Earlier this week, USA Today featured a fascinating article about business casual attire. The paper found that in 2002, 53-percent of employers listed their dress code as “business casual.” Now, only 38-percent do.
The article also found a company who spelled out in their policy that cleavage-baring tops, torn clothing and “exposed thong undergarments” were not appropriate for work. Have we really fallen so far that we need to be told that whale tail isn’t work attire?
Implementing a business casual dress code implies that you trust the judgment of your employees to decide what is casual while still being appropriate for a professional environment. Unfortunately, a good percentage of staffers at the U.S. Capitol and elsewhere would rather focus on the casual than the business.
The article features a woman in her mid-twenties who wore an outfit to work that was so inappropriately casual, she was asked not to attend a meeting so that a client wouldn’t see her. They literally hid her away like clutter, but she still didn’t understand that/why this outfit wasn’t okay for a professional office.
image courtesy of USAToday
Flip-flops, shorts and t-shirts are not casual business attire. This outfit is, at best, backyard BBQ, baseball game or day at the beach attire. And the fact that a woman looked into her closet, saw this outfit and thought, “Perfect for work,” makes my head throb like Ben-Hur is hosting a chariot race in my cranium. (Not that the outfit they picked for her was any better.)
When the paper asked her why she thought she should be allowed to wear this to work, she described normal business attire as “stifling,” claimed it hurt her creativity and said that being comfortable allowed her to “focus on her work.” Seriously?
First off, her outfit is NOT creative, so let me disabuse her of that notion right away. This is soccer Mom at a PTA picnic (no offense to the stylish soccer Moms), not Grace Coddington-esque self expression. So please don’t use the First Amendment right to have a sense of style as an excuse for being completely clueless about proper codes of dress. Because let’s be honest, it doesn’t take a lot of creativity to choose the teal t-shirt.
I also can’t believe that even after being told this outfit is wrong, she is still defending it. Her lack of self-awareness is mind blowing.
Look at your co-workers, look at your clients, look at the people in your industry, and if you are more casually dressed than they are, you are clearly the problem. Don’t defend yourself with a cadre of pitiful excuses and an argument so lacking in merit that it would make Socrates laugh out loud. Simply go home, and wear something better tomorrow. Lesson learned.
Secondly, your employer is not asking you to surrender an essential part of your being by having a dress code. He is asking you to dress like a professional who respects your clients, your bosses and yourself.
You are a reflection of your employer. Thus, what you wear is a reflection of your employer. So your Boss is the final arbiter of what is and what is not appropriate for work. If you find this stifling, then maybe this company isn’t the right fit for you.
When employees wear weekend attire to work and call it business casual, I get really frustrated. This is especially true in the case of Hill staffers. We gripe all the time about how no one respects government employees and the tiring, difficult, emotionally taxing work that we do here. But we definitely don’t help the voter’s impression of us when we show up for work in shorts, flip-flops, mini-skirts, tank tops, halter tops, and wrinkled clothing. When the constituents are dressed better than you are, that is a problem.
Impressions matter, and you are a reflection of your boss/company/Member of Congress. If you take your job seriously, you need to dress like a serious professional, not like a woman on her way to a cruise vacation.
Now, I know that some of you have always worked in casual environments where the rules are bent and broken regularly, so I’m going to help you out. Next week, is going to be Business Casual Week. There will be jeans, and t-shirts, and chinos, (oh my!) but every outfit will be professional.
Additionally, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. What is appropriate for a business casual workplace or a casual Friday? What is inappropriate? And why do you think so many women are dressing like above and then making excuses for themselves?