Over the past few years, I have seen employers step away from the usual formal business dress code (suits, buttoned shirts, ties) to a more casual one (khakis, jeans, polo shirts), and I must admit I am not a fan. I know that clothing does not determine a person’s knowledge or competence, but I have learned the first five minutes of any meeting or interaction is very important to how one is perceived. So how you are dressed does influence others’ perceptions of you , which can affect your career and future opportunities.
In my experience, companies with a casual dress code policy need to be very specific when it comes to defining what “casual” actually is, because everyone’s interpretation is very different. I have also learned that people dress for many different reasons; some people dress to advance their careers, some dress to be fashionable, some dress to express who they are, some dress to be attractive and some dress with no particular goal or purpose. For some companies, going the casual route ultimately results in having to police employees to make sure there are no dress code offenders, which ends up with the company going back to a formal business attire policy.
With this recent trend in casual dress code, I have seen things that I would never wear to work: men in graphic t-shirts, flip-flops, shorts, tight jeans and dirty tennis shoes and women in short skirts, tight jeans, the high/low dress or skirt, midriff tops, leggings (no top covering the buttocks) and shorts. I recall when I was in middle school and taking a business class that taught me you dress for the job you want, not the job you have but I guess those lines are a little blurred at the moment.
I have been living in California for four years and the casual dress code is very popular here but I still have not bought into it yet. When I select my attire for the day, it usually includes dress slacks, a collared shirt and dress shoes. On Fridays, I prefer to wear khakis, not jeans because in my opinion jeans are uncomfortable and I usually don’t feel like I’m going to work when I wear them. Honestly, I really miss the days of wearing and seeing men and women in formal business attire. I can’t speak for others but wearing formal business attire made me feel like an adult and I had a “real” job.
Ultimately, you’ve got to make sure your attire is appropriate for the situation and audience, and know the difference between work attire and happy hour/club attire. My advice to anyone joining a new organization; find out the dress code and dress accordingly for your position, department and you. First impressions are critical and you cannot get them back!