Imagine having your doctor show up to an appointment wearing shorts, flip flops and a dirty t-shirt. Or, what if your kid’s teacher showed up to class wearing a bathing suit? You no doubt would question both people’s sanity and good judgement. Further, worried they weren’t up for the job you might choose to see a different doctor or move your child to another teacher.
How you dress in the workplace is no different. If you show up wearing jeans and a tank top to a meeting with your CEO or a client people will doubt your professionalism.
Clothes serve as more than a way to keep us warm and modest; they are part of our personal and professional brand. They are our uniform you might say. And, there is an expectation that people will wear attire that fits their profession.
I was recently at a professional event that was attended by many connected and wealthy people. I ran into a colleague who is a real estate agent specializing in multi-million dollar homes. The people attending the event were her perfect prospects. However, my colleague showed up to the function wearing faded jeans, a casual t-shirt and un-coiffed hair. She happened to mention that she was out of the office most of the day attending brokers’ openings so she didn’t feel a need to dress up. Oops, big mistake. I doubt anyone at the event would consider doing business with her given how casually she was dressed.
Her attire needed to reflect that she was a member of the group; that she ran in the same circles and was someone who understood the unique needs of her clients. Instead she looked as if she might be part of the janitorial crew.
It is true that West Coast companies have allowed, or perhaps, tolerated more casual work attire, but consider if what you are wearing creates the image you want to portray. Is it the right “uniform” for the job you have, or even better, the job you want? Or maybe what you’re wearing is appropriate for the office, but you have a client meeting or a business function to attend. Is your in-office outfit appropriate for your client or business event? Think about what the uniform is for those kinds of functions. Typically to make a good impression and convey professionalism you’ll want to dress a notch up.
And now that it’s summer it’s important to be even more careful about what you’re wearing. Don’t let yourself be fooled into following the flip-flopped-summer-dresses-shorts-and-t-shirt crowd. Those items are appropriate for your weekend and after work uniform, but not for the office.
Here are a few more attire no nos:
- Sleeveless shirts or dresses without a jacket or sweater to cover your bare arms
- Sandals. Some casual companies are fine with these, many are not
- Tennis shoes
- Skirts or dresses that are shorter than three inches above the knee
- Clothes that are baggy or too tight
- Anything that’s wrinkled, torn, stained or otherwise meant for weekend chores
- Sweats, sweatshirts, yoga pants, t-shirts with sayings or logos
- Jeans, unless it’s casual Friday or they are acceptable at your workplace when not meeting with clients or other VIPs
- Anything that shows your cleavage or midriff
Don’t be lulled into thinking that if everyone else is wearing casual clothing you should as well. So often managers won’t say anything to those dressed inappropriately because they are uncomfortable doing so, but they may very well be questioning if you are suitable for the job or a promotion.
When getting dressed for your day at the office, ask yourself if your outfit is appropriate for the job you have or aspire to have. When in doubt, don’t wear it, or consult your manager or HR department. Your thoughtful approach to your work uniform will make you more respected and promote worthy.