Ask the Image Expert

Sherry Maysonave is the founder and president of Empowerment Enterprises, one of America's leading communication-image firms. Sherry conducts corporate seminars and coaches executives, professionals, and politicians in achieving excellence in communication and image. She is also the author of Casual Power: How to Power Up your Nonverbal Communication and Dress Down for Success

Boots at Work

Question: I've been seeing lots of boots in the fall catalog. What type of boot is appropriate in the workplace? Can I wear knee-high boots, shoe boots? Animal skins like snake skin seem to be very popular or brightly colored leather boots. Are there guidelines for an appropriate color and length? Thanks for your help!

Answer: Dear Robin,
This fall and winter, boots are coming on strong in the fashion scene. Thank goodness, times have changed. Less than a decade ago, boots were not considered professional, regardless of the quality, style, or length. And yes, there are guidelines for color and length in the workplace. If you want boots to walk you toward greater success, follow these guidelines:

  1. Ankle Boots are the safest for any professional arena. They look chic with pants or long skirts. The styles that are fitted around the ankle or lower calf are the most flattering and the most wearable. Avoid ankle boot styles with wide, low tops as they often catch pant or skirt hems and keep garments from hanging (draping on your leg) as they should. Also, these styles can leave your ankles vulnerable to snow and rain. Never wear ankle boots with a short skirt!

  2. Mid-calf or Knee Boots can be worn in the workplace but with caution. If you wear this length boot with a short skirt, wear hosiery the color of your hem length—in most cases. For example, it's Casual Friday and you are wearing a plum-toned cashmere sweater set with a wool camel-and-brown tweed skirt (short in length), and chocolate brown boots. (Your outerwear consisted of a dark brown leather coat or jacket.) To power up this outfit, choose dark brown opaque tights. Another example: you are wearing rust-toned leather boots with a short, forest-green skirt. To power up this outfit, you should wear dark-green hosiery, not rust-colored ones. On the other hand, you want to wear black boots with a purple outfit. Then stick with black stockings; purple hosiery of any type is not appropriate for the workplace. Of course, if you choose to wear this boot with pants or long skirts, your hosiery color is not so important. But, check for long skirt slits (back, front, or side) and see just how much one can see as you move around. People do sneak peaks and make assumptions about you based on what they glimpse among those skirt slits!

  3. Thigh Boots are an absolute no-no to wear in the workplace. If you want to command respect and get ahead in your career, avoid them completely!

  4. Colored or Snakeskin Boots are sometimes acceptable. For a professional look, your shoe should not be the focal point; you should be. That's the main problem with many of the brightly colored boots on the market today. The rule of thumb for any shoe, including boots, is this: shoes should be in tone with or darker than your hem (fabric color of skirt or pants). Embossed leathers, solid-colored snakeskin, or other imprinted leathers such as ostrich, lizard, or alligator are not only acceptable but can add flair. Some of the colored tones work if they are dark. Beware of the fashionable hot pink, bright purple, lime green, and fire-engine red boots. Save them for your leisure time, or they could walk you straight into the unemployment office.

Best of luck to you,
Sherry Maysonave

Also see:

  • How much makeup should I wear at work?
  • Ask your image questions
  • Personal Power: A case study from Casual Power