Dress – A Very Important
article also appeared in the – May/June,
2005 edition of the Jacksonville Women's Digest
most important career decision you make every day
could be the time you spend looking in your closet
to figure out what you will wear to work. It is no
secret that physical appearance is extremely important
to career development. And by physical appearance,
it is not how pretty you are, but how professional
you look. You could be the most intelligent and innovative
individual in the world, but if your attire is old,
faded, outdated and sloppy, the chances are slim that
you will be promoted. The higher you move up the up
the corporate ladder, the more important appearance
Proper business attire has become very confusing.
It is difficult to ascertain what to wear anymore.
Some organizations require formal business attire while
others have outlawed it. Some companies have gone business
casual and others allow jeans and t-shirts. Still others
have reverted back to formal business attire because
of the horrible way the employees dressed. The Human
Resources community is filled with shocking stories
about dress code violations.
The Society for Human Resources Management was contacted
for some research for this article. HR people are wonderful
sources of information and they were unanimous in the
opinion that enforcing the dress code has become one
of their most dreaded job duties. Here are a few anecdotes
that the HR people shared:
dress code stated that women were not allowed to
wear Capri pants, but what do you do about the man
who wears them? When a man wore Capri pants to work,
he was mocked and ridiculed all day and then filed
a complaint because his feelings were hurt.
A short, but not petite woman wore a
sundress to work--elasticized material around the bosom
(with quite a bit of cleavage showing) and spaghetti
straps. My boss had to have "the talk" with
her about what was appropriate attire. We didn't see
the sundress again (thank goodness).
of our paralegals showed up in a thermal knit top
and plaid flannel pants that looked remarkably like
an outfit I'd worn to bed the night before.
We once had an employee wear a form-fitting
black tank top with the words "my boyfriend is
out of town" in rhinestones across the chest,
with an inch of belly showing between her top and her
woman wore a leopard printed undergarment under a
too-sheer white top.
two separate occasions, women have shown up in a
slip but without a skirt. A man also came in once
wearing his boxers.
We have a "professional dress" code.
Technically this guy was compliant. He wore dress pants,
shirt, tie, jacket, shoes, socks - all in purple velour.
I told him that while the attire was professional,
it wasn't a profession we wanted to promote.
If you want to be taken seriously, you must dress
in a way that you will be viewed seriously by your
co-workers. Showing too much cleavage may be OK if
you work at Hooters, but it is not OK in a professional
environment. If you notice the men you are speaking
with are having trouble looking you in the eye, it
may be time to reconsider what you are wearing to work.
As for men, showing off your hairy chest may be something
to do at the beach, but not in the office.
Short skirts are distracting. The Ally McBeal look
was OK on the television. Regardless of what types
of shows they say they are, reality and television
are usually mutually exclusive. Ally McBeal was a fantasy
world law office that had unisex bathrooms. It was
not to be taken seriously and certainly should not
have set the tone for the way to dress in the office.
However, many women continue to dress as if the tight,
short skirt is the only thing available in stores.
So, if you notice the men in your office are fighting
to sit next to you at the weekly staff meeting and
then continually drop their pens on the floor so they
have to bend under the table to pick them up, it may
be time to change your work attire.
and Lycra are definite no-no's. Who wants to see
every curve and crevasse of another person's body.
Most people don't even want to see this at the gym.
Even if you have the best body in the world, it is
not appropriate business attire as it is distracting
to others. So when your co-workers give you that “What
in the world were you thinking?” look when you walk
into your work area, it may be a good time to feign
illness and go home to change your clothes.
As for jewelry, anything that is distracting is not
good as it takes away from you the person. Do your
earrings make noises when you walk? If your wind chimes
warn other that you are on your way when you are still
around the corner, it may be a good time to buy a quieter
pair of earrings.
Facial and other body piercings are definitely not
professional looking. Many of them look painful and
a pierced tongue makes it difficult to talk. The people
who run most businesses are not ready to deal with
pierced lips, noses, cheeks, eyebrows or multiple earrings.
So if you start to receive condolences letters and
get well cards because your co-workers think you fell
into a fisherman's tackle box, you may want to remove
your facial jewelry. Think of the rule of two. You
should wear no more than two earrings, no more than
two necklaces at a time and no more than two rings
Fragrances are a part of your dress and appearance.
If you must wear something, wear a light fragrance.
No one wants to smell your perfume or cologne in the
elevator, break rooms or wafting through the air conditioning
is nothing more distracting than an overly made-up
woman. Remember how hideous Katherine Harris, Florida's
Secretary of State at the time of the challenged
ballots during the 2000 presidential election, looked?
Most people believe that Katherine Harris made Florida
look worse than the butterfly ballots. How could
anyone take Florida seriously, when the spokesperson
for the state had a blue face?
Hair should be neat and styled. Orange spikes or blue
or yellow streaks may be acceptable in the punk rock
bar, but you can be assured of one thing, the local
hospital does not want its employees looking like a
pinwheel. It makes the patients a little nervous.
As for footwear, flip flops and sandals are usually
not acceptable in the workplace. By the way, Berkenstocks
are still sandals even if they are over $100 a pair.
Spiked heals are out, as are tennis shoes (in most
Remember that business casual does not equate to weekend
casual. Tattoos should be covered and low cut pants
with midriffs showing is not appropriate business attire.
every workplace is different than the social scene.
Even if your company does not have a dress code,
employees are expected to dress appropriately for
the business and the work environment. If you want
to be noticed for your professionalism, dress “one-up” from
the way the rest of the people in your workplace dress.
If the rest of the workplace is a part of the “khaki
culture”, wear dark colored pants or a knee length
skirt. If in doubt, err on the side of conservatism.
As one person
from the Society for Human Resources stated, a law
firm in Illinois has this dress code; "Avoid
wearing camouflage, diving gear, tin-woodsman costumes,
antlers (fake or real), tap shoes, smoking jackets,
Enterprise Starfleet uniforms, Jai-Alai equipment,
clown suits, or accessories that involve live animals."
Use your good judgment and common sense. Be the professional
that you are and dress appropriately.