Wear it right: a Goldilocks approach to dress codes for employees
Company dress codes run the gamut from very casual to buttoned down, and many in between. So, before accepting an offer for a full-time job, know your prospective employer’s wardrobe requirements, as you will have to adhere to it for 40 hours or more each week.
If how you are permitted to dress for work is a priority, be familiar with the typical dress expectations for the job you have in mind. “Business,” “business casual” and “casual” dress codes have pronounced differences, and their interpretations may vary somewhat from company to company.
Many companies permit their staff to dress casually, although some do not allow shorts or jeans, for instance. Others, where employees meet with clients and prospects, may expect staff to adhere to a business dress code. The in-between business casual attire might seem “just right” for many of you, but it isn’t for everyone—not dressy enough for some; too dressy for others.
Business casual is not just casual
Many companies have adopted a business casual dress code to let employees be comfortable at work while still projecting a professional image. More than half of surveyed employees prefer more relaxed dress codes, yet many say they’re uncertain at times about the acceptability of an item of clothing.
If your company has a printed or online dress code, consult it before wearing something questionable. If you’re still unsure, you can ask your supervisor, or err on the side of caution and save it to wear during off-work hours.
Sometimes, it’s not what you wear but how you wear it. “Even in a business casual work environment, clothing should be pressed and never wrinkled. Torn, dirty or frayed clothing is unacceptable,” advises the personal finance website The Balance. “Any clothing that has words, terms or pictures that may be offensive to other employees is unacceptable.”
Your appearance is your company’s appearance
How you dress is actually a way to communicate yourself to others. People at work—clients and customers, but co-workers, too—form impressions of you based on your work attire. Those impressions will influence how they judge your company as well. That’s why employers establish dress codes that support their business activities and goals, and they’re legally permitted to do so. (Some exemptions for religious beliefs may apply.)
Companies require that you dress a certain way for some very practical reasons, such as uniforms so customers can easily identify staff, or no jewelry and loose clothing for health and safety reasons. And yes, employers can ask you to remove piercings and cover tattoos at work, which is common in settings where employees have direct contact with customers and clients.
So, make sure you have a good understanding of your company’s culture and, by extension, its dress code. Observe what employees at your level and the level above you are wearing, particularly those you respect and wish to emulate.
Recommended reading: how to dress for the office
For more advice on acceptable clothing selections for work, I recommend:
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