la Pam from The Office. If you’re unsure, better to not wear it. As summer draws to a close, everyone might look back and wonder if they pushed the line on professional dressing once or twice, trying to not overheat in the office. Yet, even in a casual office, keeping necklines high and hemlines low -- then finding other outlets for inserting your personal flair -- is always the safest bet.