The Kenyan Definition of 'Official' Wear

Thursday, October 18, 2012

I just don't get it.

Hi y'all, Mary here. Today I am going to ask you guys to impart your wisdom. This revolves around business attire, the dreaded 'official' look, and the boundaries the Kenyan workplace dictates around this touchy subject.

I say touchy only because I currently work at a B2B organization which, as you would imagine, demands a level of professionalism to my look. I had previously worked at a creative marketing environment - the extreme opposite of this -  I could roll out of bed and head straight to work, and not a single unkempt brow would be raised... The switchover was not easy for me.

I basically had to go from this: 
To this:

I can't... I just... 


Two years going strong and this is the final look that I have adapted to... 

This is what I'm wearing today

I think I look downright presentable! BUT STILL.... I got the stink eye from HR this morning! 

This is my general aesthetic for what I usually wear: Straight pants/ cut off pants, chiffon tops, and a boyfriend blazer.  I only wear jeans on Fridays (if at all). Heels are optional, I'm tall, so I can get away with flats.

What do you think? Is it me? Am I being rebellious? Might I just add, that I rarely face clients, hardly even! I'm usually at my desk designing stuff and drafting content as I listen to my music on my earphones; minimum to no interaction with other humans. What the heck do the rest of you guys wear to work anyhow? Is there a standard "official look" that all women are meant to abide by? I for one, oppose this.

This has been a mini rant brought to you by Mary Mogoi. I love my job though! :)

Enjoy the day!

29 comments:

designerdrop said...

I loveyour outfit! It's official but stylish sokeep doing it!

My Africa Is Showing said...

Whoever gave you the stink eye probably hates the fact that you look so darn good in those pants!!!

A the Afghan said...

I hear you! I think I own one suit which I only wear to interviews and serious meetings. It comes with the territory though, you have to do what you have to do, otherwise the stress that comes from HR will drive you crazy. Just thank the Good Lord you don't have to wear oversized skirt suits or cover your hair, toes, arms etc etc.

Masuka M said...

I love this. We spend so much time at work, office issues really matter and can affect our state of mind in so many areas of our lives.

In my view, it is about your attitude. People are offended by those who are self-assured and don't feel a need to conform to the majority style. The fact that you don't fit in makes you stand out and people resent the fact that that can ONLY come from unassailable confidence in oneself (internal and not external). In your case, it is not only restricted to your choice of clothing, but your hair as well. Also, if you are younger, skinnier, taller and prettier, it adds even more variables into the equation. While it is true that there are some outfits which can be too revealing, are distracting (sequins, bows etc) or have more flair than others, if you were summoned to State House tomorrow, you would likely be at your most conservative. I find the world (and clients) to be a lot more accommodating than people like to think and if your work is exemplary AND you are a pleasant person to work with (confident people can often be arrogant, confrontational and generally a 'pill' to have to be around), people find something else to talk about. But, I return to my earlier point that people are intimidated by those who dare to be different and don't care if you have their approval or not.

Jc said...

Maybe I am old fashioned but I do think your outfit falls into the smart casual look rather than the smart formal look. Interestingly though if you had on a capri suit (i.e where the trousers and the jacket match), I would have said that your look is chic formal.

For me the telling sign that a look is smart casual is the question, would you go out for dinner immediately after work in the same outfit or would you have to take off one item to make it a dinner appropriate outfit. If you do not have to take off one piece (usually the jacket) to make the outfit look less formal, then it is not formal enough.

All that said in science, there is no formal dress code and many scientists do rock the jeans and t-shirt look everyday. I do think it is odd to bother about one person who works independently..........I am wondering do they do this because they have clients coming to visit the working area? It seems quite strange.

Mary said...

Oh Jc, if only it was as simple as matching my jacket to my pants... It's weird because it's perfectly acceptable for a lady to rock up in a matching suite and strap on sandals (and be considered official) but my cropped pants are a no no. And this doesn't apply at my office alone, but from what I've seen walking around in Nairobi. I think majority of Kenyans are comfortable with the classic office uniform and shun any variation from that. That's what chaps my hide.

My office is an open plan. And yep! Clients come and go as they please. Thing is though, I'm in marketing (and its easy to tell). It's a crime in my book to bog down a creative with a dress code. I can only imagine what people who work for banks or uber corporate organizations go through. Oh that would be murder!

Mary said...

Miss Masuka those are words for a revolution! I hear you. I find that most organizations are against self expression when it comes to attire and of course natural hair... Of course there are the rules to live by (as you have so clearly stated) but there is still room for self expression beyond that.

Thanks for the comment!

Jc said...

This is true, most artists do their best work when free :)

Mary said...

Lol! thanks mami, yeah I guess it could be more intense! I have that "just in case" suit in my closet for such occasions.. It's got that plastic dry cleaners cover on it and everything! I must say, it's come in handy a couple of times lol!

Thanks for stopping by A for Afghan! Cool name btw

Mary said...

D'aawwwwww!

oh stop it you! Thanks for the comment lovely!

Mary said...

Aye aye ma'am! Will do! Much obliged :)

Alice said...

I think it's definitely "business casual" and not "business business." If you want to make it more "business business" I think matching the pants and the jacket would be a big step towards "business business." Your boss/HR may also take issues with the embellishment on the top because it's "too casual" or "too party." But if you never face clients, I'm not sure why they're complaining. You look like you're there to work. You look clean, young and professional. It's not like you showed up in a dirty track suit!

Kenyan Enterpreneur said...

I think your outfit is very stylish, suits you and it is clean but not 'suited'. I work for a bank back office I.e not customer facing and leggings, miniskirts, dread locs, loud ,akeup and earrings are all acceptable. I think the problem is cultural aspect.....your depressing surely doesn't affect your work, brains etc. This is why equity cashiers serving farmers have to be suited.....makes no sense but they have to make u spend your wages somehow!

CIU said...

I so looove ur clothes and u looked presentable so i dont know why u would get the look! LOL by the way i love ur blog , keep it up much love from Norway :)

Annie and Chezza said...

For what its worth Richard Branson hates that whole wall street sober look and he's a millionaire #just saying

Others make formal wear simply a sight that causes sore eyes. Why is it that people should wear this weird looking trousers with no pockets at the back that also hug their hips like its the last day of the world, its the same boring colour and don't forget that shiny material of a shirt and severe bag they match it with. Is that what they want!!
But I have some help for you not that you need it; the September issue of Elle UK has a sort of fashion feature on the workplace trend from the runways and why its no longer boring, purchase a copy or search for their feature online, you might be akin to the trends. As for cut off's well fight for them!

Sue said...

I think your look is smart casual and it's OK for the office IMO. You look great in it by the way! That said, If I was to make the outfit more conservative, I'd get long pants and a well fitting blazer with long sleeves. The top is a bit more of a grey area for me (i.e.for the more "official" look): collared shirts are considered "official" but I think women have a bit more leeway than men to wear other kinds of tops, so I could keep the top.A number of years ago I worked in an office and dressed in a similar way i.e. mixing and matching shirts, other tops, blazers and skirts or pants. The boyfriend blazer wasn't around then (but I probably would have rocked it if it was). I rarely wore suits. I'm also not so keen on a strict dress code, unless someone wears something really crazy.

I do think Kenyan society is fairly conservative so that could be the reason for that reaction. As Masuka said, you dare to be different (with hair and clothes) and that rubs people the wrong way. I do wish people would explore more, some of the accepted "official" wear is not well suited to a warm climate.

If HR raises the issue, the only thing you can do is ask for specifics on what's wrong with your look. Until then keep doing a great job, let your work speak for you! If you have to go the suit route, you can always jazz things up with scarves, bags and shoes, belts etc. If you are looking for more ideas on workwear, check out the blog "Corporette", most suggestions are very high end. But you can get lots of ideas for when you go shopping or to have something made by a tailor. The blog "RespectTheShoes.blogspot.com" is also writtten by a lady with fun outfits that are work appropriate. Magazines such as "O" also have nice looks, check out the website.

Nukta said...

First off, you look great!
I think the issue was pants length. Oddly enough, skirt length can vary between ankle & knee but pants are generally ankle length to just-above-the-floor.
Sadly, most of our Kenyan workplaces are very conservative. If you're in one of the ultra-conservative ones, (especially if you're new) I think the best thing is just make sure everything is a fabulous fit, restrict the number of personal touches (fun top, sober-ish blazer) and go wild on weekends until you've stabilized your position, convinced HR it's not anathema, or left. But that's just me. *shrugs*

Mary said...

Big up CIU from Norway! Thanks for the shout out doll face! :D

Mary said...

I had no clue! I thought EVERYONE who works at a bank HAS to dress up uber formal... My pal told me women (probably the cashiers) can't even wear flats! Nice to know there's a measure of freedom where you work. Ah grown up life sucks...

Mary said...

Ok, I'll step it up a notch with the whole matchy thing and fill you and JC in... I'll rock up with black on black... and a loud blouse! (baby steps teehee)

Mary said...

BOOM! thanks Annie and Chezza! woot wooot!

Mary said...

Awesome thanks!

Mary said...

Hey Nukta, yeah its true, we are rather conservative. This is me trying to conform, come the weekend I look like I'm part of a travelling circus act LOL! Thanks for the pro tip :)

ciku Kiarie said...

love love love your looks.both of them.if i had to go to a strict business office, ill come borrow tips

Deedee said...

i totally agree with you....Being a grown up SUCKS FOOT BIG time!!!!!! Why didn't our parents tell us!:-(

DecorNovice said...

I second designerdrop and Masuka's views. I am in a similar boat - working in a highly corporate investment sector and have regular meetings with execs. However, while my role involves strategic planning, it also includes a creative, digital and marketing mix. I moved to the role from the tourism sector where 'formal wear' did not get separated out.
I now work with blokes that old school - white shirts, suits and ties and ladies in grey or black trouser suits. First think I did was say HELL NO. It would make ME feel uncomfortable to dress like that and so, I adopt a similar style. I NEVER wear a suit but do wear dresses and blouses to allude femininity, creativity, comfort, class, ... My staples are blouses with gold buttons (reds to pink shades, polka dots), animal print heels, one piece of gold (necklace or watch), fitted dresses and trusted black handbags. This lets me maintain MY identify and comfort while still adhering to the expected standards. If I do wear jeans on casual Fridays, I tend to still dress it up with a collared blouse, leopard print or pink shoes and accompanying accessories. Ultimately, office wear does not need to be dull. As more and more women join the workforce, and senior positions, we've got to break the traditional male view of how we should dress.

Sue said...

Women can't wear flats in some banks? I find that really odd, I know ballet flats are not favored in some circles but there are other styles that can look good depending on what you pair them with.
On more freedom at work: I think this is why some people eventually start their own enterprises. There's a new set of problems still but probably a greater sense of being in charge of your own destiny....

fromcurveswithlove said...

Hi! I discovered your blog a couple of months back and I L.O.V.E it! It's funny that you talk about office wear. I graduated from a uni in Nairobi known to have a formal/official dress code, and I must say ever since I left I've been dreading getting a job where I might have to wear super formal wear (according to the Kenyan definition, that is)! I'm a plus-size girl and I still think that I can rock different clothes to the office from the ones deemed as 'official'. Case in point, your outfit above. I'm also in the marketing field and I feel like I should change the way people think about formal wear! We need to start a revolution!

http://fromcurveswithlove.wordpress.com

Mbabazi said...

I am the big headed employee who wants the office to adjust to my style. Im not sure your look is official office but i wear that alot too except with out the heels coz im tall and lazy :). As long as your body parts are covered and clients are not complaining, ignore HR's stinky eye. Kick ass at the job and your sense of style will be nothing to worry about.