I'd Rather Dress Like An Elf Than Wear Shoulder Pads

by Katy on November 13, 2008 · 25 comments



I am lucky.

As a nurse I don’t have to maintain a work wardrobe. The hospital provides scrubs, and even launders them. 

That means that in the past 13-1/2 years of my job, all I’ve bought for work have been a few pairs of unattractive squishy shoes.

This was not always the case.

I worked many different jobs before landing as an RN, and having to maintain a respectable work wardrobe was always an expensive stressor. I would get to Thursday, and suddenly Monday’s outfit would make a re-appearance. I hoped nobody noticed, but probably they did.

I was once so overdressed for an interview, that I was dubbed, “the Lord & Taylor girl.” Boy were they surprised when I was hired and got to know the real me.

It had been my only nice outfit.

One of my favorite jobs was working as an elf at the New York’s Macy’s Santaland. You might think the highlight was working with the hilarious David Sedaris.

No. (That part was second best.)

It was because wearing a costume to work saved me from having to buy and pick out work clothes. (Keep in mind, it was 1988, the heyday of shoulder pads.)


I was talking to a fellow RN last week about how great it is to wear free clothes at work, and she surprised me by saying she wishes this were not the case. She feels she isn’t able to show off her sense of style in baggy blue scrubs. She wouldn’t budge from this opinion even when I pointed out the thousands of dollars she’s saved through the years.

I feel like any possible downside from wearing scrubs, is more than outweighed by the benefit of free work clothes.

Perhaps she’d like a nice elf costume. Maybe even one with shoulder pads.

Do you enjoy dressing up for work, or would you rather wear a style-free/cost-free wardrobe?

Please share your workplace wardrobe experiences and tips in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

alexis November 14, 2008 at 12:42 am

What a great title for a post, Katy! Did you really work with David? Hilarious! I love when NPR runs excerpts from the Santaland Diaries for the holidays. I never tire of him.

The ’80s was a horrible time for dressing up: floppy collars and shoulder pads and neckscarf thingies. Ugh! Unfortunately, I’m seeing hints of the return of this hideous fashion era.


Caroline November 14, 2008 at 1:54 am

Our uniform is provided by work, we wear bright yellow shirts (everyone looks so fab with a yellow so bright it reflects off their face) complete with horizontal reflective strips. It is extremely unflattering and makes blue scrubs sound positively stylish!

I don’t like our uniform, but I do enjoy not paying for clothes that are constantly being destroyed by acids.


Penny November 14, 2008 at 2:37 am

wow, being an elf is like my dream job (no, not being funny here – I think it would be the coolest ever).

I would love to wear a uniform again – I wore a really nice stylish one at my last job of charcoal grey skirt or trousers with a charcoal tailored jacket – it was awesome! Now I have to wear my own clothes and it takes me forever in the morning to decide what to wear from the small pile of ‘it’s clean and it still fits me’. 🙂


Shannon November 14, 2008 at 5:23 am

I only wore a uniform once – when I was a teenager and worked at Dairy Queen. We had to wear dark brown polyester pants and an equally dark brown polyester shirt with the DQ logo. It was BAD… and I remember being SO embarrassed when a cute guy would walk in (or worse – someone I knew). I never rode the bus home in that get-up… I changed to my normal clothes every night before leaving and shoved the hideous dark brown polyester things in a bag so no-one could see them.


prairiepastor November 14, 2008 at 6:24 am

I have to agree, Katie, a uniform is great! I wear black clergy shirts, so that goes with almost anything and makes dressing a lot simpler and less expensive. I’ve only bought eight in seven years!


Kaylen November 14, 2008 at 7:04 am

I work in high tech, so the (unwritten) dress code is don’t wear anything with offensive logos, too torn, or too revealing. So I wear the same (casual) clothes to work as I wear the rest of the time.

I especially appreciate being able tow wear running shoes.


Mary C November 14, 2008 at 8:05 am

I had a job once that required pantyhose. I hated that. I spent a fortune on those worthless things. Now, as a homemaker, my uniform is jeans, t-shirts and thick socks. Heaven.


Kristen@TheFrugalGirl November 14, 2008 at 9:43 am

Fortunately for me, I work here at home, teaching piano. This means that I can wear pretty much everyday clothes. I don’t feel right wearing sweats or yoga pants, but I can wear jeans or khakis(and knee-length skirts in the summer) and casual shirts that are in good shape.


Kristen@TheFrugalGirl November 14, 2008 at 9:44 am

Ooh, and I teach in bare feet or socked feet. I also stay home most of the time in bare feet or socked feet, and so my shoes last me for.ev.er.


Deanna November 14, 2008 at 3:19 pm

I wore a uniform through high school and now get to wear scrubs. I love it. It has saved me money over the years and saves me time in the morning since I automatically having something to wear.


Andy November 14, 2008 at 4:04 pm

I bike to work in polypro and nylon clothes, and change into a regular clothes when I get there. It’s great not to need to dress up. For events I just throw on a button down shirt. I don’t think I would take a job that required a strict dress code, since I absolutely hate dressing up.


Heidi November 14, 2008 at 4:39 pm

I work out of my home (medical transcription) so it’s sweats and teeshirts for me, all year long. 🙂


Meg November 14, 2008 at 4:41 pm

I work from home in my pjs, so I really enjoy dressing up when I go out. I also prefer skirts to pants, so I usually look dressy no matter how hard I try to look casual.


Linda November 14, 2008 at 5:21 pm

My work place does not require strict dressing code. But nobody wear jeans for work except Friday. I like to dress business casual which means I can have a lot of choices. Dressing yourself chic and neat is a life pleasure.


max November 14, 2008 at 6:22 pm

I worked at Nordstroms for years in the expensive departments. Even though I wore beautiful, designer clothes to work every day, it didn’t matter. Because I had to wear them every day, I wanted to set them on fire by the time I quit. A uniform is a uniform. Don’t believe me? How many of you have ever worn a bridesmaid dress a second time? I never bothered to remove my PJs today and have been doing errands all day looking like a homeless person. Awesome.


Karen November 15, 2008 at 8:19 pm

We have a business casual policy. So I buy very simple cotton pants – in khaki, black and gray and wear them week in, week out until they literally get holes. In summer I wear them with polo shirts or similar shirt, and in winter with cotton sweaters. I wear those until they wear out too. I probably spend under $400 a year on clothes, including underthings, shoes, dance stuff, dressy stuff, etc.


Susan November 16, 2008 at 3:53 pm

I am in the military and have been for the past 12 yrs. It is great not having to decide what to wear, but at the same time military uniforms are not that attractive.


ToilingAnt November 17, 2008 at 2:50 pm

Getting your employer to buy your work clothes is a great way to save money. At a particular employer, I was given an allowance each year from the company store; while my colleagues were choosing tote bags and umbrellas, I was able to “purchase” enough logo tops (fairly nice ones, too- not just tees) to wear something different every day. Not only did I get free clothes, I got frequent comments about how well I represented the company.


Pam November 18, 2008 at 1:23 pm

BTW, Love the column. I live in Austin and my favorite place to shop is Your Secret Closet. Great clothes that turn over quickly and at a great price. That’s what I wear to work since I have to dress up. But at $16 for a pair of Brooks Brothers or Ann Taylor pants, I can afford to dress up!


Kim November 18, 2008 at 9:33 pm

I wish I could have a relaxed (or even free!) dress code at work! I’ve been in boarding school/college/grad school for the past 9 years and have gotten used to wearing my gym clothes all day every day, and only “dressing up” on the weekends when going out to the movies, etc. Now I am starting my first professional job in a few weeks and even though it is “business casual”, I still have to shell out a lot of money to buy new clothes because literally I have maybe 3 “decent” outfits for work right now. I’ve been looking at thrift stores and found some really good stuff (benefits of living in Palo Alto with a lot of wealthy people), and hopefully I will be able to get more good deals on work clothes. I still expect to spend a lot of money on shoes, ugh, but will look for good quality shoes that will last more than a season (like the usual shoes I get at Payless).


Julie November 19, 2008 at 7:54 pm

Hospital scrubs ROCK!! My first real job was in a savings and loan in the 80’s. Banking then was a dress up profession. It was painful. The nylons, the heels, the cost of the stuffy clothes. I don’t think I ever reached the professional look. I much prefer the comfortable shoes and scrubs of nursing. I also really value not taking the scubs home to launder them. EWWWW.
Thanks for all you do Katy 🙂


Impunity Jane November 22, 2008 at 3:55 pm

I usually work from home, so it’s not an issue for me…but I have a word of advice. Never, never work retail in a high-end clothing store that gives you a discount. You will be tempted to buy more clothes than you need (and more expensive, even with the discount) and if/when you change jobs, you’ll find you have no use for those high-fashion clothes!
I used to live in Seattle, where black clothes were the norm, so I only had black clothes. I could wear the same 2-3 outfits over and over and no one would notice.


Jan November 26, 2008 at 4:14 pm

My current job requires professional dress. So, I either wear black or tan pants or skirts and a blouse or sweater. I recently picked up a Liz Claiborne sweater for $2 at the battered woman’s thrift store. My money is going to a good cause & I have a higher quality sweater that should last me a long time. I am the thrift store queen – everyone at work can’t believe that I buy my clothes this way! It’s fun!


Jeanine December 9, 2008 at 2:17 pm

I, too, have to wear a uniform.

It sucks, eveb though my company pays for them.

They are the same exact thing (navy, khaki pants, blue or white tops) that I wore in high school.

I agree with your friend, there is no room for self-exprssion. I also agree with you, I’ve saved quite a bit over the years not buying work clothes.


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