Helena Balls: My top 5 office outfit mistakes

Dress codes can be great if they are super clear. If they’re not, they can be a bit of a bitch. It leaves room for interpretation and the more you try to convince yourself something is OK to wear, the louder the warning bells should be ringing. I’ve made a few quite entertaining faux pas and fuck ups ranging from simply wearing the wrong thing to messing up my clothes.

A couple of general rules I’d like to live by before I give away my embarrassment. Firstly, make sure your clothes are clean. Sounds obvious but we’ve all managed to spill without noticing. No coffee stains on the blazer, no Shanghai Snipers (tiny dots of Sriracha on your white shirt) after lunch and no mud stains from the walk to the tube.

Secondly, try not to wear clothes that are broken. No buttons missing, flies that won’t close or rips or tears. Easy. At least you’d think it’s easy.

Also, I’d like to say in advance that this is not about wearing the wrong length skirt or choosing a bad colour. This is worse.

Here are 5 of my favourite mistakes. Some worse than others but all quite embarrassing at the time.

1. The  toothpaste incident

Apparently, this is how I clean my teeth

I once rocked up to lead a big sales pitch with a huge fancy bank sporting toothpaste stains down my dress. It looked more like a massive dribble than a little spill, all down my right hand side. I blame the electrical toothbrush. Wearing a very smart and well fitted dress, I felt awesome and very confident. Sadly, it was a navy dress, making the toothpaste dribble even more prominent. I wish there had been time to check myself in the mirror before the meeting but as it happens, I didn’t notice it until after the meeting in the lift on the way down. I’m not sure what was going on with my tooth brushing skills but I’ll never do that again. The feeling was also made worse by a colleague (and close friend I should add) when I came into the office saying “Why do you have jizz down your dress?”

2. The eclectic skirt

I used to be a reception and PA temp in my 20s. Mostly in ad agencies and media companies so it was always quite relaxed. One summer, it was a big heat wave and I had a booking at one of my regular ad agencies in Covent Garden. I don’t know what I was thinking but for some reason I decided to wear a new skirt I had just picked up in Camden market. It was something that looked like it belonged on a belly dancer. Short, pink and orange and frilly. To top it off, it had little bells on it too. Yes it was a relaxed office but I took it one (probably two) step too far and the main receptionist quite rightly so, told me off for it. In the best possible way seeing that she was a very understanding person!

3. The hot pants incident

This sounds absolutely ridiculous, anyone would know not to wear hot pants in the office, right? Apparently not. I was working for a fashion company, it was really relaxed place, people were wearing whatever they wanted to, including very cropped tops, ski pants and very questionable, yet trendy, combinations. I decided to join in with the fashion crowd, headed to American Apparel and bought myself a pair of shorts. Now that I’m old(er) and wise(er) I call what I bought hot pants. The kind where your bum cheeks are hanging out. They were dark blue corduroy and seriously short! I started out wearing them just as they were. At 10.30 I ran to Boots to get a pair of thick tights to wear underneath. I’ve done some weird stuff, fashion wise, but I will never wear hot pants to the office (or at all for that matter) again.

4. Dressing for a gala dinner at a network evening

This dress is innocent but I might as well have worn this one!

I was wearing what could only be described as an evening dress to a really casual event. I was in Stockholm and together with a creative client, I was hosting an evening event. It was beer and crisps kind of evening and very interactive, like a network evening. I had this new dress that worked fine in my own office (I used to wear it with trainers), it was quite a short silk oversize number with a V-neck at the back. It wasn’t a corporate dress but it wasn’t casual. The nature of my business at the time was also very relaxed with a start up mentality. Every single other person came in jeans t-shirt and trainers. I was in a black silk dress and heels. I’m really a jeans and t-shirt person as well so felt insanely out of place.

5. The sheer shirt

Yes, here it is. Pretty see through without the sip

There’s a reason this is on my list as an office no no. I’ve done it. It was hot, I was wearing a thin black slip (yes, this is how a sheer shirt should be worn) underneath my sheer shirt and a cardigan on top. I felt it was too much so took off the slip. It should be mentioned that I’m blind as a bat and that’s my excuse. I had a look at myself in the mirror and thought – “it’s not that see through after all, it’ll work”. It really didn’t. I went to work, it was boiling, I took off my cardigan and there was nothing that couldn’t be seen through that shirt. I spent a very hot summer’s day in a very thick cardigan.


6. The face ink

This one isn’t really a clothing related mistake, hence it’s a bonus. I had a meeting at a publisher and the magazines I was seeing was fancy fashion monthlies. I was running a training session and there must have been about 20-25 people in the room. Straight off the tube in the morning I ran into the person I was meeting in reception. They signed me in, I had my photo taken (as you had to do) and was given my pass with my photo on it. The meeting went well, I left and on the tube, I realised I still had my pass around my neck. Being vain, I looked at it to see if I looked OK. I did, apart from the massive black ink stains (thank you Metro) covering most of my forehead and side of my face. I did laugh at first until I realised I’d done the whole meeting like that. Damn!

Please share some office fashion mistakes, I’d love to know I’m not the only one!