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March 10, 2009


Every company has a level of professional dress that is expected of its employees. Regardless of the quality of your work, people will question your business judgment if you have poor judgment in attire. Furthermore, the appropriateness of your dress will directly affect the amount of face time your manager will give you in front of superiors and clients, and therefore affects your career development. Here's how to make sure you're dressed appropriately.
  • Dress slightly more formally than your peers. Do not be the most casually dressed person in the room.
  • Err on the side of being overdressed around superiors and clients. If the dress code in your office becomes more formal with seniority, you should dress for the level to which you aspire. (That is, if managers wear suits, but your peers dress business casual, wear a suit once in while to demonstrate your aspirations.) But if the office dress code becomes less formal with seniority, conform to the formality of your level. Just because your CEO wears jeans and sneakers doesn't mean you have earned the right to dress similarly.
  • Be careful at company events, even if they are cocktail events or evening parties. Women are especially prone to err in this area. Don't see an office party as an excuse to wear the latest in iridescent eye shadow and trendy low-cut gowns. To be blunt, you shouldn't look too sexy. It's best to rely on the standard little black dress. (But make sure it's not too little!)
  • If others can identify what makeup you're wearing, you're wearing too much. Keep it subdued.
  • Dress conservatively for non-work functions you know colleagues are attending. Unfortunately, even an impression you make in your free time outside of the office can follow you into the office on Monday morning.
  • What does "business casual" mean? Generally, it looks like the nicer stuff in Banana Republic. For men, khakis or slacks, button-down oxford or polo shirts, sweaters or sports jackets, belt, socks, leather shoes. For women, it means a blouse and a skirt or a dress. No jeans, shorts, tank-tops, T-shirts or flip-flops. Don't assume brand name designers or expensive price tags make clothes appropriate for office wear. One stylish law associate wore men's open-heel sandals to work one day. When his manager told him they were too casual for the office, he replied, "But they're Gucci!"
  • Here's a simple way to tell whether your skirt is too short. Your skirt should never be more than a handswidth above your knee. Just stand up and wrap your hand around your leg just above the knee. If your skirt does not touch your hand, it is too short.
  • What does "casual Friday" mean? For the West Coast, it means you can wear jeans (still avoid flip-flops, shorts and tank tops). In the Midwest and East Coast, jeans are still generally off limits, but you can wear the more casual versions of khakis, or sometimes corduroys in the winter.
  • Even if you dress casually at the office, always keep appropriate business clothes available in case a client meeting suddenly arises. Dont let yourself be excluded from an important meeting because you didn't wear the appropriate clothes to work. In an emergency, you can run out and buy appropriate dress.
  • If you are traveling to your company office or a client in a different region, check up on the weather before you go.
  • Try not to make your hair too memorable. Men should take note the styles of managers and clients. Generally speaking, businessmen part their hair on the side, not down the middle. A balding man should keep his hair trimmed very short for the most professional look. Facial hair is usually acceptable as long as it is clean and well-kept, but if you can bear to lose the goatee, it's even better to be clean-shaven.Women who wear their hair longer than shoulder length should keep it well groomed. While it's unfair, curly hair can look messy and unprofessional if it is too long. If you do have long curly hair, consider pulling it back into a bun or braid during the day. Pigtails are never OK in corporate America. African-American women can wear neat braids or short natural styles; elaborate colored extensions and dreads should be avoided.
It should go without saying that elaborate hairsprayed 'dos (a la Working Girl) and unnatural hair colors (Raggedy Ann red, blue, platinum blond) are not acceptable in the corporate workplace. If you do dye your hair, make sure you don't allow your roots to show.


Filed Under: Workplace Issues

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