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Office attire should reflect professional appearance, whatever the season

Office attire should reflect professional appearance, whatever the season


Summer … Flip-flops, tank tops and shorts can be worn to attend a barbecue, but this type of casual clothing rarely qualifies as appropriate office attire. As the mercury rises and we enter the dog days of summer, some employees may have difficulty discerning what is acceptable to wear to work. We have all worked with or supervised individuals who pack up their common sense with their winter wardrobes. A bare midriff should never be a wardrobe choice in a business setting — even if it’s 115 degrees in the shade!

Of course, every workplace has its own culture that dictates what is acceptable in terms of dress. If your environment demands you greet customers, go on sales calls or interface with the public regularly, then your level of dress should reflect a professional appearance, no matter the season. Conversely, if you operate in a creative industry or never interact with customers, jeans or khakis and a nice shirt or blouse may be allowed.

Why is the way you, co-workers and employees dress so important? Branding and corporate image. Everyone who works for your company is a representative or extension of the image your business projects to clients, prospects and the general public. While everyone wants to relax and have fun during the summer, tank tops and huarache sandals may undermine the image your company portrays to the public the other eight months of the year. Your marketing message is partially conveyed by the way your employees dress. Don’t you remember your mother saying, “You never have a second chance to make a first impression”?

If you are an employee, sandals, tank tops, shorts, sleeveless shirts, short skirts or flip-flops might all be fashion faux pas at your company. Ask someone in human resources if ever in doubt about appropriate summer attire. I know managers who believe open-toed shoes or sleeveless shirts are simply not appropriate. Even though there may not be a formal policy banning certain items of clothing, observe those in upper management and take your cues from their attire. You should always dress for the job you want, not the job you have.

I advise managers and business owners to not leave the summer dress code open for employee interpretation. While a formal policy clearly outlining what is permissible in terms of a summer dress code may not be necessary, clear expectations should be given regarding strap width on tops, length of skirts, the types of shoes allowed or whether an untucked tropical shirt is permissible. The sales and management team needs to understand that, as an extension of the brand, they should not convey the non-verbal message that the company is “on vacation” during the summer.

I will admit ladies have more to consider as the variety of seasonal styles for women is ever changing. Who would have guessed department stores would offer business suits with cropped or capri-length pants? If there is a question as to whether this style is appropriate for your workplace, you should ask first, before investing in these types of wardrobe pieces.

Until quite recently, one local bank still required women on its staff wear skirts. I believe several currently require stockings to still be worn. My laid-back team of creative types might rebel, but some consumers may expect their banker to be a bit more conservative. In general, here are some tips to get you through the hot weather in a breeze:

• If your article of clothing seems too low-cut, strappy, short, see-through or strapless, then save it for the weekend.
• Go easy with the fragrance. The heat intensifies many scents.
• Observe or ask about the types of footwear preferred at your company; flip-flips are seldom, if ever, appropriate.
• Cropped pants may be a gray area at your workplace. If you are allowed to wear them, make sure they are dressier in nature, not embellished with a variety of cargo pockets.

• Because most men don’t have many style options to keep cool, fabrics are key. Try a wool trouser blended with linen or gabardine for a lighter-weight option. Add a silk short-sleeve button shirt and lightweight dress socks to help beat the summer heat.
• Tuck in your shirt, no matter the style. Belts and shoes that are the same color leather tend to give a more “pulled together” look with business casual clothing.
• If you are allowed some latitude in your summer attire and can wear upscale sandals to work, keep your feet in the best condition possible.
• T-shirts or chest hair peaking out of the top of a shirt is usually not appropriate for a business setting. Either button another button or consider a V-neck T-shirt underneath.
• Choose a light cologne. Again, some of the spicy scents can become overpowering in the heat.

Remember, comfort is important, but maintaining a professional appearance matters, too. With good communication and some discretion, summer clothing can maintain, not hinder, the company image.

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