Are leggings business casual?

The 7 commandments of leggings at work

There’s a lot of controversy as to whether leggings are appropriate for a business casual environment. That being said, there are seven “commandments” that you should know before choosing to add leggings to your business wardrobe.

I cannot tell a lie. In my work as a personal brand strategist, or when I lecture on personal branding on the graduate and undergraduate levels, I have never once told a client or student to wear leggings to the office. And I never will.

But as the workplace evolves, the dress code becomes elastic (see what I did there?). 

But back to leggings.

Leggings are a work option. They are. But they require care, and planning. Recklessness in leggings is quickly punished by the loss of your personal credibility at work, as we’ll see. So before you opt for the stretchy comfort of leggings, consider these facts.

Wearing overly casual clothing was identified by senior managers as the most common dress code violation (47%), followed by showing too much skin (32%), in a recent survey  by staffing firm OfficeTeam.

In fact, Brandi Britton, district president of Office Team told Ladders, “Many workers probably don’t think dressing down is a big deal, but if your office attire is inappropriate, you may not always receive the level of respect your achievements merit.

“In fact, according to our survey, 80% of executives said clothing choices affect an employee’s chances of earning a promotion,” Britton said. 

That said, Britton admits that “many employers are allowing workers to dress less formally in the office, especially in creative and tech fields, among others.

To determine if leggings are acceptable, employees should consult company policies and also pay particular attention to “unofficial dress codes,” including what their supervisors and other managers within the company are wearing.”

If you’re a banker or financial worker though, you’re probably out of luck. Britton says those career dress codes typically skewed more formal and conservative and “in these more traditional settings, leggings would probably be frowned upon.”

One more tip from Britton, “It’s also often recommended that employees in customer or client-facing roles maintain a certain level of professionalism in their attire.” 

So if you work in a more casual office environment, you can certainly exercise more fashion freedom, and yes, even wear leggings to the office. Here are some guidelines — commandments, if you will, of sporting leggings. 

Thou shalt not wear gym clothes to the office

This should go without saying: the legging you wear to work should be clean, polished and never, ever the same pair of leggings you wear to the gym. Let’s never discuss this further. 

Thou shalt not reveal your rear end

Pilar Quintana, VP of Merchandising at says, “the biggest point to stress is that you must wear a long shirt to cover up your fanny. If you don’t wear a long shirt to cover up and you wear more of a short blouse or blazer, your leggings must be very thick, like ponte fabric.”

Thou shalt dress leggings up, not down

If an outfit includes leggings, they should be the most casual element; everything else should elevate the look. Quintana stresses that when choosing shoes to wear with your leggings, “you should not wear flip flips or it tends to look like activewear.  Booties, heels and boots look great with leggings for the workplace.” 

Thou shalt consider a long tunic

A long, print or color block tunic that falls anyplace from lower mid-thigh to above the knee with leggings and boots or ballet flats adds an arty effect.

Thou shalt treat leggings like breeches

Military-influenced looks do well with leggings, which the Duke of Wellington knew well. A jacket with boxy shoulders, shoulder or trench coat detailing, belts, pockets or even gold detailing adds a sharp, clean look to what can otherwise be perceived as completely casual. High boots, especially with a flat heel, ground the look. 

Thou shalt use leggings as a canvas for statement tops

Tops that are otherwise difficult are usually perfect for leggings. Asymmetrical effects are a good choice. An uneven hem on your top – think handkerchief bottom, lace trim or angled cut — work well with leggings and add a polished look to an otherwise potentially distracting detail.

Thou shalt skirt the issue

While leggings look most flattering in shades of black, navy or other neutrals, if you love the idea of adding some color to your wardrobe, you can wear a stretch skirt with bright colored leggings underneath. Bright pink or even buttercup yellow look less shocking worn this way.