Should You Wear Leggings as Pants to Work?

Hayley FitzPatrick
Leggings can be acceptable in some work environments and not in others. (Photo: Getty Images)
Leggings can be acceptable in some work environments and not in others. (Photo: Getty Images)

When it comes to work attire, there are some universal standards throughout many different industries. However, the subject of the appropriateness of leggings and heel height in office settings often draws mixed opinions.

In writer Allison Green’s recent “Ask a Manager” column in The Business Journals titled “Managing: My intern is wearing leggings as pants,” one reader questions what she should do to address an intern’s inappropriate office attire.

The reader wrote that she instructed the intern to abide by the business casual dress code at the start of her internship but has found that the intern often wears “skin-tight leggings and tops that do not cover bottoms and hips.” The reader wonders if she should address it with the intern, even though the internship is quickly coming to an end.

Green informed the reader that she should address the clothing issue — but in a tactful manner. “Telling her at the very end of her internship is a little like telling someone that they have food in their teeth at the end of their big presentation, rather than at the start of it; she’s likely to feel embarrassed that she’s been dressing this way the whole time and no one told her,” Green wrote.

She advised the woman to say something to her intern to help her in future office settings. “Leggings that aren’t accompanied by a butt-covering top aren’t appropriate for most offices, and you’ll be doing her a favor by letting her know before she moves on to her next job,” Green told the reader.

This sort of predicament is actually pretty common for employers. Unclear dress codes can lead to confusion concerning proper attire among employees — especially in companies with more casual office settings. The line between what is appropriate and what’s not can also sometimes be stretched by employees.

Dress codes in workplaces vary. (Photo: Getty Images)
Dress codes in workplaces vary. (Photo: Getty Images)

“Not a lot of companies take the time to explain what their interpretation of ‘casual’ is,” Sylvie di Giusto, founder of Executive Image Consulting, tells Yahoo Style. “There is a huge variety of “business casual” dressing, depending on the industry, position, culture, gender, age, and it’s difficult for employees to meet their company’s expectation if not described in detail.”

The term business casual really seems to divide employers. “This one is the murkiest for our customers and for other people we speak to,” Dorie Smith, of workwear attire company Of/Mercer, told Business Insider. “Part of the problem is that there are so many trends that are so casual. We’ve even gotten emails from HR at some of these firms that say, ‘Help our analysts realize it’s not OK to wear leggings to work.’ People go too casual.”

When it comes to whether it’s OK to wear leggings at work, it depends on your office environment. “Leggings might be casual wear if the intern works in a very casual industry or company with a very relaxed company culture, while it might not be in a very traditional environment,” Smith said.

Di Giusto believes that one should take four important factors into consideration when evaluating the appropriateness of their office wear: the work environment, the way one would like to be represented to others, the need for clothes to not become more noticeable than one’s expertise, and dressing for the position one hopes to reach one day. Di Giusto also feels that in this particular intern’s circumstance, approaching her about her work attire would be best for her future success.

“In the long term, the intern will be grateful for the advice,” Di Giusto wrote. “This might not happen immediately. However, if the leader goes into this conversation with a true desire to help, with respect, empathy and honesty, keeping in mind that the intern possibly even isn’t aware of the issue, then the leader might have just changed the intern’s career path and life to the better. One day the intern will look back and truly be grateful for the advice.”

Di Giusto also advised people to consult a human resources professional at work before having the conversation about work attire in order to avoid saying anything that could be deemed offensive or inappropriate.

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