Staying spooky in the corporate world

Guest post by Kelly Lambert
Kelly has tons of corporate goth “outfit of the day inspiration” on her blog!

When you work in a corporate environment, it can be easy to fall into the pattern of dressing the way your co-workers do, especially if you haven’t quite wrapped your head around the concept of “business casual.” For a long time, I felt the need to basically be undercover as a “normal person” at work to avoid raising eyebrows, and because I felt I needed to dress a certain way to be respected.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret I’ve learned after 7ish years working in offices: this just isn’t true. There are plenty of ways to express your creepy side in a work-appropriate manner.

1. Play by the rules

Read and understand your employer’s dress code. This is not the time or place to be rebellious — these people are paying you to follow their rules. There is no need to lose your job over clothing choices. That said, all dress codes can be interpreted to fit in some gothiness. Your employer requires a uniform? Time to accessorize! It’s all about understanding what’s appropriate for the environment. That big meeting you have with the head honcho may not be the best day to test out a new black lipstick, just sayin’.

2. Be polite

Speaking of propriety, leave the brooding persona at home! Being courteous will help your coworkers and employers overlook your eccentricities. I’m not saying you have to be best friends with your team, but try to get along with as many people as you can. Bonus: this effort on your part helps make big steps toward changing the public’s view of goths as scary, mean people! Think of yourself as a goth ambassador, if you must. You represent all of us.

3. Accessorize

Accessories are one of the easiest ways to goth up business attire, but keep them tasteful. Silver jewelry, even when shaped like skulls and bats, can oftentimes go undetected by non-goths. Skulls have even been on-trend the past few years, so embrace that trend! Tights are fun and fantastic during the winter, especially in the gorgeous lace patterns that have been so popular the past few seasons. Granny boots and Mary Janes fit right into the workplace, but it may be best to leave the Demonias and New Rocks at home on weekdays. Remember, your goal is business attire with a gothic twist, not necessarily club-ready.

4. Decorate

Your cube/workspace is your home away from home. You spend 40 hours a week here, so make it cozy! Halloween snowglobes, pens, bobbleheads and figurines can help spice up any desk. If you meet with customers face-to-face, your employer may want you to tone things down, but you can almost always get away with a few little fun trinkets scattered about.

Kelly's favourite corp goth outfit.
Kelly’s favourite corp goth outfit.

5. Paint your face

No, not really. However, you likely can get away with grey or black eyeshadow (or even brighter colors like hot pink and purple if you limit them to your lids) and simple black winged liner. The workplace is not usually the place for eyeliner swirlyboops or Siouxsie-eyes, but a simple smoky eye never hurt anyone. Lipsticks are fun as well, but black is typically frowned upon (even if not explicitly stated in your employer’s dress code). Dark fingernails don’t typically raise any eyebrows in the workplace either, especially if kept neat. If you are lucky enough to have an employer that will allow unnatural hair color, color away!

6. Stick to basics

If you’re still having a hard time wrapping your head around business casual attire, at least keep your basics on hand (in black, preferably, but any color you wish is fine as long as you enjoy it): button-ups, cardigans, slacks, pencil skirts, tights/leggings, maxi skirts, blazers, vests, heels, and flats. Embellish little by little until you are satisfied with your look. Plan your outfits the night before until you get really comfortable with this style of dress. Always remember that less is usually more, especially when easing your coworkers into your new office look. Don’t shock them.

In closing: be nice, dress spooky (but not too spooky), stay neat, and you’ll start to feel more like your creepy self at work soon!

Comments on Staying spooky in the corporate world

  1. I agree with all of this! I work in a very conservative industry. But I have managed to get away with quite a bit. It’s about keeping your non-conforming subtle/limited. It also helps to be great at your job. If you’re a standup employee, do your job well and don’t antagonize your coworkers, chances are your boss will let a little more slide.

  2. Love this article, super cute outfits! It makes me so happy to see offbeat culture leak into ”traditionnal” work place environements. Yay for extra creativity!! 🙂

  3. I’ve found that a lot of Hell Bunny’s Spin Doctor brand (found at Hot Topic) can be really great for work! I frowned upon HT during my college years, but they’ve recently gone back to their roots and have lots of great fancy clothes and accessories that are quite gothy and steampunky!

    I’m also able to wear pretty wild makeup at work (of course no black lipstick, but I’ve worn some deep reds and my coworkers are usually like OMG YOUR MAKEUP IS SO PRETTY), despite that I work at a Catholic University. I do pretty intense cat-eye liner and veeery vibrant colors, lots of sparkles. No complaints.

    BUT. Someone in my workplace finds skulls offensive. I have this beeaautiful plain black cardigan that has a big, pretty sugar skull on the back. I thought it was tasteful and not overdone, but I got “told on” at work within 5 minutes of reporting in that day. And I have long hair. Sooo unfortunately the “skulls on trend” thing doesn’t work for me =( I have a pretty gothy fairy necklace that I’ve been trying out, and people don’t seem to mind. It’s all about slowly introducing more things and seeing if anyone says anything. But more people like me now, so I may try to slowly incorporate skulls again.

    • Big skulls on garments can be too much goth at work – I find that small skull (or bat or whatever) jewelery is much easier to get away with, even at a conservative office. And things like an Alexander McQueen skull scarf (real if you can afford it or one of the many, many inexpensive knockoffs) is pretty subtle & extremely fashionable in a mainstream way.

      I have some examples here:

      • I’ve consistently gotten compliments on tiny skull accessories in my workplaces, even from people who (I thought) would’ve otherwise been turned-off from skully, spooky things. I had these great earrings that looked like a stack of pearls from far off, but they were really little carved skulls. People LOVED those things, I think because it was subtle and such a surprise when you spotted it.

      • Small skulls are much more discreet. I learned this after I broke half of a pair of skull earrings and turned the remaining one into a zipper pull for one of my pretty purses. It’s so subtle no one notices, but I know it’s there and it makes me happy.

        • That is a great idea! I had these two really cute pairs of rhinestone skull earring, but the post busted off of the back and I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with them…

    • Oh that’s good news- last time I was in there, it was all superheroes, Nightmare Before Christmas, and Adventure Time, floor to ceiling. Not that I don’t enjoy those things, but….

  4. Awesome article! The part of familiarizing oneself with the dress code is very important to learning what is and isn’t appropriate at the specific job.

    From personal experience, unnatural hair colors receive mixed reactions at work. When one is not sure what is appropriate it is always okay to ask. I did that exactly in my first job (drafter) and was told that there wouldn’t be a problem since I did not have direct contact with clients. In subsequent jobs (project manager, design teacher, instructional aide) I was hired with colorful hair already. What helps best is to follow common sense: keep hair clean and neat, touch up and maintain the color, do not allow greens to fade to puke colors.

    In my case, I leave the layers closest to my face my natural color. This way, if there is a special occasion (gasp! The CEO is visiting today!) I can pull it back and the color is less noticeable. Styling makes a big difference. It is key to appear well groomed and clean. This helps to convey unusual colors in a positive manner.

    Comments at work have been as varied as any random time going out:

    “Where is your green! You need your green side! I miss the green”
    -dean of academics at teaching job

    “What happened to your colors? Bring your colors back!”
    -my students at a brief period when my hair was all black

    “You may dye your hair blue; yes. It will not be a problem since you don’t see the customers. Do expect us to pick on you because it is unusual.”
    -general manager from my drafting job

    “You’ve had your hair that blue purple so long that it is a ‘fixture’ now and shouldn’t be changed!”
    -teacher coworker that met me when I began coloring it in 2005

    “You changed your hair! It’s pretty! It’s a different sort of blue! Yes, I notice these things.”
    -student comment while he proceeded to grab a handful of my hair! Yes, this may happen; best thing to do is to politely remind that touch/grab is not appropriate and remind of personal space.

    I strongly agree with comments above; helps TREMENDOUSLY being good at what you do. I did have a boss that, while my hair didn’t go with their personal taste, allowed the colors because I performed my job very well.

    Lastly, when anyone is negative about colorful hair, the worst thing to do is to get defensive. I did go to an interview once where I got asked about going to other interviews. When I said yes, the person immediately replied with “and you went like THAT, with blue hair!?” to which I replied sharply “and what’s wrong with that!?” She took a little jump back and kept communication at a minimum just to finish and move on. Being polite and approachable goes a long way in deciding what styles are appropriate and what is not appropriate at work.

  5. This is great! And it applies to all of the other offbeat style preferences, too. I’ve been working in more of my hippie stuff, lately. Like super wide leg pants in a neutral color with some cool heels.

  6. Right now I have pink, green and purple hair. I’ve made it my trademark. It really makes me distinctive in my industry. I do have to work harder to impress people, but I’m a badass, so that’s ok.

  7. I tend more toward the more punk look, which is really hard when I work in a law office. I find that if I wear my punk clothing in a more traditional cut and fabric, it helps my outfit blend in at the office. For me, it helps to keep a classic black suit coat around; a jacket can make almost any outfit look professional.

  8. Swirlyboops!!

    You can pretty much get away with wearing all-black (or all-black-and-gray) in just about every situation as long as the items in question are well-fitted and kinda classic. Some situations just aren’t quite bat-and-skull friendly, even if they’re subtle, but this kinda thing:

    will pretty much always fly.

    (That’s pretty much my preferred brand of goth for my own wardrobe, anyway, heh. Though I do now own a bat skull necklace, so…guess I checked both those boxes at once.)

  9. Just want to say this is exactly how I do it as a school teacher, too. I’m coming from a goth/punk aesthetic and have found it very easy to still dress “appropriate for young children” while remaining true to my sense of self and style

  10. I worked in some of my hippie/art self in an office – my favorite bit was decorating my cubicle with unframed artwork on paper and floral garland that I swapped out seasonally. I was lucky to have an office where I felt I could trust the group of people who came and went so I brought in an oil painting of mine and propped it up on my top shelf too. As for clothing I stuck to accessorizing with a wooden bangle here and there, my usual many rings and wire wrapped jewelry which seemed to work out nicely.

    sadly where I work now requires jeans, sneakers and preferably the company t shirt – no floofy skirts on the shop floor

  11. Love this!! I worked in retail and hated how ‘uniform’ everyone looked. My boss always tolerated my need for bright and mismatched socks, but went nuts when I dyed my naturally blonde hair black and wore heavy eye liner, but there’s little he could say or do as it didn’t technically break ‘the code’. I gradually incorporated elements from my personal life (bracelets, earrings etc.) and they didn’t really bat an eyelid. When I got to management level I made a concerted effort to allow staff to express their individualism through clothing. I don’t see why you need to almost dehumanise people in the workplace. Someone with scaffolds and tattoos can be just as polite and knowledgeable as someone dressed in a suit! The superficial judgement that enforced dress codes put in place really bother me!

    My only real regret is that I didn’t go all out and dye my hair electric blue like I always wanted, before I ‘calmed down’ and chose to start a business in a field where I feel it’s inappropriate. But that is my personal decision and I would certainly never expect my staff to feel they need to compromise who they are in order to work for me.

  12. Have you guys seen the PreciousBags on Amazon? They have a serious of skull purses that are very corporate appropriate; bright colors (and black of course) with subtle details like skull beads down the front or (my favorite) skull embossed faux-leather.


  13. Oh I so need to figure out how the Goth better at work. Unfortunately I work in a really small business from home. Basically daycare and when I started working my business partner was a big frowny grump about it… (She’s also my partner!) but I’m winning her round. And why are people icky about skulls… We all have one I think it’s this though…

  14. Not really into the goth scene, but this reminds me of my first job in a medical office – literally no visible tattoos. As someone with tattoos on my thumbs and earlobes, this presented a problem. My husband found me thumb rings made out of real octopus tentacles set in sterling silver and I gifted myself a fantastic haircut that was still cutting edge, but covered my earlobes (and short enough for some glorious earrings to show!). Covering my chest and arms meant up to my neck long sleeved shirts, but I compensated with knee-length skirts (they had no issue with brands, lol). A few rockin’ pairs of heels… I was in my element.

  15. This is so relatable! I always make a point of throwing in some creepy accessories. When all else fails I’ve been known to channel my inner weirdo through my socks and underwear. Then it’s like a fun little secret.

  16. Thank you for mentioning playing by the rules. As a supervisor, I hate having to play the bad guy if dress code is broken, even if personally do not have a problem with the styles. The problem is I can’t let one person come in with neon pink hair and not let everyone have the ability to do it. I’d much rather find ways to find a happy balance before someone comes in with something that I have to write them up for.

  17. Thanks for the tips! I wear a uniform to work (I work in sales as a sales associate for a Japanese confectionery company), for a Japanese company, and Japanese companies have very strict dress codes. However, I manged to get away with wearing Halloween earrings to work (so sad that I lost one side) and wearing red eyeshadow or subtle goth makeup. If I’m in a rush, I do normal makeup *gasp*.

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