6 Tips on What to Wear at Work

what to wear to work


Even if there is no official dress code at your work, that doesn’t mean anything goes. Nobody really minds piercings, tattoos or nose-rings any more, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t dos and don’ts when it comes to office apparel and what to wear to work.

Depending on the type of employer, there may be nods, winks and more that suggest an employee go home and change if they are too suggestive on the shop floor.

You Can Bank on it

No boss can tell anyone what to wear or what not to wear at work anymore, and the fact is that there are very few employers these days who have a protocol or dress code.

But some employers, like banks and other financial institutions, still expect employees to know what not to wear and to come to work in some form of “business attire.”

Although it is not as formal as it once was, this still means a dress shirt and tie for men, and women can wear modest skirts or pants with a nice blouse. Neutral colors are preferred except for a splash of color in a tie or scarf.

There is also the “don’t show me rule” in the what-not-to-wear category that applies to any jewelry aside from earrings, which are now acceptable for both sexes, and certainly no visible tattoos.

Assume the Relaxed Position

Most businesses have moved away from straight business attire to the more popular, and certainly more relaxed, “business casual” style. For men this concession means that most of the time it’s okay to come to work without a jacket, but a tie and non-wrinkled shirt still apply.

For women, skirts are still expected to be more conservative and not shocking pink or any variation of neon. Sneakers or running shoes almost always fall into the what-not-to-wear category, but sandals are often fine, especially in the summer.

Casual Everyday

The next category is the one that appears to be causing managers and human resource people the most difficulty.

It is the emerging “casual” dress code that many in the younger generations are adopting as their own. The reason that it is causing so much trouble is that no one seems to know how to interpret it.

The casual dress code grew out of the popular “casual Fridays” phenomenon in the 1990s when employers tried to boost their workers’ morale by allowing them to dress in blue jeans one day of the week.

Don’t Reveal Everything

Unless the business is a retro clothing store, then it’s okay to give employees some general guidelines on what casual actually means and be clear on what to wear to work.

A general rule of thumb is that most skin and almost all body parts should have a layer of clothing. Neat, clean, and conservative is preferred. Sweats, tank tops, flip flops and cut-off jeans are not acceptable.

Clean, well-maintained sneakers should be okay, and T-shirts that do not contain advertisements for a beer company or any type of political slogan should also be alright.

It’s Comfort that Counts

If there’s no rule about what not to wear or even suggested clothing or appearance suggestions, then employees should feel free to dress in the way that makes them feel most comfortable, even at work.

Comfort is fine, and during the summer months you can get away with a lot more (or less), as some leeway is usually given to staff who wish to dress a little less formally than during other parts of the year.

Dress for Success

Just remember that good taste is always in season and that if you want to be treated professionally, you not only have to act the part, you should look professional as well.

It may be true that you can’t judge a book by its cover, but you may not get as much respect in a tank top as with a put-together look at work.

No one may legislate what not to wear at work, but if you respect yourself and want others to do the same, check your look in the mirror before you head off to work.

(Image courtesy of Fatma .M under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 generic license.)


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Mike Martin is a freelance writer and consultant specializing in workplace wellness and conflict resolution. He is the author of Change the Things You Can (Dealing with Difficult People). For more information about Mike please visit: Change the Things You Can

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