What To Wear To Work

Casual Work Clothes Clash with Business Etiquette

Are we taking casual workwear dresses to far?

For Laura Sherbin and for a bunch of Silicon Valley professionals who are in their 30s and 40s, the answer is YES.

Sherbin, who is a research director at The Center for Talent Innovation in New York, said, “Dress is the first filter. One thing dress signaled was lack of respect for the environment.”

Dress is the first filter!

As the 21st Century unfolds, we have seen many companies moving away from formal dress code policies.

Party because of changing workforce demographics (hello Millennials!) and the “casual office attire” culture as popularized by tech giants like Google and Facebook.

Not surprisingly, this business etiquette has also found its way into Corporate America as we witness lawyers, brokers and bankers loosening their ties more frequently.

The Problem

Is wearing casual office attire really that bad or degrading? I don’t think so.

There’s really no problem with this office etiquette. Issues only arise when employees take their work clothes too far.

And because most companies have no workwear policies in place, this problem usually gets out of hand — leaving employees guessing what to wear to work. I love what Sylvie di Giusto, an image-consulting expert, said about this:

“People think that casual means you don’t have to care, but that’s absolutely wrong!”

So the root cause of the problem here is not the type of clothes your employees are wearing but the lack of workwear guidelines emphasizing what’s proper and what’s not.

Trust me, most employees want to dress well for their jobs. But the lack of broad work clothes policies makes this challenging for them.

What to Wear to Work? They Only Said Dress Appropriately

I love what Edward Yost at the Society for Human Resource Management said about this.

“[Dress appropriately] is like defining art — it’s different to whoever is looking at it.” Well said Yost.

Vague or too general office attire policies isn’t enough. As a matter of fact, it can do more harm than good to your business.

Let’s take Martha’s experience for instance:

Martha works for Company X at the outskirts of Silicon Valley. It’s already seven in the morning and she has to decide what to wear to work quickly or she’ll be late. Her colleagues are wearing different types of workwear dresses in the office and this variability makes it hard for her to decide what to wear. Martha wants to fit in and she knows wearing the same type of work clothes is a step to do that. With the clock ticking, she grabbed a shirt and a pair of leggings from her closet. “Well, I saw Hannah wear this outfit last Monday and my boss was fine with it. I’ll be okay.”

Don’t judge a book by it’s cover? Nah, that’s rarely followed in the workplace.

Sorry for being blunt but people do judge others based on what they wear. That’s why if there is some sort of workwear guideline that I have to follow, tell me.

And I don’t take dress appropriately as an answer.

The Importance of Dress Code for Professionalism

The importance of proper business etiquette like wearing the right office attire varies by industry.

Some companies allow their employees to dress casually, which is widely accepted in creative workplaces like fashion and tech.

While other companies want their workers to follow a specific dress code to maintain a professional image.

This is especially true in businesses that constantly interact with clients, business partners and prospects.

The importance of proper business etiquette varies by industry

What to wear to work isn’t just all about work clothes. It’s also about the message you want to convey to those who meet you.

Hence for a company who wants to maintain a professional image in the marketplace,  like Starbucks and Walmart, maintaining and enforcing an appropriate dress code is a must.

If you are a lawyer or a banker, dressing professionally is a must because of the expectations the public has in the professional nature of your trade.

6 Things to Consider When Deciding What to Wear at Work

 Do you know that according to the 2010 national survey made by the Center for Professional Excellence at York College Pennsylvania, office attire or appearance ranks second after communication skills in qualities that are mostly associated with professionalism?

Clay Clark, CEO of Thrive15, has a great story to tell:

“I wear a navy suit, white shirt, red tie and brown shoes every day. It is my signature look every where I go. I make too many important decisions all day that I do not want to waste time figuring out what to wear. I did not always dress like Mr. Professional. I started my first business out of my college dorm room, DJ Connection, growing it to 4,000 events per year before I sold it. It wasn’t until my mentor, Clifton Taulbert, pointed out that looking like Eminem when I met with mother’s of the bride was not helping grow my business. As soon as I started wearing my navy suit, white shirt and red tie every single day, my business took off and I became SBA Entrepreneur of the Year.”

Because of the varying nature of workplaces, universal dress codes can’t be set in stone.

However, if you are to make one for your business, I hope you’ll forget to include the following:

1. Modesty is the New Sexy

Want to get noticed at work? Wear cleavage-revealing shirt, tight pants, thick make up and short skirt — just kidding!

As entrepreneur Chris Hauri puts it, “Nothing undermines how you are perceived in business as leaving nothing to the imagination.”

So if you want to make an impact at work, make it happen by doing great work.

2. Wear the Right Shoes

You’re not Steve Jobs, are you? While high heels sound very fashionable, they’re not really the best ones for work.

What do you think will happen if you have to sprint to the conference room so you’ll not get late to a meeting?

As experts suggest, wear flats. That’s the shortest way of saying that your feet should look prepared for work.

3. Follow Your Leaders

If you’re not sure what to wear for a casual Friday or a client meeting, look around.

The wisest employees often look up to the most respected individuals inside their organization during these crucial moments. Do it and you’ll never go wrong.

4. Don’t Follow Your Boss, Piece by Piece

Although I told you to follow your leaders, it doesn’t mean you have to copy their outfit piece by piece.

Just use it as an inspiration in finding colors, accessories and styles that work best for you.

5. Don’t Look Like Santa’s Elf

While it’s perfectly fine to wear red or green to match the holidays season, looking like Santa’s Elf is a completely different story.

Seasonal colors are great but you have make sure that you don’t over-accessorize your outfit.

Remember, your office attire should complement and enhance your professional image, not the other way around.

6. Read the Handbook

Still not sure what to wear to work? Go ahead and consult the employee’s handbook (I hope you still have them).

If the handbook doesn’t say anything about the company’s stance on jeans or leggings, go ahead and ask your boss, HR representative or an immediate supervisor for some advice.

– – –

At the end of the day, it all depends on the type of industry you are working in.

Wearing a corporate attire at Victoria’s Secret is just as awkward as wearing T-shirts or leggings at J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.

Although the rules of what to wear to work is changing, keep in mind that there are still certain boundaries that we have to respect.

After all, what you wear at work isn’t just a reflection of who you are — it’s also a reflection of your company, its brand and its values.


Written By

Lenmark Anthony Baltazar

I have been living a life of HR for as long as I can remember. My experiences helped me realize that true happiness comes from being a blessing to the lives of others. I hope my skills and talents will be a blessing to you as well.