Monday, October 15, 2012

Dress For Success Not A Garage Sale

Ever since Corporate America went Business Casual about ten years ago, many companies have struggled with the issue of proper dress in the work place.   Younger employees, in particular, that never experienced Business Formal Dress, suits, ties, white shirts have no point of reference and as a result are often clueless related to proper attire.  I am sure that if we permitted it, we would have some employees come to work in flip flops and a tee shirt.  To prevent that from happening we have had to issue very specific standards defining Business Casual Dress and still some employees don't understand that wearing clothing to work, that would be better used to clean out the garage, is inappropriate.   In fact, rather than refer to what is allowed in Business Casual, it really should be called Business Professional to properly describe what is suitable for work. 

The telling tale was when we had one of our young female employees walk into our office in California, our corporate headquarters, wearing a see through white blouse with a black bra underneath.  Our office manager happened to be in our reception area when this particular employee asked if what she was wearing was appropriate for work.  Of course, our office manager instructed her to leave immediately and go home and change.  It is hard to imagine that anyone could have such poor judgement to wear something so inappropriate to work; but it happens all the time. 

When I was first hired as a young manager at Merrill Lynch, 33 years ago, I had two plaid suits; one in blue and one in beige.  Initially, since they had no office for me in New York, I was assigned a work station right outside Executive Row.   I quickly noticed that there really was a uniform.  Men wore navy blue or gray pin stripe suits in various shades of gray or solid navy blue or gray; never black or brown.  Shirts were always white.  Ties could vary some; but not really much by today's standards.  Business Casual in those days was a navy blue blazer, with gray slacks and a white or light blue shirt with a tie.  In fact, when all Managers got together for a Business Casual event, we looked like the Vienna Choir Boys in our Navy Sports Jackets.  Once I realized what was needed to dress appropriately, I got rid of those plaid suits. 

Women were able to dress with a little more variation; but always in suits, or perhaps a dress with a blazer jacket.  Never anything sleeveless.  Pant suits came much later for women and were more acceptable as Business Casual.  Shoes for men and women were always polished and never open toe for women.   These were all unspoken rules as we "Dressed For Success" not a garage sale.   OK, OK, I know I am an old fuddy duddy; but even so, employees that aspire to promotional opportunities really need to Dress For Success even today. 

That does not mean suits in a Business Casual environment; but it does mean great looking clothes, in better fabrics, that fit properly.  Fortunately, there are many discount stores where employees can find nice clothing at good prices, so cost should not be an issue.   However, about 50% of Americans, in particular, are pleasantly plump, or even obese, me included.  We therefore must be much more careful in choosing our clothing.   Some people believe that wearing tight clothing is slenderizing when in fact it is just the opposite.  Those of us that are over weight should wear looser fitting clothing, jackets and solid, darker colors to look best.  

Employees who succeed in business have the whole "package", education, experience and image.  By the way, smoking is a real NO NO too.  Smoking not only causes cancer, which is bad enough, those who smoke smell of cigarettes; not good at all.  Smokers may not realize it; but they are probably not only shortening their lives, they are limiting their career opportunities.  It is important that employees Dress For Success if they aspire to higher paying jobs.  It is what it is.   

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