Categorized | Workplace

Work Dress Codes

Posted on 27 November 2008

It seems like, everywhere you turn these days, the media is full of images that suggest sexy dress is acceptable for the workplace. Plunging necklines, bare backs, and micro-minis are the norm on television shows like Ally McBeal and Sex and the City. And now that Julia Roberts has won an Oscar for her busty performance in Erin Brockovich, it’s any HR professional’s guess what will turn up at the office next.

When it comes to provocative dress in the workplace, the primary offenders are women. Seductive dressing errors stem from a misguided selection of clothing, shoes, and accessories–as well as a fundamental misunderstanding of appropriate professional attire.

While Erin Brockovich used sexy dress to her advantage, businesswomen who dress to excess can expect to pay a heavy social price. Relying on physical attributes instead of your brains can profoundly change the way fellow employees feel about and interact with you. Furthermore, if you always dress inappropriately in the workplace, you may cause colleagues to jump to conclusions about your character. Co-workers could very well assume that a woman who relies on her body is not focused on work, not a team player, uneducated, using her sexuality to gain power. Anyway you look at it, flaunting your figure will ultimately sabotage your credibility at office.

The name of the game in business is to be noticed for your abilities–not your push-up bras, belly rings, or tight skirts.

It’s naive to think that the way you dress at work–or anywhere else–isn’t significant to how others view you. The next time you meet a new person, pay attention to how you form an impression about them. Visual information helps us to fill in the blanks regarding the way a person perceives themselves, situations, or events.

Another interesting method of wardrobe study is through movies and television. For instance, the way an actress is styled reinforces personality traits in her character. An example is Carrie, played by Sarah Jessica Parker, on Sex and the City. She’s a New York columnist who writes about, well, sex and the city. Her profession calls for her to wear designer outfits and accessories because she moves in the trendiest circles in Manhattan. In order for her to get the scoop, she’s got to look the part. Carrie’s dress is sexy, revealing, sassy, and provocative–just like her columns.

But this is pure fantasy, not reality. Don’t take your styling cues from television or film because the wardrobe choices are exaggerated whenever creative license is involved. Instead, follow these 10 simple guidelines to ensure you are building a wardrobe filled with visual credibility and professional style.

1. Hair

Yes: Off the face, clean, conditioned, and sleek.
No: Teased, over-accessorized (no chip clips), over-processed, or extensive roots.

2. Make-Up

Yes: Clean, simple, daytime natural or neutral makeup.
No: Black eyeliner, bold colors (blues, greens), and evening lipsticks such as red, hot pink, and burgundy.

3. Earrings

Yes: Small, simple, chic, and no larger than a dime.
No: Hoops, multiple earrings (more than two), gimmicky or novelty earrings.

4. Necklace

Yes: Delicate, chic, and simple.
No: Religious symbols, thick or long chains, chokers, or more than one necklace.

5. Wristwatch

Yes: Elegant and sleek.
No: Too sporty, flashy (diamonds), trendy, or big.

6. Tops

Yes: Tops should have at least one inch of room between body and fabric, a nude color bra for light fabrics, and should hit the top of your pants or skirt.
No: Pulling, pinching, bra-revealing snugness, no bra, sheer fabrics, beads or distracting patterns, revealing your stomach, breasts, back, or shoulders.

7. Skirts

Yes: Skirts two inches below or above the knee.
No: No flowing, floral, romantic, or see-through fabrics.

8. Pants

Yes: One inch of room between skin and fabric, neutral colors.
No: Capri pants, patterns, sheer fabrics, too tight, hip huggers, bright colors, athletic wear.

9. Dresses

Yes: One inch between skin and fabric, length to about two inches from knee.
No: Brightly colored or patterned, sheer fabric, and halter dresses.

10. Shoes

Yes: Two-inch heels or lower, closed toe, sling backs.
No: Sandals, platforms, evening or open toe, bright colors or patterns, sneakers.

Make certain that your clothing choices properly reflect the event or situation you are about to attend. For a few visual style tips, visit the Web sites of Lands’ End, Liz Claiborne, and Kenneth Cole.

The name of the game in business is to be noticed for your abilities–not your push-up bras, belly rings, or tight skirts. No matter what your intention, styling yourself in an overtly sexual manner robs you of credibility. And remember, you don’t have to give up a seductive look altogether: You can save your sexy attire for the evenings, weekends, and holidays. You’ll be happy expressing yourself through dress the way you like and your co-workers won’t take offense.

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