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Work Fashion

Dressing for the office: How cute is too cute?

Unless you work for Candy Crush, chances are good that you have to temper your inclination to be adorable in the workplace. That said, we all want to personalize our workspaces and make them feel friendlier or funnier, and many of us like to add a bit of quirkiness to the more traditional 9-5 corporate uniform.

Here are some ways to be cute in the workplace without seeming unprofessional:

Try not to repeat yourself

I was recently fortunate enough to meet style icon Tim Gunn who mulled over my question of how cute is too cute? Gunn believes that if you’re dressing or styling yourself in a way that is 10-15 years younger than your chronological age, you probably should stop.

While Gunn doesn’t believe there’s one way to dress that’s age-appropriate, one imagines that wearing the tops or pants or accessories that served you well in college might not be the best choice when you’re working for a living. If you’re wondering if it’s too cute for work, chances are good that it is.

Define cute

My friend Karen is extremely smart and extremely stylish. When I posed the “how cute is too cute” question to her, she thought about it for a while. She then reminded me that we all have different ideas of what the definition of cute is. Something vaguely whimsical might not register on my radar, while it might offend someone in a button-down profession.

Before putting your own quirky imprimatur on your office or work wardrobe, pay attention to what’s accepted or frowned on.

Define age-appropriate

I had a chat recently with the 90-something still active chairman of Echo Design, Dorothy Hyman Roberts, who’s worked for her family’s business for nearly seven decades. Roberts gave me some subtle side-eye when I presented the cute question to her and explained that different things seem cute depending on your age or stage.

Then again, Roberts is at the office at 8:30 a.m. four days a week making me feel like a total slouch. I think in this instance we might be forgiven for completely tossing out the notion of the right way to look or act your age.

Put it on a corkboard

If you’re most interested in decorating your workspace, realize that it’s important to take your colleagues, co-workers, clients, and bosses into account. So, maybe instead of wallpapering your cube with every meme or comic you’ve ever seen or printed along with a life-size Idris Elba poster, you should try to limit it to anything that fits on a particular space.

While you’re at it, review your board every couple of weeks or months to make sure you’re not holding onto or displaying something that makes you seem politically incorrect or woefully out of touch.

Test it out first

Meanwhile, if you have an office or are about to move into one, you might want to test out the placement of your diplomas and tchotchkes before you do. Gunn recently partnered with Command Brand on coming up with smarter ways to decorate your space, even temporarily.

I like the idea of this gallery wall project, which is impressive and has enough personality to spark conversation, but not giggles.

Don’t let it out of your sight

I’m not sure if stand-up comedians have business cards, but I’ll bet they have funny ones. If you’re not sure how your humor will be received, try to keep an eye on it. In other words, test out jokes or punchlines or slogans before incorporating them into your conversation or professional visuals.

Something might be cute once but could potentially grate on someone’s nerves if heard or seen too often.

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Rachel Weingarten is a marketing & brand strategist and president of 729.marketing. She's a pop culture and trends analyst who frequently writes about business and style and the business of style. Rachel's a sometimes professor, teaching personal branding on the graduate and undergraduate levels. She leads corporate seminars on topics including evolving communication and spirituality in the workplace. Rachel is also the author of three award winning non-fiction books.