A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem
How to Dress Down at Work
Dear Sue: I supervise a young group of people, and have concerns about
the way some of them dress for work. With the warmer weather, everyone has
been dressing more casually than usual and some of the young girls, in
particular, dress very inappropriately for an office environment. Iíve
made a few comments from time to time, but donít feel it should be my job
to monitor what people wear.
Our office is casual, so people donít think what they wear matters, but
it does. Some time ago, you printed guidelines for dressing casually in
the workplace. I would love to see them again and post them in the office
-- I think it may have more impact coming from someone other than me.
Sue Says: You are right, it shouldnít be your job to monitor what
people wear, and people should know that dressing casually for work is and
should be different than dressing casually outside of work, but it remains
a gray area for many.
Younger employees werenít working years ago when most workplaces were
quite formal and casual dress was reserved for time off of work, so
dressing casually may be all they are accustomed too. If you havenít
provided your employees with a written dress code, consider doing so as it
will help everyone understand what is expected. That way, when someone
dresses inappropriately, you can refer to the dress code rather than your
opinion about what someone is wearing.
It may help to explain to the younger employees why what they wear
matters. Many people underestimate the impact their appearance has; it can
impact the way people perceive you, treat you and determine a promotion or
job offer. Although not fair, it is true; dressing appropriately is just
as important as acting appropriately.
Dressing for a business casual workplace shouldnít differ too far from
dressing in a traditional workplace; just a bit more relaxed. Remove the
tie, take off the jacket, wear lighter fabrics and more casual styles, but
make sure you dress professionally and that your clothing is clean,
well-pressed and in good condition. The following should never be worn to
work unless specified as permissible:
- Ripped or torn clothing (even if it came that way)
- Work-out or athletic gear
- Spandex or any fabric that is body-hugging and tight fitting
- Baggy, oversized or extremely low-rise pants (watch for undergarments that
show when sitting down)
- Shorts and mini skirts
- Sleeveless and low-cut tops (no cleavage or undergarments should be
- Tank tops, muscle shirts and tube tops
- Flip-flops and most sandals
- Sweatshirts and sweatpants
- Hats, caps, visors and other headgear
Finally, if you are in doubt, leave it out! Nothing is more
embarrassing than being sent home because of the way you are dressed, and
it has happened! You are always better off being slightly overdressed than
underdressed; too dressy is better than too casual, so take the time to
think about what you wear because it does matter.
Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She
is author of the newly released
101 Tips for Graduates and
How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at
email@example.com or visit her web site at
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