Whether you are a recent college graduate or a stay-at-home mom who is rejoining the workforce after raising the kids, your broken-in Birkenstocks may not be the appropriate choice for the workplace. While tennis shoes and canvas slip-ons were great for your trips to class and the market, your needs and your income have suddenly been altered (hopefully for the better) and it’s time to update your shoe wardrobe.
Building a shoe wardrobe takes time, thought, and effort and the selection will rest on comfort, style and appropriateness, not necessarily in that order. The type of shoe you select depends on your particular job, work environment, and the corporate culture of your company. Shoe etiquette can be tricky. Following are a few “foot” notes to consider when cultivating a business shoe collection:
- Conservative environments such as law firms, accounting firms and financial institutions frown on overly trendy footwear. While your strappy, between-the-toe sandals with clear acrylic heels would be great for an evening cocktail party; the corner office is not the place to strut your stuff. Stay away from anything that sparkles or hints of “Sex Kitten”. Focus on a traditional pump or sling back with a 2 to 3 inch heel in black, brown or cordovan (A bit boring, I know, but also very safe for a conservative workplace). The ultimate goal is to stand out on your business merit, rather than your choice of shoes.
- A creative work environment gives you a bit more freedom, especially if you work in the fashion industry and are selling the season’s “hot” shoe item. Marketing firms, ad agencies, event planners, and travel agents are expected to portray an upbeat persona and their clothing and shoes, along with their enthusiastic demeanor, are part of their overall image.
- Peep toed shoes are acceptable in many offices. They are particularly attractive with a beautifully tailored pantsuit or a skirt suit that hits just below the knee. By the way, if your toes are showing they must also be impeccably groomed. My personal favorite is a Jimmy Choo peep toe with a significantly higher heel than 2 inches, but who’s counting when worn under a long, tailored pair of dress slacks?
- Your geographic location is also a consideration when selecting an appropriate pair of shoes. If you live in a region that has predominately rainy weather, a good pair of rain boots should be on your shopping list. Put a little spring in your step by selecting a boot that is both functional and fun. You have a bit more room to let your personality shine when you are battling the rain and sloshing knee deep through mud. Pick a boot that will be water repellent and make you smile when you pull them on. Zappos has a great selection of rain boots.
- In warm weather climates, some offices consider summer sandals acceptable office wear. Office “appropriate” is the key phrase and just because your office mates are wearing tricked out, rhinestone-studded flip flops does not mean you should follow suit. You are responsible for understanding how your own shoe choice can influence your professional career.
- Although comfort is a key factor when traveling to and from the office, avoid pairing your suit with dirty, broken-in running shoes. Instead, look for a comfortable flat that you can wear during your commute and quickly slip off when you arrive at your office. Incidentally, a frequent pet peeve that I often hear from employers is that their employees arrive at work, while traipsing through the lobby entrance in their “unprofessional” travel shoes. It is certainly not too much for an employer to ask that his or her employees be professionally dressed from head to toe when they walk in the front door of the office.
A few more corporate shoe “No No’s”:
- Velvet, silk or sequined shoes during the workday
- Clogs and deck shoes – unless your office is the beach or a boat
- Tennis shoes – unless you are a professional athlete, playing on a sport court
The most important thing to remember is that your shoes tell a story. Nothing says, “I don’t care” more clearly than a pair of damaged, worn out or scuffed shoes. Your image is important to your new career. Make sure and take the time to get to know your local shoe repairman on a first name basis.