Workplace Rights

Weekly (8/20/12)

Topic of the Week  Fashion Do's and Don'ts

Fashion Do's and Don'ts, Executive Summary: 

  • Policy and industry norms.
  • Customer contact.
  • Change of clothing.
  • Not a distraction.

Fashion Statement: Fashion Do's and Don'ts at Work
Let me start this column about work fashion with a brief history of dressing down at work. In 1966 an entrepreneurial Hawaiian shirt manufacturer created "Aloha Fridays" where people were encouraged to wear Hawaiian shirts to work. You'll immediately notice this tradition if you watch the news in our 50th state on Fridays. Despite the nonstop selling from the Men's Wearhouse guy to keep us in suits, dressing down eventually morphed into "Casual Friday." During the recession the no-tie-and-dress brigade got a boost when many companies relaxed their policies as a way to provide a no-cost perk to employees. I've seen polls that say the major fashion no-no's at work today include: strapless, backless and see-through clothing, ripped or torn clothes, hoodies, cleavage and black shoes with white socks.

I didn't make that last one up, so most of the guys in Jersey need to spring for some colored socks moving forward. One interesting finding was that tattoos are both more common and more accepted than in years past. But all it takes is one hot day to throw your comfortable routine into a tizzy. Can I wear flip-flops or shorts to work? Which leads me to two questions, has all of this dressing down gone too far? And how do you successfully juggle your job and your "look" at work? I've got four strategies to help you sort it all out.

Policy and industry norms. Hospitals have different clothing vibe than a PR firm. So the place to start your fashion journey is to know your corporate policy and industry norms. I can't believe I'm quoting this old phrase, but there is some truth to the idea of "Dress for the position you want, not the one you have." Also do you really want to lose credibility where you earn your livelihood over an a fashion choice?

Customer contact. If you regularly deal with customers or top executives at your firm, you might be required to overdress compared to your peers. The bar is just higher for you than for your colleagues.

Change of clothing. I work at a TV station and there are racks of clothing and ties all over the place. Wherever you work, it makes sense to have a change of clothing ready to go at a moment's notice. You never know when a big customer or mucky-muck from HQ can wander through. Today we all need to be quick-change artists at work.

Not a distraction. Let's face it, you want people talking about the quality of your work not your threads. Sure an occasional compliment for a blouse or blazer is great. But if your sartorial choices become a regular topic of conversation for the office gossip mill, you probably need to spend some quality time with a department store personal shopper.

The last thing you need at work right now is a dressing down over dressing down. Dress like Lady Gaga and Flavor Flav on the weekends, but more like Clark Kent at work.

Wise Words:

"Eternal nothingness is fine if you happen to be dressed for it." Woody Allen

About the Author
Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, "The Boss's Survival Guide." If you have a question for Bob, contact him via

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