Cracking “The Dress Code”
By: Chelsey Hennemuth
Over the years, I have come to learn that I need to set my alarm clock fifteen minutes earlier than needed, just so I have that extra bit of time to figure out what to wear to work in the morning. By the time I am ready to go, I will have five outfits strewn across my room and I will be walking out the door in the sixth one. Perhaps, it is due to my being indecisive. However, I believe it is mostly because I am a woman.
In my opinion, women need to put the extra effort into their wardrobe. For them, it is not the standard “khakis and a polo” or “shirt and tie” every day. There are so many more options, which, I suppose, is part of the problem. Women do not want to dress the same every day. They like to add their own personal touches to every outfit so they are not matching their coworker in the next office. Unfortunately, for us women, there is a little black cloud that sometimes hangs over the office: the dress code. It may put a damper on some of the fabulous clothes hanging in their closets, but if played smart, working in an environment with a dress code will not always be a rainy day.
Every business has its own dress code, and it is important for employees to know and understand the differences before adding their own personal touches. In the business world, there are typically six categories of dress codes we must adhere to, depending on your position:
- Business Formal/Business Professional – Employees are required to wear a pant or skirted suit or a dress. The outfit and accessories should be conservative.
- Business Casual (Corporate) – This dress code is typical of most corporations and allows for more comfort without sacrificing professionalism. Employees can wear dress pants, sweaters, button-front shirts or blouses, and jackets.
- Business Casual (Manufacturing) – Business casual in a manufacturing setting is still a polished, professional look, but with adaptations to fit the environment. Slacks, knee-length dresses and skirts, blouses, and sweaters are all acceptable items of clothing. Close-toed shoes are a necessity.
- Business Casual (Relaxed) – This dress code allows for more comfort while still remaining professional. Pants, dresses, skirts, jackets, blazers, and blouses are acceptable. Jeans may be appropriate if permitted.
- Creative Casual – A creative casual dress code allows for more freedom but requires a put-together appearance. Prints, colors, and bold accessories are acceptable.
- Casual – Casual dress codes combine comfort and informality. This dress is typically found in businesses that rarely interact with the public. All types of clothing are acceptable, but tastefulness is required.
More in-depth descriptions of these dress codes, as well as photo galleries, can be found at http://humanresources.about.com/od/workrelationships/tp/dress_code_collect.htm.
Knowing your position in the corporate world is the first step to showing your individuality within the office. At the beginning of any new job, especially for the interview, professionalism is key. A clean, pressed and polished look will impress your superiors and give them confidence in your abilities.
Judith Bernhard, President of Advance Sourcing Concepts, LLC in Pittsburgh, knows the ins and outs of professional attire for women. Her company interviews potential employees for businesses in the Pittsburgh area. This means they receive the first impression. For Judith, conservative attire is a must for the beginning of any career. “It’s always better to go in being over-conservative on your first interview,” Judith states, “[And] after you assess the environment there, then you can make decisions as to how you want to dress for the second interview.” Even after the interview, fitting in at the office is the best practice. Her favorite piece of advice: “Dress like your boss.”
After working for a period of time, you will become comfortable with determining what is appropriate and inappropriate for the office. Assessing the “corporate culture” is the next step in knowing how to dress appropriately and add personality to your wardrobe, according to Judith. She also recommends checking the company’s website for dress code specifics and example photographs.
What is the best way to determine if you are showing too much personality? Natalie Bell, a corporate recruiter in Pittsburgh, suggests asking yourself a few questions before heading into the office. She recommends that “if you even have to think about whether something is too revealing, too low, too short, or inappropriate for the office then you shouldn’t wear it.” She also comments on the fact that “if you would wear the outfit you have on out to a bar or club, it most likely is not appropriate for work.” Keeping these thoughts in mind while getting ready can deter you from making the wrong choice for the office.
Right now, you are probably thinking that there really is not any room for individuality in the way you dress for work. But that is not entirely true. After you determine your working environment, you can make adjustments to fit your personality. Natalie suggests adding a pop of color where appropriate because “colors are a great way to add some fun to an outfit.” This new hue can be an article of clothing or part of your accessories. Natalie also made suggestions for some great accessories including an eye-catching workbag, some statement jewelry, or a great pair of shoes with “personality.” Paired with a more professional outfit, these accessories can help you stand out from the corporate crowd. But do not pile on the accessories; only one or two pieces are necessary. When it comes to these personalized wardrobe additions, be sure to wear them at the correct time. Your first meeting with a new client may not be the best time, Judith warns. You have to make the call.
For some fresh outfit ideas, visit www.femalenetwork.com and check out the article “What to Wear to Work: 18 Outfits for Corporate, Creative, and Casual Dress Codes.”
Showing your individuality through workplace attire can be a challenge, but it is not impossible. It is all about using your best judgment. As a working professional, you know what needs to be done to accomplish a goal. The same goes for your attire. You want to show your personality, but you need to do it in such a way that agrees with company policy. Again, it depends on your profession and it depends on the company. Even if your wardrobe fails to impress, know that your intelligence, hard work, and dedication will not.
Chelsey Hennemuth is a graduate student in the Journalism and Multimedia Arts Department at Duquesne University. She received her B.A. in Graphic Design from St. Vincent College.