The everyday codes for business attire can be hard to grasp.
Once upon a time white-collar workers wouldn’t be caught dead in anything less than a suit, or at least a shirt and tie for men and a nice blouse and pantyhose for women. Now people are losing the tie and sometimes even opting for jeans over dress pants.
But with the line of acceptable work attire blurring, getting dressed in the morning’s becoming a bigger challenge. How do you exude confidence and professionalism and show people you and your staffers mean business?
Here are a few tips to help show people your staffers mean business — without the power suit:
- Encourage clothes that fit properly. Stress the difference to staffers who aren’t sure where the line is drawn. Holes and fading aren’t the only thing that make something weekend wear instead of office attire: saggy pants, too-tight tops, cargo pants and anything they’d wear to work out in are generally considered not office worthy. Work casual usually means a higher quality of clothes and a better fit. Staffers should also make sure that skin’s covered appropriately, this includes feet. While a cute pair of sandals may be OK for women, men should steer clear. And nobody should wear flip-flops.
- Distinguish the difference between work casual and weekend casual.While your office may be jeans-friendly, you know there’s a big difference between a nice pair of uniformly dark jeans that fit well and the pair the high schoolers wear that have fading, holes and ride a bit too low. But your staffers may not. Same goes for shirts. A t-shirt culture can be great as far as comfort goes, but staffers can have a tough time picking out what’s work appropriate and what to save for the weekend. Opting for solid colors with a few structural details is always a safer bet than digging out that Led Zeppelin t-shirt. Let staffers know that even though the dress is “business casual” clothes still need to appear professional and not like they rolled out of bed after being at a concert all night.
- Let them know they’re free to accessorize, within reason. Leaving the Zeppelin shirt at home may make some staffers feel like the company’s cramping their style. Let them know that getting creative with accessories can both present a professional appearance and their personal style. Wearing dress shoes that can take a nice shine, a good quality belt and a nice watch give the impression that you’re a very together person who’s in charge. Same goes for jewelry. A few tasteful pieces of jewelry can dress up an outfit — as long as they’re not overbearing and distracting. The details will be what gives your staff a professional polish and authority, and have a little fun. A staffer at one company can’t leave his Rolling Stones wear at home, so he wears Rolling Stones cuff-links to work on a regular basis. They’re a shuttle nod to his rock-n-roll style without wearing a t-shirt with a giant tongue on it.
Some companies post pictures and magazine clippings of appropriate office styles to help staffers get a good handle on what works and what doesn’t. This tends to work well in conjunction with a written dress code which can only touch on a few points — no shorts, no spaghetti strap shirts, etc. Giving staffers some visual guidance will not only make them feel more confident about their chosen dress but could also make enforcing the company’s dress policy easier. Don’t forget to include guidlines for both winter and summer.
If you really need help with your staffers’ image there are companies who specialize in updating personal images for the business world — like Bixler Consulting Group — or you could always nominate them for What Not to Wear.