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Are you dressing the part?

August 10, 2015
By Alyson Hayward

Companies and HR teams put a lot of thought and consideration into dress codes. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, dress code policies are designed for the work being performed, factoring in evolving circumstances like seasons and holidays. How employees present themselves can establish the image of the organization, setting the tone of what the company is about to internal and external audiences alike. I recently purchased a car; the salesman was dressed in trousers and a button down long sleeve shirt with a tie. I can honestly say I’m not sure how confident I’d be making that purchase had he been wearing shorts and flip-flops. His outfit was professional and fitting for a workplace such as a car dealership. But how do you know if you’re apparel fits your work environment?

Although we’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, when it comes to appearance in the workplace, how you present yourself is important because you’re representing more than just yourself, you’re representing your entire organization. There are a number of different dress codes out there, and different resources may offer inconsistent advice, making it tough to draw a distinction between “business formal” and “business casual,” for example. Here, we provide some guidance on how to interpret the codes.

  • Business formal: Business formal is commonly required for formal meetings or luncheons with clients. This dress code calls for men to wear suits with a tie, dark socks and clean dark shoes. Women should wear a pantsuit, skirt and blazer or tailored dress with pumps. When it comes to accessories, such as jewelry or perfume/cologne, both men and women should practice modesty and good taste.
  • Executive or business casual: According to Business Insider, for men, the business casual dress code means button down shirts; perhaps a sports coat—depending on the season; clean, neatly pressed slacks and un-scuffed loafers. Women adhere to this dress code by wearing shirts; again, perhaps a blazer in colder months; slacks or a knee-length skirt and closed-toe pumps.
  • Smart casual: Judging by the name, you might think you can wear anything you want under a smart casual dress code. Smart casual has room to give your personal flair, but you still need to look put together and your outfit should be thought out. Denim jeans or jackets are not acceptable, nor are shorts, hats, open-toed shoes/flip-flops or shirts with any writing/logos or slogans of any kind. Men should think about dark trousers, long-sleeved shirts, cardigans or jackets. For women, the smart casual dress code means trousers, mid-length dresses or skirts, solid or patterned dressy shirts (no writing), basic shoes such as flats, and perhaps some simple accessories such as a little jewelry or a scarf. 

Please note, some exceptions or modifications may occur to a stated dress code in order protect employees from discrimination.

It’s always best to review your company’s handbook for the official policy and check with HR if you have concerns. Look out for a summer policy as well—as seasons change, your dress code may change as well.

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Alyson Hayward is a newbie blogger testing the waters. A native New Englander, she enjoys the beauty of four seasons but would prefer spending her time only in the warmer ones. When she’s not at work, you can find her exploring the city or daydreaming about the beach.

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