What to wear in today’s office?

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When the temperature hits 100 degrees for the first time, HMA institutes “summer Fridays” as it relates to dress code.  That means if you don’t have a client meeting, you are welcome to wear more comfortable, cooler clothes.  Still need to be professional, but shorts and flip flops are acceptable.

I’ve been in the workplace long enough to remember when women wore heels and hose, men wore suits and ties.  Workplace attire has certainly gotten considerably more casual. But that does beg the question about what does business casual mean these days?

Anecdotal evidence says dress codes have loosened significantly over the last 5-10 years, particularly thanks to the demands of younger workers.

But that casual look doesn’t necessary mean that your clients and other business associates follow the same protocol.

So what is appropriate to wear to the office these days?

  • Dress for the meetings you are planning to attend. It is always better to dress up.
  • Bellies, boobs and bottoms. The three things that should always be covered up in the office.
  • Would you wear it to the beach? If so, it is probably not appropriate to the professional workplace.  Similarly, if you’d wear it to a black-tie dinner, save it for the evening functions.

I asked the U.S. members of the Public Relations Global Network what constitutes business casual in their office.  Here are some of their responses:

David Landis, Landis Communications, San Francisco:  Business casual at LCI means (for guys) a collared button down shirt or turtle neck and nice slacks, but we often wear jeans. For women - for business casual - you'll have to ask Brianne Murphy Miller (see below). Yes, we had one employee who wore unprofessional revealing clothes and had to tell her that was not professional. We always talk in advance about what to wear to a pitch - often we dress up, but in San Francisco that can be a demerit so we have to make a judgment call. For men, it means a sport jacket and nice slacks (not jeans) and for women, it's a suit. My father always taught me it's better to be well dressed than not dressed well enough.

Brianne Murphy Miller, Landis Communications, San Francisco:  I think business casual guidelines are the same for men and women - don't wear anything you'd be able to wear to the beach/gym/nightclub. Be put together (not sloppy). Take pride in your appearance. And for G-d's sake brush your hair. Always remember that a client can walk into the office anytime...don't embarrass yourself or them.

Leeza Hoyt, The Hoyt Organization, Torrance:  Nice jeans (no holes even though it’s a fashion), nice shirt/sweater. Yes we’ve had to send one person home to change (we don’t allow the showing of undergarments) and yes we discuss what to wear for a pitch. While we always err on the dress up side, we try to mirror the client dress code.

Anne Buchanan, Buchanan Public Relations, Philadelphia:  Relaxed without being unprofessional.

Jim Bianchi, Bianchi Public Relations, Detroit:  An HR attorney once put business casual dress code into these highly technical legal terms: "We don't want to see your bellies, butts or boobs."

What would you add to the list?

Is there a such thing as too casual? Dress codes in the workplace are loosening up, but are they too loose? Click to Tweet
Abbie S. Fink
Abbie S. Fink
Vice President/General Manager Abbie has been doing public relations her whole life…from organizing a picket line in 6th grade to organizing client communications today. She’s passionate about a lot of things, you’ll see. Check out Abbie's full bio

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