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Build Your Career Office Life

Fashion Faux Pas? Dressing For Success in a 'Casual' Workplace

Fashion Faux Pas? Dressing For Success in a 'Casual' Workplace
Credit: NanD_PhanuwatTH/Shutterstock

Although half of all businesses have relaxed their dress codes in the last five years, some employees are still pushing the limits on what's acceptable attire, according to a new study from the staffing firm OfficeTeam.

Nearly 80 percent of those surveyed said "dressing too casually" and "showing too much skin" are the two most common dress code faux pas they see. Having visible tattoos and piercings, having ungroomed facial hair, wearing too many accessories and having extreme hair colors and styles are among the other most common dress code violations employees make.

Because dress code language like "too casual" and "too revealing" can be subjective, Brandi Britton, district president of OfficeTeam, said employers must be diligent about enforcing their dress codes and setting clear expectations. [Dressing for Your Job Interview: Fit Matters ]

"If one employee gets away with ignoring the dress code, others will soon follow or they will resent the employee for breaking the rules and getting away with it," Britton told Business News Daily.

When bosses do see dress code violations, it's important they address the issue. Britton suggests that rather than singling out individuals, managers should send out an all-staff email or post reminders for everyone to review when employees start dressing inappropriately.

"If the staff reminder doesn't work and you need to address a specific individual, it's wise to get the HR department involved as they can provide advice to help manage that conversation," she said. "When discussing the issue, it's best to not let the conversation get personal — keep it business-focused."

While employers need to enforce their dress codes, employees also need to ensure they are making wise fashion choices.

"A casual dress code doesn't mean that anything goes," Britton said. "Staff should always look professional and project an image that reflects positively on the business."

To help employees meet their employers' fashion expectations, OfficeTeam has identified several questions workers should be asking when getting dressed for work each day.

  • Does the outfit adhere to company policy? If there is a written dress code, it is critical to abide by it. If there isn't, try following the example your managers or co-workers are setting to guide your choices.
  • Are you showing a lot of skin? Tank tops and shorts are fine for the beach or running errands, but it's likely to be interpreted as less than professional in a work setting. Avoid outfits that show a lot of skin, and try erring on the side of caution when showing off your tattoos or piercings.
  • Is the outfit distracting? While you might love wearing crazy colors and prints, they tend to attract attention for the wrong reasons. Neutral colors and simple patterns are safer options in most workplaces.
  • Am I going overboard? Besides your clothes, it is also a good idea to take a subtle approach to the jewelry, makeup, perfume and cologne you wear.
  • Is the outfit offensive? Avoid wearing clothes that have profanity, political opinions or other questionable material on them.
  • Does it look sloppy? Before heading out the door, give yourself one final look in the mirror. Check for wrinkled, ripped or stained garments. While wrinkles or stains might not offend anyone, it can make you look rather unprofessional.
  • Am I confident in it? It is important to feel comfortable in the clothes you wear. If you're uncomfortable in what you're wearing, it will show. Choose outfits that fit well and don't require a lot of readjusting.

Overall, the majority of workers prefer a less formal dress code. Nearly 60 percent of those surveyed said they prefer to work for employers that have a business casual dress code, casual dress code or no dress code at all. Just 18 percent of workers would want to work for a company that has a formal dress code.

Businesses that are looking to establish a dress code or change their current policies should always consult their legal counsel in order to avoid any discrimination issues, according to Britton.

"When establishing dress codes, employers often consider their specific corporate culture and if there's a certain image they want workers to project," Britton said. "While dress code policies vary across industries and job positions, it's important for companies to keep in mind what rules may help keep workers productive and comfortable in their roles."

The study was based on surveys of more than 300 senior managers at U.S. companies with 20 or more employees, and more than 350 U.S. workers employed in office environments.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has nearly 15 years experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.