According to a 1998 Society for Human Resource Management
survey, 36 percent of organizations have daily casual dress and another 61%
allow casual dress once a week. Interestingly enough though, a recent poll
by the national employment law firm, Jackson Lewis, found that 40 percent of
human resource managers linked relaxed attire to a laxity in workplace
behavior, 44 percent noticed an increase in tardiness and absenteeism; and
30 percent noted a rise in flirting. Yet, improved morale, increased
camaraderie–especially between managers and staff–comfort, and a better
work environment are some of the effects cited of casual dress in the
While offering many perceived
benefits, casual dress can also open the proverbial can of worms. It’s
no wonder then that managers and employees alike are left struggling
with many concerns. In fact, some businesses are hiring consultants to
help employees determine what is appropriate for work, and what is
better left at home.
Keep in mind that casual dress has
more than one definition. It means different things for different
companies. Casual dress at IBM for example, is unlikely to be the same
as casual dress at Advertising Age magazine or at a chemical
manufacturing plant or other industrial-type organization, and so on.
One thing for sure, casual dress does not mean "slob" dress.
Guidelines on what is and is not appropriate are important.
A broad definition of casual
business dress would be clothing that allows you to feel comfortable
at work, yet always look neat and professional. On the inappropriate,
unacceptable list are jogging or sweat suits, spandex, jeans (in some
organizations), miniskirts, cutoffs, tank tops, muscle shirts,
t-shirts with indecent sayings, and anything too tight, too sheer, too
low-cut. This may seem like common sense, but too many times we’ve
seen employees take the concept of casual days a bit too far. An
employee I know equated the casual look with the unshaven, disheveled,
rolled-out-of-bed, ready-to-wash-the-car look. Always remember, there
is no substitute for good taste. In general, a quick check in the
mirror each morning should be enough to tell you if you’re on the
right track. If you look like you’re dressed to go somewhere other
than work, you probably aren’t dressed appropriately.
The actual mix of casual clothing in
your work setting depends on the work you do, the comfort level of
your co-workers and management, the nature of your contacts with
customers outside the company, and adherence to your company’s
casual dress policy.
It is important for organizations to
develop a casual dress policy in an effort to communicate its
expectations of what is meant by casual dress and what is acceptable
as well as unacceptable. Also, as with most other things, management
must set the tone. Managers not only talking the talk, but walking the
walk will help employees maintain the appropriate level of
professionalism for the organization.
Centuries ago, Shakespeare wrote,
".... and the apparel oft proclaims the man." Here we are
centuries later, and research psychologists are still telling us that
it takes approximately 10 to 15 seconds to create a first impression.
Fair or not, like it or not, we never get a second chance to make a
first impression, and those critical first impressions are lasting
Your appearance simply complements
all the great stuff you already have going for you. It gives you a
psychological edge. Though most of us would prefer to be judged by our
knowledge, skills and ability only–in today’s competitive business
world, every message we send needs to be positive. So that means not
only do you need the knowledge, skills and ability–you also should
look the part of a competent, credible, self-confident business person–even
in casual dress.
A final word: One of the most
important points to remember about casual dress is that the company’s
image comes before your image. What you wear to work should work for
the greater good, not against it. While casual dress, for the most
part, may be in place to boost morale, in the end, business is still
business and you need to dress accordingly.
now: Casual Dress in the Workplace: 101