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Professional vs. Casual: How to Dress in the Office

Dressing appropriately is just as important during the third year on the job as when attending your first interview. Wearing sensible attire is especially important at corporate functions and dress-down days. Use these tips when you have a question of dress code at work.

Ask First

Office DressIt’s really that simple, unfortunately, many miss the boat when it comes to casual Friday or dressing down at the office. One of the biggest gaffs employees can make on the job is to wear something offensive to others, or something that just makes you look sloppy or disorganized. Whenever there is uncertainty about office attire, it’s always best to ask management, opposed to simply guessing. Doing so may keep an employee off management’s naughty list, or it could even keep your career on track.

Start off Right

Terms like professional and business casual are relatively subjective, depending on who is being asked and what type of work is being done. Excluding blatant disregard for others, the loss in translation when conveying these terms is usually the reason someone ends up dressing inappropriately at work. Discussing the proper work attire during the week, and on casual days, should be one of the first things any employee does when starting a new job. And, when there is a corporate event approaching, it’s always best to find out as early as possible what the acceptable dress code will be. I still have painful memories of a time I showed up at a “Black Tie” awards event in a plain shirt and tie with no jacket and had to go on stage to pick up my “Rookie of the Year” award.

Dressing Business Casual

Generally speaking, business casual attire implies that pressed khakis, or even dress jeans may be appropriate. One of the best ways to dress down at the office, without being totally inappropriate, is to go back to basics with a casual yet formal shirt. A button-down shirt or polo shirt are usually ideal choices for this type of attire. Ties are usually optional for men when business casual is expected. Leather shoes, sweaters and shirts with collars are all typically acceptable for men’s business casual. Women are expected to wear similar attire that consist of solid colors, khakis, cardigans, sweaters or polo shirts as well.

It’s never advisable to wear old, tattered or worn clothes into the office; despite how “comfortable” or the sentimental value they may have. When it’s time to go to work, it’s best to leave the favorite weekend shirt and sneakers back at home. Too often, when an employee hears the word “casual”, the business or professional standards they are expected to abide by are forgotten. Baggy sweatshirts and sweatpants, T-shirts with writing, “Pajama” bottoms jeans with holes are all usually still inappropriate unless you are working in a few specialized niches such as a “tech startup” or certain “artistic” fields. It is better to dress nicer than your coworkers and be noticed for your good appearance than to be noticed as the office grunge.  This includes proper hygiene no one wants to work near someone who smells.

Don’t Overdo it Either

It’s always best to remember that less is more when it comes the proper office attire. Keep it simple, avoid all temptations to needlessly accessorize, things like noisy bracelets can be distracting, and too much jewelry may appear gaudy or unprofessional to other people in the office. The same goes for overly sexy dress, such as short skirts, skintight pants, and deep plunging necklines for women are not considered professional. The same goes for men, open shirts, skintight pants and gold necklaces are generally not appropriate unless you live in Hollywood.

See Also:

John T. Molloy’s New Dress for Success New Women’s Dress for Success  5 Steps To Professional Presence: How to Project Confidence, Competence, and Credibility at Work  When the Little Things Count . . . and They Always Count: 601 Essential Things That Everyone In Business Needs to Know