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Why you SHOULDN’T dress like an office siren: Sexy workwear may be sweeping TikTok. But City supremo HELENA MORRISSEY says there are smarter ways to look feminine


Hear the word ‘siren’, and the image of a mermaid-like figure luring sailors to their deaths on the rocks may spring to mind.

In modern parlance, a siren is a femme fatale who draws power from her sexual allure.

And it’s this dynamic that has now caught the imagination of the young women of Generation Z, who have come up with the term ‘office siren’ to describe their desired working wardrobe.

Their moodboard? Think pencil skirts, tight turtlenecks, sultry heels, knee-high socks and tailoring — Tom Ford in his Gucci era, Calvin Klein in the 1990s/2000s and Dolce & Gabbana’s corseted dresses. Just add a pair of oval-shaped Bayonetta glasses and you’re ready to go.

In short, it’s the modern-day evolution of the ‘sexy secretary’ look of yesteryear and, says Paris-based fashion student Asia Bieuville, who coined the expression ‘office siren’ in her TikTok videos, it’s ‘everything we aspire to be for this year’. With more than 138 million views of videos tagged #officesiren, it appears many young women agree.

Model Bella Hadid has embraced the office siren look, complete with glasses

Model Bella Hadid has embraced the office siren look, complete with glasses

According to Asia, the office siren look is for ambitious women who eschew masculine workwear and want to dress in a feminine way. ‘The woman who represents this doesn’t care about judgment. She proves herself through her actions,’ she says.

Well, as a woman with more than 30 years of experience in the workplace, I can say that the words ‘office’ and ‘siren’ do not belong together in my lexicon.

I’ve long championed women dressing as women in the office, and it’s wonderful that most of us now really have that option. Long gone are the days when we needed to dress like men to be taken seriously. But dressing as an ‘office siren’ takes feminine dressing to a whole new, far more controversial, level. And so I would advise caution to any young woman looking to embrace this trend.

Because, in reality, this look is less about being ‘feminine’ and more about being ‘sexy’. If you want to feel empowered in the workplace, pandering to the male gaze is not the way to go about it.

And before you scoff at how much sway TikTok holds over our wardrobes, this really does appear to be a trend, from the fashion catwalks to the clothing rails on the High Street. Gucci’s spring/summer ’24 collection featured dark oxblood patent leather slingbacks, bags, skirts, even coats. Smart, but with a dominatrix vibe. Just last month, Oscar de la Renta revealed an autumn/winter ’24 collection chock-full of leopard print.

Blazer, £68, next.co.uk; shirt, £230, withnothingunderneath.com; trousers, £185, meandem.com; shoes, £325, russellandbromley.co.uk

Blazer, £68, next.co.uk; shirt, £230, withnothingunderneath.com; trousers, £185, meandem.com; shoes, £325, russellandbromley.co.uk

Jacket, £325, meandem.com; polo-neck body, £69, spanx.com; trousers, £65, frenchconnection.com; belt, £55, mintvelvet.com; shoes, £159, whistles.com

 Jacket, £325, meandem.com; polo-neck body, £69, spanx.com; trousers, £65, frenchconnection.com; belt, £55, mintvelvet.com; shoes, £159, whistles.com

Browsing the offerings at Zara recently, I saw masses of leather and bodycon dresses.

All of which is fine in day-to-day life, if that’s your style. But for the office? Given that the recent Sexism in the City report from the House of Commons’ Treasury Committee describes a ‘shocking prevalence’ of sexual harassment in the finance sector, and that other industries still experience their own problems, dressing in a style that’s deliberately provocative is a no.

It’s perhaps no surprise that many have suggested the office siren trend is ‘office wear for those who don’t actually work in an office’.

Certainly, I don’t imagine it’s something the women of my generation, who have so long fought for our standing in the workplace, will be taking up.

I started my financial career in New York the same month the first Wall Street movie was released. It was, in Gordon Gekko’s infamous words, an age when ‘greed was good’, ‘lunch was for wimps’ and everyone — including the women — wore brash pinstripes, as we tried to appear just as suited to the environment as the men.

Shirt, £79, marksandspencer.com; trousers, £99, neverfullydressed.com; shoes, £249, lkbennett.com

Shirt, £79, marksandspencer.com; trousers, £99, neverfullydressed.com; shoes, £249, lkbennett.com

Blazer, £120, karenmillen.com; shirt, £230, withnothingunderneath.com; pencil skirt, £149, jigsaw-online.com; shoes, £575, rupertsanderson.com

Blazer, £120, karenmillen.com; shirt, £230, withnothingunderneath.com; pencil skirt, £149, jigsaw-online.com; shoes, £575, rupertsanderson.com

Over time, women’s office uniform became less aggressively macho, but it was boring — lots of black and nondescript, shapeless tailoring. Rather than trying to compete with men for space, it felt like we were trying to blend into the background. I felt miserable in those dark clothes; it was hard to exude presence when you dressed to be invisible.

It was after the financial crash in 2008 that things really began to change. The world needed new leaders who weren’t afraid to challenge conventional thinking, to shake up the all-male boardrooms that had failed so badly. It spurred me on to launch the 30% Club in 2010 to boost the number of women in board seats and executive leadership roles at companies all over the world — and to make a personal bid for sartorial freedom at work.

I ditched the dark, shapeless and masculine styles that didn’t suit me in order to search out feminine fashions that made me feel put-together and confident. I was no longer apologising for being a woman through my wardrobe choices, but celebrating it.

Happily, this coincided with the emergence of designers such as Roland Mouret and Roksanda Ilincic, whose early collections featured classic shapes with a twist — a navy dress with bright pink cuffs was one of my favourites.

Women working in male-dominated sectors started to dress in the clothes they really wanted to wear — and feeling more powerful as a result. It’s a game changer to be dressed for success in a world where you are vastly outnumbered.

At 58, I’ve learned to be on the lookout for pieces I know from experience will work for my body shape and schedule — and will stand the test of time.

I know there are some aspects of the office siren trend that really do work for the office, and which are arguably better than some other recent fashions (I’m thinking floral dresses and massively oversized suits).

Dress, £71.20, karenmillen.com; bag, £425, shop.kaai.eu; necklace, £21, bettyandbiddy.com; shoes, £95, dunelondon.com

Dress, £71.20, karenmillen.com; bag, £425, shop.kaai.eu; necklace, £21, bettyandbiddy.com; shoes, £95, dunelondon.com

Shirt, £35.99, zara.com; skirt, £179, lkbennett.com; shoes, £149, hobbs.com

Shirt, £35.99, zara.com; skirt, £179, lkbennett.com; shoes, £149, hobbs.com

As seen in these pictures, I’m in favour of slim dresses and skirts that skim (not cling — a crucial distinction) the body. Kitten-heeled slingbacks such as Dune’s cream pair (£95, dunelondon.com) are polished but more wearable than very high heels. Zara’s silk shirt with a lip print (£35.99, zara.com) is playful without being provocative. I was sceptical of the black leather cigarette pants (£99, neverfullydressed.com) but when worn with a conservative top, such as a white shirt or a simple blazer, they can still look professional. Needless to say, knee-high socks will always be off limits.

The key is to understand that looking feminine does not require you to look deliberately sexy. Think a modern-day Audrey Hepburn or Grace Kelly rather than the famously leopard-print-loving Bet Lynch.

So if you don’t usually wear glasses, leave them at home. And if in doubt, remember that less is definitely more as far as this trend and workwear are concerned. Full-on office siren is, ironically, a look best kept for Friday nights.



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