“Don’t Wear the Yellow Tie”
I was a wee bit miffed when colour consultant Edith Adam gave me that advice. Especially as it was just as I was about to speak at a business lunch!
You see once there’s a little doubt in our mind about how we’re looking it can affect our self-confidence and that in turn can affect how well we communicate with others.
In Edith’s case she was quite right as I later realised when going through my mirror inspection: with the other clothes I was wearing and my natural colouring, blue looked much better.
The experience got me thinking about how important (or not) appearance is when we’re out and about. And judging by the fuss over how people were dressed at Royal Ascot with the creation of a “Fashion Police”, I’m not the only one who has views on that as this extract from the Work Etiquette website
Work etiquette isn’t always about the way we say and do things and how we behave. Wearing the ‘proper’ clothing is also a major part of correct work etiquette. These days however, the word ‘proper’ can be perceived very differently from one company to another and, even within companies themselves; they can often take a different attitude to work attire depending on various circumstances, for example, the day of the week – e.g. ‘dress down Fridays’. Industries, too, often have very different expectations about what constitutes proper work attire.
For example, people in IT, creative roles in the media and sometimes those working in marketing will often be able to get away wearing very casual attire in the office, whether that’s substituting a polo shirt for a formal dress shirt and, in some jobs, even jeans and shorts in summer might be perfectly acceptable. Then, there are those occupations such as banking, accountancy and law where you’d probably be sent home if you weren’t wearing a business suit so the first point to make when it comes to etiquette in office attire is that it will vary based upon the different workplace ‘cultures’ that are out there.
The Different Standards
When it comes to considering the appropriate clothes to wear for work, it basically helps to separate the options into 3 categories – casual, smart casual and formal business/professional. Let’s look at these 3 categories in more detail.
This would normally constitute the type of clothing that you might wear on a daily basis if you were not in work. Therefore, T-shirts/sweatshirts and jeans and denim skirts might be perfectly acceptable. Likewise, trainers or sandals might equally be fine. However, even within this least formal dress policy, there are still some unwritten ‘rules’. For example, many companies are perfectly happy to let you wear T-shirts as long as they’re not football or rugby tops and they don’t have large logos ‘statements’ on them. Women, in particular, are often asked not to wear any skirts that are too short or tops that reveal their midriffs. Even things like vest tops can be OK in one company but frowned upon in another. The basic guidelines to follow would be to wear what you might wear around the house of a weekend, as opposed to what you might choose to wear if you were out ‘nightclubbing’. In fact, because a completely ‘casual’ dress policy can mean so many diverse things to different people, you should find out exactly what you can and can’t wear rather than taking a chance.
The policy of ‘smart casual’ was adopted in response to many workers who often felt that traditional formal business wear, in terms of the environment they worked in, was not strictly necessary for the type of role they were carrying out and that they would feel more comfortable (and, therefore, would be more productive), were they to be allowed to get rid of the suits and ties and to wear something a little less restrictive. Many businesses were keen to accommodate these requests but they also needed to ensure that the work environment still looked professional in case clients or other customers were to pay a visit. Therefore, they introduced a ‘smart casual’ approach to work attire which they hoped would meet both aims. Smart casual wear today can include polo shirts worn with conventional trousers and skirts, i.e. no denim or short skirts, short-sleeved shirts with no tie or perhaps a jumper or a cardigan over a blouse for a woman instead of a jacket or, if appropriate, a casual summer dress. A typical environment where you might see smart casual attire worn would be a call centre.
Formal Professional Business
Regardless of changing trends, the formal professional business ‘look’ is still the most heavily featured in the office environment even these days. It will consist of a suit with a tie (or at least a blazer, conventional trousers or skirt), and conservative footwear such as dress shoes. You’ll find this dress code still prevails in many industries and even in those where some individual companies might adopt a less formal approach. However, in areas such as law, banking etc., the formal approach is still mostly mandatory.
Unless your place of work insists on a uniform which, after all, makes things a lot simpler, the best way of ensuring that you’re conforming to the etiquette of office attire is to take your cue from when you go to the interview – i.e. take a look at what others are wearing. However, if in any doubt, you should always ask what the dress code is before you start working at a new company as you won’t want to feel the odd one out and, if you’ve invited to an interview, either ask what the dress code is or err on the side of caution and adopt a conservative approach. After all, first impressions count and you can always dress down later if that’s more appropriate.
So what are your thoughts? Does the sight of someone with stained and well-worn jeans at an early morning business breakfast put you off? Or do you regard it as just sensible work wear. Are there differences between men and women in terms of the importance they give to their business appearance? Comments welcome.
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