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In my opinion, one of the best things to happen in the workplace is business casual.

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Early in my career, I worked as a recruiter at a large bank in downtown Detroit. Winter is hard in Detroit but in spite of it, I often trudged through the slush in my suit, heels and pantyhose.  Business suits were the dress code for most professional women and men.

While my job at the bank was challenging, I yearned for something more. As luck would have it, I snagged an interview for a recruiting position with a company that was a major player in town.  My contact at the company insisted that I wear a blue or grey suit and went on to say that if I didn’t, I would not move on to the next interview. This was what they valued and how they did things…their culture, before culture was a “thing.” So, I put on a conservative grey worsted wool, A-line skirt with jacket, striped cotton blouse and topped it off with a large pin on my collar. I knew I would surely fit in. “Fitting in” matters, but it isn’t everything. Despite my rock solid interview attire, I didn’t get the job…fortunately.

Things have a way a working out and soon after, I got my dream job as a recruiter at a large advertising agency in town. Imagine my happiness to learn that we could wear pant suits! When in Rome, do as the Romans do, and I did! This began my love for a casual but professional workplace. We dressed cool and looked smart. The people in the creative department were even more casual, wearing jeans, t-shirts, and tennis shoes, and some even had long hair!

Fast forward and business casual is the way of the world. Some companies sport “company attire.” A lot of banks do this…dressing teams in logo shirts and khakis. This squelches creativity, but keeps everyone “on brand.”

Many companies keep it vague by asking people to dress professionally but listing specific “no-no’s” in the employee manual. They often read like middle school rules. “No shorts, no rips, no flip flops, no…no…no.”

Other companies leave it open, cross their fingers, and pray that they don’t have to “call anyone down to the office.” This is not a bad approach, unless employees have face-to-face customer interaction. In that case, button up your policy, publish it in your employee handbook, reinforce it throughout the year, and protect your brand.

I love business casual because it allows people to show their style while feeling comfortable. Supporters of a casual workplace claim that it leads to more productivity.  There is a counter point of view that suggests that productivity goes down, but no real data to support either stance. Aside from productivity in the workplace, how does it impact your career when you take it casual?

Your visual impression does matter, to prospective employers and business contacts, and for advancement in your current company. Social media sites such as LinkedIn are real game changers for business professionals, so make sure that your profile picture says “professional” as well.

The folks at Dress for Success know the power that can come with a professional presence and its transformative effect on woman seeking reentry into the workplace. They know that even though many offices embrace a casual dress code, dressing professionally increases women’s self-assurance and can impact their ability to get a job, as well as see themselves as professionals.

It takes a lot of solid work, innovative ideas, and great communication skills to overcome a poor first impression. Your visual impression can even influence your pay. I could go over some rules of what is or isn’t appropriate in the office, but if you feel unsure about an outfit, ask a friend or colleague you respect. If you’re interested in learning more, check out this article, “You are Judged by Your Appearance,” written by Ty Kiisel and see if you are suffering from discrimination or reaping the rewards of our visual biases.

Companies need to craft policies that work for their employees, customers and culture; employees need to consider their style choices and how they enhance or detract from their professional image. The dark days of mandatory ties and pantyhose are over, but keep the jammies at home and save the flip-flops for the beach. Rejoice and be glad! Our wish for a casual workplace has been granted. Go forth with your casual self, but remember to keep it classy.

 

Peggy Hogan
Peggy Hogan
Peggy is an HR Consultant at Purple Ink. With a special interest in talent acquisition and retention, Peggy enjoys connecting the right person to the right place. She is motivated to help create positive workspaces by offering creative solutions to problems in the workplace, resulting in reduced turnover, higher employee engagement and increased productivity.

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