Dressing for Career Success
Decades ago, most companies frowned upon individuality in one's workplace attire. Men wore dark suits, white shirts, and ties. Women wore suits, too, or appropriately subdued dresses or slacks. That's still the case in the higher echelons of some professions and occasionally is required of most businesspeople, although there are work cultures, such as in Silicon Valley, which seem to have changed all that, at least for Northern California. There you'll find workers dressed in jeans, T-shirts, and clothes once relegated to weekends or vacations. If you've never owned a suit and don't plan to, you may want to rethink that career in a high-powered New York law firm.
Decoding the Dress Codes
If a prospective employer said the dress code is “business casual,” would you know exactly what that meant you could wear? Perhaps you like the idea of a job that requires a uniform. After all, people who work as nurses, police, or park rangers never have to worry about what to wear on the job. For those in careers with more relaxed dress codes, the trend seems to be toward more casual dress in the workplace. Workers definitely want it, and for employers it can prove to be a simple, inexpensive way to be flexible and improve morale. In a subtle way, it signals that promotions aren't based on social status. Khakis and polo shirts are great equalizers. In a March 2003 survey, the Business Research Lab found just 9 percent of respondents wore typical business attire to work, 50 percent wore business casual, and 41 percent wore very casual clothing (
Dress Code Dos and Don'ts
The primary considerations when it comes to suitable dress, center on propriety, neatness, and not wearing distracting or offensive clothes. Everyone seems to agree that employees with client contact should dress in business attire to maintain the air of professionalism and competence desired by all employers. Be wary of certain restrictions that could be at odds with federal antidiscrimination and disability regulations — for instance, if an employer bans ponytails or earrings for men but allows them for women, bans facial hair, or requires women to wear skirts. One dress code on a corporate Web site details its do's and don'ts right down to the removal of ear hair, the quality of toupees to be worn, and the banning of kilts, pointy-toed shoes, and “cheap” colognes and perfumes. Ask up front about the dress code for any career you're seriously considering. If you can't work unless you're wearing your bunny slippers or torn Grateful Dead T-shirt, you will know instantly which work environments to avoid.