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Can you wear leggings to the office? A fashion expert lays down the law

I'll admit it: I have worn jeans and leggings to work on days that were not casual Fridays.

In my defense, the trend toward more casual office apparel predates me. In the 1960s, the Hawaiian Fashion Guild introduced "Aloha Fridays" to boost sales of Hawaiian shirts. Hoping to sell more Dockers khakis, Levi's tried something similar in the 1990s, contacting HR departments around the country encouraging offices to allow casual dress.

Since then, casual office attire has seeped into the other four days of the week as well, and tech titans like Mark Zuckerberg and the late Steve Jobs have helped push that trend forward, donning t-shirts, sweatshirts and jeans and shunning more traditional professional attire.

In my case and for plenty of other women, the decision to wear jeans or leggings to work isn't born from laziness. Finding well-fitted women's work pants is a frustrating process. They're often too tight, baggy at the knees, too long or essentially see-through.

But despite all this, I was still unsure. Could I really wear jeans or leggings — garments that can be worn gardening and jogging — to work?

I wanted an expert's opinion, so Tiffany Yannetta, shopping director at Racked.com, weighed in.

Tiffany Yannetta, shopping director at Racked.com and CNBC reporter Marguerite Ward.
CNBC
Tiffany Yannetta, shopping director at Racked.com and CNBC reporter Marguerite Ward.

"Leggings? No," the shopping director says.

To the dismay of many, myself included, leggings are just too closely associated with lounge-wear, Yannetta says. Though they can double as a pair of thick tights, wearing them as pants makes you look unprofessional.

"Jeans? Yes," she says.

"You can definitely get away with wearing jeans to work," she says. "Especially if you're wearing darker jeans, which look a little more crisp."

Here are Yannetta's tricks for wearing jeans to the office:

  • Dark jeans look more professional. Avoid jeans that are lighter in color or have an acid wash.
  • Wear your jeans with a professional shoe. A nice pair of loafers, flats or even a pair of black boots works well, she says.
  • Pair jeans with a more formal top to "balance" the outfit. A collared shirt or a blazer are great options.
Opt for dark jeans, Yannetta says.
CNBC
Opt for dark jeans, Yannetta says.

Of course, these rules may not apply to you or your office. Regardless, there's still no getting around the fact that most professionals should have two or three pair of nice work pants, according to the fashion expert.

What to look for when buying traditional work pants:

"For good work pants, expect to spend at least $80," Yannetta says, "maybe even going up to $100 or $115."

While that number may seem high, you can think of it as an investment in your career. If you wear the same pair of pants that cost $115 twice a week for about 50 work weeks each year, that's 100 days of the same look. Assuming they're a fabric that can be worn across seasons, you only end up "spending" $1.00 per wear — a pretty good deal.

To maximize the wear you get from your pants, make sure you have at least one pair in a neutral color such as dark blue, grey or black.

"You want to look and feel great in your work pants," she says.

Whether they are casual or fancy — well, that's up to you.

Check out the one piece of clothing Yannetta says every professional should invest in