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Working 9 to 5

You're getting ready for work – what should you wear?


It's common for employers to try to ease the strain of choosing appropriate work attire by providing a dress code for their employees, but, more often than not, these dos and don'ts provide more confusion than guidelines. Business casual? Business? Casual? When the closet's open and your wardrobe's staring back at you, what do these terms really mean?

We spoke with Jill Haney of JH Image Consulting, an image consultant who works with both individuals and businesses to set parameters for consistent, appropriate wardrobe guidelines. Haney gave us some tips for navigating the tricky terrain of office attire with confidence.

1. Know what 'business casual' really means. "True 'business casual' as it began in the late '80s is business attire, one piece removed. Or for men, the tie removed," Haney says. "Business casual has now evolved into khakis and polo shirts which, in my opinion, is completely inappropriate no matter where you work unless it's 'wear your I-work-at-such-and-such-place shirt to work' day and the shirt they provided you with is a golf shirt."

2. It's better to be overdressed than underdressed. "You can always dress down," Haney says. "We walk into a meeting and we're in traditional business attire or true business casual, we can always take the coat off, we can always roll up the sleeves. One of the things that happens when we are inappropriately dressed in a business setting is we become so hyperfocused on, 'Oh, my God, does anybody know that I'm inappropriately dressed?' that we lose focus on what we're supposed to be doing. Whenever we're appropriate in a business setting, we become more customer service focused. And we put the focus on the people around us and it makes us better at what we do."

3. Dress for the job you want, not the job you have. "All those clichés work," Haney says. "We can always look to the executives or our direct supervisors to see how they're dressing. It's really important, regardless of the dress code, that we dress to reflect our current success and what we want our future success to be. If you want to be the vice president of sales for a Fortune 100 company, then you better ditch the Dockers and the golf shirt, because an executive that high up in the company doesn't dress like that."

4. Dress to reflect the company, not just yourself. "Dress in a way that represents the brand of the company - what the company wants to be known for," Haney says. "It doesn't matter if you work in a creative position or in IT, you should dress to reflect the company's brand. If your employer strives to be known for excellence, then employees need to dress in a way that reflects that goal."

5. Consider your wardrobe an investment. "So many different studies have found that employers are willing to pay higher salaries to employees that are well-dressed," Haney says. "And another study states that 95 percent of HR reps believe that people dress inappropriately for their jobs. So it's important that we buy the highest quality pieces that we can afford - investing in our appearance as a component of our job. It's one of the best ways that we can achieve an effective image."

Wednesday, October 15, 2008 | CiN Weekly