Things About Work I Wish I Knew Earlier #10 – Dress the Part

I have written a lot in the first nine postings in this series about things I’ve learned not to do.  Now it’s time to turn to things to do.  I’m going to start with something that seems obvious but is violated all the time.

10. Dress the Part

It is so tempting at work these days to push the limits on dress and personal appearance to get comfortable.  I don’t limit this observation to the younger crowd.  Perhaps I’m old school on this, but I believe how someone dresses at work says a lot about them and can impact their future.

People get noticed for dressing below or beyond the office’s dress code.  That’s right.  You get noticed if you go beyond what’s necessary.  If your office is “business casual,” don’t wear a tie every day.  At first, it might be interesting.  Then it become “cute.”  After a while, you become “that guy who wears a tie everyday.”  No need.  (There are parallels here with women in business suits.)

Dressing below the dress code is a more obvious concern.  Over my 20+ years in the workplace I’ve seen some amazing things.  I’ve seen women wear shirts so low and skirts so high that I had to look away.  I’ve seen women wear heels so long that they could not even walk.  I’ve seen guys wear shirts and pants with obvious stains and holes and 10-year-old concert t-shirts with flip-flops on casual days.  I’ve seen people show up in t-shirts with marijuana leaves emblazoned on the front.  And, I have seen far too much men’s and women’s underwear exposed when they stretch or reach for something.  If you are wearing a black thong, I really don’t need to know.

It is important to remind ourselves that dress is relative to your workplace’s dress code norm or rules.  You need to make sure that you fit in with the people around you.  For example, folks here in St. Louis probably (certainly?) dress differently than folks in Manhattan.  I think we’re at least 12 months behind on fashion trends here.  If someone showed up at our offices right off the catwalks of New York City, they would probably catch some eyes.

Here are some more specific recommendations:

Short Sleeve Dress Shirt with Tie? NEVER!!

  1. At companies where meeting with senior executives is rare, put on a suit.  Show that respect, even if the senior execs aren’t in suits.
  2. When you travel for business, do not dress way down.  In other words, either dress as you do in the office or dress casually, but appropriately.  Don’t revert ever to shorts, t-shirt, and flip-flops on business travel.  You never know whom you might meet along the way, including colleagues and customers.
  3. Follow the lead of the senior executives as regards casual days, if your office is not always casual.  In our company, the senior executives do not wear jeans on jeans days.  Right or wrong, they don’t.  I recommend following their lead.
  4. If your office is casual, take care as to how casual you get.  Beware of what your t-shirts say.  No pajama pants.  You might not get fired for dressing way down, but you won’t be appreciated either.
  5. Spend a little bit extra than you need to on clothes.  People can tell.
  6. Vary what you wear.  Don’t wear white shirts and khakis every day or a black dress every day.

The bottom line here is that you want to be viewed as professional, whether you work in a retail store, a small design firm, a factory, or a large corporation.  Your clothes should be clean, proper, tucked-in, and within the norms.

One last pet peeve.  Men – please, please, please don’t wear ties with short-sleeve dress shirts!  In fact, don’t wear short-sleeve dress shirts at all.


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