You can tell a lot of things about a person by the clothes that he or she wears. This line of thinking kept hold and became deeply rooted for so long that it has even been looked into by psychologists. Dr. Jennifer Baumgartner, a clinical psychologist and author of the book “You Are What You Wear: What Your Clothes Reveal About You” called it the “psychology of dress”. Others term it as “fashion psychology”.
Judgments about one’s character and personality are almost always automatically made just with one glance at what the person is wearing.We can make deductions about a person’s background, income, occupation, affiliations, and even sexual orientation, values and cultural identity, among other things.
It goes without saying that, if you want to be judged in a certain way, one of the things you should take note of is the way you dress. No wonder it has become one of the criteria or yardsticks used by recruitment managers and human resource specialists in hiring and recruitment processes.
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Workplaces, schools, and other settings have established their own rules or guidelines when it comes to dressing up (or down, as the case may be). We call them “dress codes”.
In this guide, we explore 1) the concept of the dress code, 2) what is business attire, 3) the different types of business attire, and 4) what to avoid in this dress code.
A dress code is a set of rules regarding the clothing that must be worn by the members belonging to the group bound by the code. These rules may be written but the cases where they are unwritten do not make them any less valid.
Many people assume that dress codes dictate what should be worn where and when. However, it also covers how these clothes should be worn. In some instances, the dress codes also touch on the personal hygiene of the employees, putting great emphasis on looking presentable rather than eye-catching, and looking pleasing over being downright attractive.
Does the dress code have a great impact on an organization’s attainment of its goals and objectives? There is no definitive YES or NO answer to this question, as evidenced by many successful companies today doing very well despite not having a dress code.
Take a look at Google, for example. The company has consistently topped the list of best companies to work for, especially in recent years, causing many brilliant and innovative talents and brains to flock to it, hoping they will get employment with the company. Google does not have a dress code.
In fact, a glimpse of the Google offices will likely show you employees who are dressed in jeans and shirts. Some are wearing button-downs while others are in relaxed or baggy clothes. Clearly, there is no strict dress code that the employees are expected to follow.
The dress code is seen as one way to communicate the culture and values of an organization or company, and even aid it in its goal attainment. In fact, some would even go so far as to say that the dress code is a tool for brand management, since it has something to do with how the organization manages external perception.
On a personal level, employees tend to seek a sense of belonging in the workplace, and adhering to rules and regulations is one way to demonstrate that they are part of the team or the organization. By dressing according to the rules set out in the company dress code, they are joining the others. They are part of the organization, and they are cooperating with the other employees.
Today, there are several dress codes applicable to different occasions and in different settings. They include casual wear, formal attire, cocktail attire, and even country club attire. For this discussion, we will talk about the Business Attire.
It is as straightforward as it sounds: business attire refers to what one wears in business settings, including corporate, government and academic settings. However, it is not limited to one look, since there are several type of business attire currently in use today.
The differences of in business attire are influenced by several factors, namely:
Setting or environment, and surrounding external circumstances
One primary consideration is the place where the individual will be in. There is an appropriate business attire for someone working in an office, and someone in a receptionist desk in the lobby of an office building.
Similarly, a person who goes to work in a location that experiences cold weather most of the year will also be observing a dress code that is different from someone whose offices are located in tropical countries.
Message that the organization wants to convey or deliver
A finance company would like to present itself in the industry as a dignified and reliable service provider, which is why it imposed a dress code that specifically requires employees to “look smart and look clean”.
That effectively removes tank tops and unpolished shoes out of the equation.
Nature of work or task involved
There are tasks or jobs that require the workers or employees to dress in a certain manner.
As an example, let us look into the marketing department of a retail company. If you look to the corner of the office where the PR specialists and marketing analysts are, you may find them wearing tailored pants and pencil skirts, paired with pristine and pressed button-down shirts or collared blouses.
Now if you turn to the other end of the office, where the employees who are in charge of graphic and creative design are holed up in, you will no doubt find them comfortably clad in jeans, sneakers, and flannel shirts. That is because they are not usually required to go out and interact with clients of the company, which is what the PR specialists often do.
Culture of the organization and top management
The culture of an organization also has a lot to do with how its dress code is developed. An organization that is largely conservative tends to apply a traditional attitude towards its employees’ dressing.
Let us take the example of the publication Newsweek. It used to have a relaxed and casual dress code, with the staff free to choose their own clothes and accessories. Things became shaken up with the change of management, when new owner International Business Times (IBT) imposed a dress code with strict and specific rules, which include the following:
- Specific tips for maintenance of personal hygiene (which the old management was not really all that concerned with).
- Banned clothing such as open-toed footwear, microminis and other extremely short bottoms, and midriff-baring shirts and tops.
- Specific prohibition on having any hair color other that “natural” or business-style hair color.
- Tattoos and body piercings, except for earrings, must be covered or kept hidden at all times in the workplace, or when representing the organization.
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The types of business attire are categorized depending on the degrees of formality involved. We will now take a look at the different types of business attire adapted in the dress codes of organizations.
Have you ever heard of the phrase “dress to impress”? That is often associated when one opts to wear a business attire.
Traditional Business Attire
This business attire is most probably the default type that most people think of when they hear the phrase. Look at the old-school organizations with a traditional or highly conservative attitude, and this is normally how they would require their students to dress.
Think skirt or pant suits paired with formal business tops or blouses for women. Those wearing skirts will wear stockings and choose a pair of closed leather shoes. They are advised to keep their perfume subtle, and the type of jewelry understated yet elegant.
Men, on the other hand, may be toting a brief case where they put their business documents in. They wear leather shoes, and choose a conservative pen tucked into their breast pocket.
Since this is traditional, propriety is of utmost importance. There is no room for revealing clothing here, because you have to be as covered as you possibly can. Avoid clothing that reveal your cleavage or your midriff. It goes without saying that backless pieces are also unwelcome in this dress code.
Where to wear it
This is usually seen in a traditional and formal business environment. Boardrooms, or places where top management or senior managers convene for strategic meetings may be seen sporting these attire.
If you go to work every day in an office where you are required to wear something conservative as to give off a professional vibe, then you are following the Business Professional type of attire. It is safe to say that this dress code is the basic type.
Companies that impose this dress code type want to achieve want thing: to portray the company – through its employees – as professionals that clients can trust and rely on. At the same time, it also presents the company to be somewhat conservative, without being overly rigid in sticking to the traditional.
Men can ditch their dress shoes and opt for comfortable leather shoes instead. They can trade their dress shirts and dark suits with a button down shirt and a blazer, or even a suit jacket of a lighter color.
The tie need not be silk, and the linen squares may be removed altogether. Women are not limited to wearing skirts, because they may choose to use a pants suit instead.
Where to wear it
Day-to-day office work in offices that are primarily focused on functions on finance, accounting and other corporate divisions often require the professional look. If you are headed to an important meeting where you will be put in a position of having to convince someone, this is also the go-to outfit.
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To put this type simply, take a look at the usual professional attire you use daily. Upgrade it – make it dressier without going over the top – and you have Business Formal. It is definitely a bit dressier than the business professional attire.
For example, men may wear a dress suit and a silk tie, completed by a suit of a dark color. This also often calls for cufflinks and silk or linen pocket squares to be worn. Instead of practical leather shoes, they will go for dress shoes that go well with the pants or the suit that they are wearing.
Women, on the other hand, may take their inspiration from the traditional business attire, but choosing a blouse or top made of silk or some other smooth material. A skirt is preferred over a pantsuit, and the shoes must be pumps or heels with closed toes.
Where to wear it
Business functions and events that take place in the evenings, such as dinners and galas, and maybe even award ceremonies, will be appropriate settings for one to wear a formal attire.
Comfort is the primary consideration when business casual attire is mentioned. The management wants its employees to work comfortably, so they are not so rigid when it comes to the dress code. However, they still have to look professional.
When they say business casual, you can say goodbye to having to wear a suit. A tie is also not a requirement among men. There is a misconception among many people that casual means that you can wear denim jeans and T-shirts. We should not forget that we are talking about “business casual”, instead of simply “casual”.
The safest option would include both men and women wearing a shirt with a collar, or paired with a sweater. In this dress code, you will rarely go wrong when you are wearing something with a collar.
Women may also opt to wear dresses and skirts, as long as they keep to the conservative side. Nothing should go higher than the knees, revealing thighs. They also have more options when it comes to footwear; boots may be worn and paired with pants, dresses or skirts.
Where to wear
This is a safe outfit to a normal day at the office, or even when you have to go out and meet clients that you need to impress.
Smart Business Casual
This is simply a slight modification of the business casual attire. You can say that it lies somewhere between business casual and business professional. It definitely results in a look that is more textured than a casual attire, but not too stiff as to be too formal or traditional.
Employees follow the basics of the business casual type of dressing, but they kick things up a notch to make it look more professional and put together. This is where they can be free with their fashion preferences, throwing in tailored sweaters, embroidered jackets and tops, and pairing them with dress pants or skirts.
The goal of this dress code is to make the employee look smart and exude more confidence.
Where to wear it
This is also perfect for the office. Going to job interviews, or interviewing for a promotion are also excellent times to go smart with your business casual attire.
The different types of business attire may have their own specific rules on what to wear and how to wear the clothes. However, they are all in agreement when it comes to what to avoid when you want to follow this dress code.
- Avoid wearing sloppy clothing. Do not wear clothes that are stained, wrinkled, or tattered and worn. Many think that tracksuits and sweatpants may be appropriate for work, and unless your company allows it, avoid them at all costs. Make sure they are laundered and pressed, and there are no stray threads or torn hems.
- Avoid inappropriate clothes. Stay away from clothes that are too revealing or racy, as they may be offensive to other people. Inappropriate clothes may also include those that are form-fitting, or hug too close to the skin. Some tops may even have designs, prints or words that are potentially offensive or harmful. Statement shirts should be evaluated several times before being considered as a worthy addition to your business attire wardrobe.
- Avoid ill-fitting clothes. Clothes that are too loose or too tight will have an impact on how others will view you. Aside from that, they are also likely to bring you some discomfort, especially if you have to wear them all day.
- Avoid over-accessorizing. Be tasteful in your choice of jewelry. And how much you will pile on. Between pearl studs and dangling diamond drop or loop earrings, the pearl will give you a more business-like and professional look. Piling on the necklaces, bracelets and the rings may also give others a wrong impression, and they won’t take you seriously.
- Wear comfortable clothes and shoes. Remember that you will be wearing them the whole day, while you are off going about your work or assigned tasks. Therefore, it is important to put your comfort in consideration. Check that your shoes do not pinch your toes.
- Always maintain proper hygiene. Well-groomed hair and clean nails are only a couple of the many points that you should take into account when it comes to personal hygiene. You may be wearing the right clothes, but if you haven’t bathed or your hair is all over the place, you just ruined the entire picture you were trying to paint.
Business formal includes a dark pants suit, dark suit and tie, a black suit with a light button-down shirt, skirt suit or suit dress. In some cases, a long evening dress may be appropriate. Shoe options include formal flats, heels, Oxfords or loafers. Accessorize with jewelry, belts, a tie clip, or small cuff links.
- Make sure to answer all aspects of the question.
- Be truthful about the dress code policy.
- Mention if your dress code is typical for this line of work.
- Talk about any specific policies you have.
Professional / Business Interview Attire
Generally, a job interview calls for you to wear professional, or business, attire. For men, this might mean a suit jacket and slacks with a shirt and tie or a sweater and button-down. For women, a blouse and dress pants or a statement dress is appropriate.
To represent your company
Dressing professionally helps you present a positive, professional image of your organization to others. Even if you dress casually or wear a uniform, making sure you look neat and put together can improve the reception you receive.
Jeans are usually considered business casual, with some exceptions. Business casual jeans should be clean and in good condition, free of any tears, fading or fraying. Avoid bright-colored jeans or styles that have flashy details, in favor of classic styles that you can pair with accessories or layers as needed.
One way to ask about the dress code is to be direct. If you spoke with a recruiter or hiring manager on the phone, you can simply ask them what the dress code is ahead of your interview or the first day of work. If you have already been hired, they might forget to mention the dress code to you.
In general, business casual for women includes a skirt or slacks, a blouse, a blazer and an appropriate heel or flat for the office. Business casual do's for women include: Skirts or slacks. Staple pieces include a few pairs of dress slacks and an assortment of knee-length pencil skirts.
Questions to Start the Conversation
What do you think about students who protested their school's dress codes? Do you agree that dress codes unfairly target girls and why? Why do schools have dress codes? What do you think should be included in a dress code?
Definitely keep things positive—you have nothing to gain by being negative about your current employer. Instead, frame things in a way that shows that you're eager to take on new opportunities and that the role you're interviewing for is a better fit for you.
The key components of business smart are dark and neutral colours with well made and tailored pieces. Suits, Blazers, Trousers and Dresses can be worn in a variety of cuts however all need to be conservative in style and worn with appropriate footwear and accessories.
A simple formula for answering “Tell me about yourself”
Present: Talk a little bit about what your current role is, the scope of it, and perhaps a big recent accomplishment. Past: Tell the interviewer how you got there and/or mention previous experience that's relevant to the job and company you're applying for.
Business formal typically follows the below guidelines: For men: When it comes to men, formal dress code will usually involve a dark suit and tie. It is important to ensure that you have a matching pair of pants and jacket: wearing a black suit and a light button-down shirt is appropriate.
What is the difference between “business professional” and “business casual”? You may hear the phrases “business professional” and “business casual” to describe clothing that is appropriate for interviews. The main difference is the use of a two-piece suit for business professional attire.
The standard dress code in a business formal environment is a full matching business suit, including a jacket and dress pants or a dress skirt. The darker the suit, the more formal!