It’s summer and it’s sizzling outside. It’s that time of year when air conditioners are buzzing non-stop and your energy provider is sitting pretty (I guess that’s why they call it Christmas in July). With the rise in energy costs even more companies are beginning to adjust their casual dress policy beyond the traditional “Dress Down Friday.”
Casual dress was a recent topic in an Entrepreneur article. A contributor to the article states that employee morale and performance increases when workers feel relaxed and comfortable. Even companies in Japan are now adjusting their casual dress guidelines given the strain on power supplies from the recent earthquake and tsunami. A huge adjustment for a country where business etiquette (as defined by the International Business Center) is governed by dress to impress and casual dress is never appropriate in a business setting.
So does this heightened leniency in dress code mean ripped jeans, short shorts and flip flops?
My advice… proceed with caution.
Check Out Your Environment
The work environment or culture is key. If you recently graduated from school or are returning to the workforce consider this:
- Where you live i.e. Miami vs. Connecticut
- Whether it is a technology firm or a law firm
- What is your level of client involvement and exposure
- What are your future goals (Hint: look at the attire of upper level management)
Casual Dress = Lack of Visual Credibility
Some may argue that this should be of particular concern to support staff and females. In my early years, a casual dress code was cause to celebrate and a HUGE job benefit. I never considered the repercussions it would have on my career advancement.
That’s why even a casual dress code requires a bit of homework.
Your interpretation may mean old jeans and an ill fitting t-shirt however your boss may interpret casual as chinos with a polo.
Before making uninformed and potentially detrimental decisions try this:
Speak to someone in employee relations. Ask upon getting the offer letter or use it as an interview question. There is nothing wrong with getting clarity on something so important to your career!
When in Rome… If you do not get an answer before your start date, err on the side of caution. For your first two-three weeks or until you gain clarity, dress in business attire. The best ideas for summer are light fabrics like cotton or a cotton/linen mix which is less taut than 100% linen. A single button fashion blazer with a cotton shirt also adds a professional touch to an otherwise casual bottom.
Many companies are now adding shorts to the casual mix. Most prefer Bermuda shorts which fall at the knee. Other companies who have also embraced short wearers are finding length to be an increasing concern.
The solution? If your company includes shorts in their dress code be clear about the length. Should they fall below your finger tips or right above your knees? If you are petite, shorts right above your knee may not cut you in half. Try pairing the shorts with nude pumps to see if it elongates your legs. You can also try monochromatic colors or opt for a shorter business casual pencil skirt with a dressy cotton top or fancy t-shirt. For men, pair shorts with a Merrell® shoe while layering a v-neck on top of a t-shirt. That’s right preppy. Preppy vs. sloppy… you choose.
Ambiguous casual dress codes not only pose a threat to the employee but the company too. One company shared how fashion flexibility turned into “fashion faux pas.” The shorts kept getting shorter! Other arguments are that casual dress leaves the company open to potential sexual harassment cases or a too casual work attitude.
A preventive measure is for companies to make sure their dress code is clearly outlined and up to date. Another idea is to schedule interactive workshops which would outline appropriate dress based on season, client interactions, level of seniority and corporate culture.
- Ripped jeans
- Flip flops (no matter how much “bling” they adorn)
- Sweat shirts
- Flimsy short rompers
- Stained clothing
- Daisy dukes
and drum roll…
- Sagging jeans
According to Monster.com, “In general, business casual means dressing professionally, looking relaxed yet neat and pulled together.” That means full blown casual will not work. In order to make sure you are maintaining your credibility, fitting into the corporate culture and operating with a certain level of comfort do your research. Also, try mixing investment or quality pieces into your casual wardrobe for a pulled together look. Next, find a good tailor. Clothes that cost less take on a whole new look if tailored to fit.
Casual dress can certainly be fun and more relaxing. It can also be trivial if left open to interpretation. Overall it’s really not that complicated. Just remember…you are your brand. Like Tim Gunn says, “Make it Work!” Just be sure to make it work in your favor.
Elethia has been described as an outgoing and energetic speaker with a knack for style! A style she easily translates to her clients as Image Consultant and Trainer for Alexander Q. Image Group. She is a Baruch College and Mercer University alumna with over ten years of marketing experience with companies like Bloomingdale’s and Tommy Hilfiger. She is also a National Speaker for Monster Worldwide and a fitness instructor. With a certification in color analysis plus coaching from international image masters, Elethia unlocks your potential to be powerful, to be purposeful… to be WHO YOU ARE!