pantsuits and high heels and pearls, oh my!

For the next few weeks I’m visiting my mom in Illinois. While she’s at work during the day, two main things are on my agenda: finish and FedEx piles of paperwork back to State, and shop. The first task daunts me, and so I’m distracting myself from it by focusing on the second.

I certainly don’t need more clothes, but I do need more professional clothes. My last job required a very casual business casual, which won’t fly with State. What will, you ask? I’ve been wondering the same thing, and this is what I’ve surmised:

Are suits required? For men, yes. For women, sort of. A jacket is always necessary, but mixing and matching is okay.

Are pantsuits allowed? Sure.

Are dresses okay? With a blazer, yes.

Are pantyhose required? You’ll feel like the odd woman out without them.

What about high heels? Flats are fine, as long as they’re professional.

And peep-toe shoes? Fine, as long as they show fewer than two and a half toes. (Crazy, right?)

Sandals? Never.

What about accessories? You can never go wrong with pearls, but eclectic stuff from other countries will go over alright too.

I could run out and buy loads of suits, but here’s the problem: this is only the dress code for the initial five-week training course (A-100). The standards relax to business casual if you stick around in DC for more training, as most people do. And then the expectations vary depending on where in the world you end up. FSOs dress differently in Paris than they do in Port-au-Prince, not surprisingly.

This is what I’m thinking, at least for now:

  • One more suit (thankfully I already have one!)
  • Two additional jackets
  • A week’s worth of dress shirts
  • Two pairs of professional but comfortable shoes (black and brown)

TJ Maxx and Marshalls, here I come!

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10 Responses to pantsuits and high heels and pearls, oh my!

  1. It must be very difficult to try to work out wardrobe choices without having yet been in the work environment you’re dressing for!

    Admittedly, my husband doesn’t do exactly what you do, but I have met his female co-workers. I’ve seen understated sweater sets (and lots of dark slacks) in addition to what you’ve listed!

  2. Elaine says:

    When you get to STL we can hit the thrift shops!

  3. Nathan says:

    How about a shirt made out of fabric with gas hoses on it?

    Or better yet, pants made entirely out of maple leaf patterns.

  4. Alex says:

    Nathan, you know you wear that shirt all the time. My only regret is not getting you one with newly ousted President Tandja.

  5. It’s Friday, and that means that the Second Weekly State Department Blog Roundup is up – and you’re on it!

    Here is the link:

    (If I quoted your text or used your photo(s) and you would rather I had not, please let me know. Please also be sure to check the link(s) that I put up to you, in order to verify that they work properly. If you would rather that I had not referenced you, and/or do not want me to reference you in the future, please also contact me.)


  6. Zoe says:

    I highly recommend Eddie Bauer’s line of wrinkle-resistant dress shirts. I’m not sure I’ve ever had to iron one of mine. They’re not cheap — $30-$40 each, I think — but if you happen to be near an EB outlet, I’ve often found them in the 70 percent off clearance area.

  7. Michelle says:

    Hi Alex – here in Paris, it is not as formal as you would think – though it is stylish. lol.

    Women seem to weasr dresses, or sweaters and skirts, (with nice shoes) and it is fine. I do notice the blazers draped over the backs of their chairs.



  8. Al says:


    As someone currently in A-100, I would recommend a minimum of 3 suits. Also, there is a difference between a suit and slacks and jacket and for A-100, it seems to be a suit-only environment. Also, bring as many dress clothes as possible in your regular luggage. Some people in my class still haven’t gotten their UAB and we are in week 4.

    Good luck, and despite the dress code, A-100 is very relaxed.

  9. Al says:

    Yep, just realized Alex is a girls name. You will be fine with your suggested wardrobe additions.

  10. Connie says:

    I remember transitioning to civvie life – I needed a whole new wardrobe. Then I needed a winter wardrobe. Then I got pregnant… I got reeeeally tired of clothes shopping.

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