Even if your position doesn't require you to see outside clients, you are still "making an impression on your boss [and] your potential future boss," notes Heather Kleis, a human resources adviser for insurance company ING.
While women may have more options about what to wear in the workplace, they also have more room for misstep, notes psychology professor Glick. "What's a man going to wear, a pair of Dockers and a button-down shirt, as opposed to a tie and a shirt?" Pit that scenario against a woman whose maxi dress is semi-transparent and, well, the impact on their respective reputations hardly compares.
In general, there are wardrobe selections women should always avoid in the workplace. In addition to the aforementioned maxi dress, wearing clothing that reveals your bra or panty lines is inappropriate office attire. Period. Ditto for micro-mini skirts and sheer clothing without a lining or cover-up.
Summer is a season that opens the door to a slew of potential fashion landmines for professional women, including spaghetti-strap tops and gladiator sandals, a hot-ticket item that should be avoided unless the dress code is so laid back that "everyone, including higher-ups, is wearing flip flops," Burr says.
So is being overly conservative the key to advancing? Not necessarily, says Glick. Although it can't hurt to err on the side of caution, asserting a little bit of individuality and personal style can boost your confidence and ability. As elsewhere in your business, it pays to stay one step ahead of the expected.