Unlike the suit and tie, the one-look-fits-all world of menswear, for women deciding what to wear to the office in Japan can seem a bit tricky. But it doesn’t have to be complicated — just follow these simple guidelines, and you will be prepared for whatever your Japanese company throws at you.
1. Conservative wear can’t go wrong
Unless you work in fashion, in general, Japanese offices are pretty conservative when it comes to workwear. Even while fighting summer fatigue in sweltering hot days, you should keep your shoulders covered, so avoid wearing tank tops, camisoles or sundresses. Just having a bit of a sleeve or a few frills over the shoulder line are enough to keep you within the realms of propriety. Cleavage also needs to be kept well under wraps. Make sure to check if your neckline keeps you covered when bowing! Skirt lengths should be around the knee, and form-fitting clothing, even sheath dresses that would be considered appropriate in the US or Europe, are usually best avoided.
The phrase kuuki wo yomu or “reading the air” is very important when dressing for business in Japan. It is best to align yourself with the level of formality shown by your colleagues and avoid under-dressing. Of course, this can vary greatly from office to office. For instance, in my workplace, it is totally fine to wear jeans and more business-casual clothes if you aren’t seeing clients, but a polished look is expected for meetings outside the company and events.
2. Keep your feet covered, too
Despite the high temperature and humidity that characterize Japan’s summer months, sandals and open-toed shoes are a no-go for Japanese offices. While flip flops are generally frowned upon in most places of business, here even quite elegant sandals are deemed as being inappropriate. If you think of traditional Japanese wear, it kind of makes sense. Even when wearing zori sandals with kimono, women cover their feet with tabi socks.
Wearing closed-toe office shoes doesn’t have to mean squeezing your toes into pointy heels, though! There are plenty of comfortable flats that are suitable for maintaining your professional (and stylish) look.
Also, if you are going anywhere where you will be expected to walk or sit on tatami, make sure you are wearing socks or tights, as walking barefoot on other people’s tatami is considered rude.
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