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Can You Wear an Off-the-Shoulder Top at the Office?

Mention the phrase “business casual” at and you’ll likely be met with a dozen eye-rolls. One perk of the job is being free to wear (mostly) whatever we want—instead of “office attire” like button-downs and trousers, we can indulge a sudden craving for frilly vintage dresses, patchwork jeans, or even track pants. Anything goes!

Well, not anything. There are a few items you shouldn’t wear even in a fashion-friendly office like ours—and it’s safe to say if it doesn’t pass here, it certainly won’t pass at your law firm or investment bank. A few obvious examples: up-to-there denim skirts, skimpy tank tops, baggy sweatpants, or anything too revealing. But what about off-the-shoulder tops and dresses?

The trendy-and-trendier look started to heat up in 2014 and reached a fever pitch at the Spring ’16 shows (see: Proenza Schouler’s oft-copied ruffled tops and dresses). Now, you can’t walk down Lafayette Street without spotting a few girls baring their clavicles. Usually, that kind of seen-it-everywhere saturation is enough to turn us off from a trend—remember when everyone wasn’t wearing culottes?—but we’re having a hard time denouncing off-the-shoulder everything. Maybe it’s because unlike most trends, it’s actually quite flattering; in the summer, shoulders are typically a bit sun-kissed, and if you don’t love exposing your arms, an off-the-shoulder silhouette takes care of that. Plus, in the middle of a heat wave—New York experienced 90-degree temps this week and what feels like 300 percent humidity right now—a shoulder-baring top is practical, too. With elbow-length sleeves, a slightly boxy shape, and a straight-across neckline, it felt just as understated as any other white shirt in my closet—and much breezier. Style Editor Edward Barsamian mirrored the less-is-more approach: “If you want to try the off-the-shoulder look at the office, you should definitely keep things tailored,” he says. “Paired with cigarette pants, it’s a modern spin on Audrey Hepburn style.” Executive Fashion Editor Jorden Bickham is also on board with a minimalist look: “If you’re going to do off-the-shoulder at work, you have to be crisp—pinstripe top, pinstripe skirt—and you better have a lunch meeting to justify it,” she says. “Tie your hair back in a sleek ponytail or bun, keep your face makeup-free, and bring a chic blazer to throw over your shoulders, in case you see someone from corporate.”

Maintaining a degree of polish is just one secret to pulling off the look at your 9-to-5. Market Editor Chelsea Zalopany—who styled the looks in the slideshow above—suggests layering an off-the-shoulder top over a blouse or wearing trousers underneath a collarbone-grazing dress for added coverage. “I was determined to wear my new Spring ’16 Etro sheer floral off-the-shoulder blouse to the office, but it took a bit of creative styling,” she says. “Upon first attempt, I tried to wear it as-is, although I intentionally wore it over a flowery pink Agent Provocateur bra. Needless to say, it was a little too out-there for the workplace, so I settled on the bra, a basic white Hanes tee, and my Etro blouse on top. Then I paired it with high-waisted skinny jeans [to cover my midriff] and metallic Roger Vivier kitten heels. The result read ‘cool remix’ rather than ‘compromised.’ ”

As usual, it all comes down to a certain spirit in how you wear it, coupled with a good dose of self-awareness. Fashion News Editor Alessandra Codinha summed it up nicely: “My whole ethos in life is to wear whatever the hell you want, as long as it makes you feel good—and won’t get you fired.” If you work in a particularly formal setting—i.e., the guys in your office are still wearing suits—you may have to save these tips for the weekend. As for the rest of us, you can shop the best ways to wear the trend in the slideshow above.

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