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Danny Chung
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dress code

My dad used to wear the same thing to work every day: dark suit, white shirt, sober patterned tie, black shoes and belt. My mum’s workplace had rules for women: no pants, no open-toed shoes, and always stockings, even in summer. It might have been hot and boring, but it sure was easy.

The rules have loosened, leaving us more able to express ourselves in today’s workplace, but also more confused. How casual should casual Fridays be? Should you really dress for the job you want rather than the one you have, or will that make you look unapproachable and over-ambitious? If you’re trying to set the standard for your team to follow, how will you interpret your organisation’s dress code? Even the advice to dress like the rest of the office is difficult if you are moving from one temporary assignment to another: before you see the workplace, how will you know what’s acceptable?

According to research by 34SP.com, 55% of workers agree that wearing business attire makes people more productive. And 20% also believe those who dress too casually are ‘slackers’.

The benefits of dressing well are clear. So here are three basic principles to remember about dressing for work.

  1. How you look is an important part of your personal brand.

Research on job interviews showed that an observer could predict whether or not the interviewee would be offered the job from watching just the first 15 seconds of an interview. Looks matter, no doubt about it.

  1. If you are in any doubt, dress more formally and more conservatively.

Whether it was for meetings, dinners, interviews or your first day on the job, people I spoke to were unanimous that a more formal and conservative outfit did no harm (whereas anything revealing, sloppy or too casual could be the kiss of death).

  1. Outdated clothing makes you look out of touch.

Sticking to looks that have long passed their use-by date gives the impression that you can’t be bothered to keep up, and that your work habits may be as inflexible. This is particularly the case in image-conscious industries and workplaces.

So how do these three rules apply? Context is key, and it definitely pays to research the industry and the specific workplace if possible. The aim is not to stick out, but to show that you want to be part of the team.  When you dress in line with the rest of your organisation, you show that you are working in the right place.

In banking, law and finance, you can’t go wrong with a suit, neatly groomed hair and low-key accessories. Anything that shows off too much skin, is too brightly coloured or otherwise draws attention to itself is a no-no. In more creative industries, the code may be ‘business casual’, in which case wear a neat shirt with pants and a belt and leather shoes for men, or a modest dress or skirt that covers the thighs for women.

What about specific occasions? At this time of year, dressing for the Christmas party is top of mind. You may want to break out and show everybody what a party person you really are, but remember you are still at work. Plunging necklines, short, tight skirts or your favourite singlet and board shorts are not okay. By all means wear something fun that expresses your personality, but not to the extent that you are the talking point on Monday morning. Don’t deviate too much from your day-to-day look, and ask the party organiser or check the venue’s dress code if you are unsure.

One last word: body piercings and tattoos. Although they are becoming more acceptable in general, it’s probably wise to assume that they are not part of a professional look. Remove jewellery (apart from a pair of small earrings for women) and cover tattoos. Maybe they are acceptable in your workplace, but it doesn’t take much effort to hide them and they could make the difference between getting the job or landing the contract, or not. When in doubt, remember that there are very few occasions where being well dressed and well groomed will work against you.

dress code

I tell you, one of the highlights of my week is reading through the comments left in our weekly online poll. There is always a marvellous range of responses, from the profound to the very silly indeed.

Our latest poll asked: “If getting your dream job meant wearing a terrible uniform, would you still take it?” 

One response was the deeply philosophical “we all wear silly costumes”. Makes you think, eh? 

And of course, another response was “my dream job involves wearing no uniform” and yes I know who you are … honestly … 

The results were:

Yes – 79%

No – 11%

Other – 10%

Overall, people were fully prepared to “suck it up” and wear whatever uniform was required (within reason!) for their dream job. One respondent commented that a uniform can be a blessing in disguise, saving you the daily hassle of selecting something to wear. Good point. 

And of course, a uniform means that everyone else is wearing it, too, so even if it is ghastly, it’s not as though you’ll be the only one looking like that! Ultimately, if it’s your dream job, you’ll wear anything. As another poll respondent said: “as long as I remained credible in terms of the specific job, and the uniform suited the company’s image, I’d wear a clown suit or whatever was required!” 

So, why do many companies require their employees to wear uniforms? 

A key reason is that a uniform conveys a standard image of a company. It is a form of advertising, it can create a sense of team solidarity, and makes it easy for customers to identify company employees. 

Of course, many employees would prefer to have the opportunity to express their sartorial individuality and see the uniform they are required to wear as an infringement upon their individual rights. I think I would feel quite strange and a bit affronted if my workplace suddenly imposed a work uniform policy. 

However, if you’re starting a new role at a company that has a clearly stated work uniform requirement, then you’re going into it with your eyes wide open and, really, have no recourse to complain. 

I also asked a few friends, informally, during the week about their workplace dress policies, and everyone said that whilst there was no official “uniform”, there was, at the very least, an unspoken yet clear dress code in place, which was obvious the moment you walked in. Some work in super corporate environments where suits for men and women are the minimum standard. Others work for companies where a slightly less corporate vibe might be in place, but where certain levels of appropriate dress and presentation were expected and upheld. 

I would say that most of us, starting a new job, would certainly take our workplace dress cues from those around us, no matter where we were employed, and if that meant feathered headdresses and sequins or gumboots and overalls, that’s what we’d be wearing.

Are you more productive in a noisy or quiet (office) environment? Tell us in our latest online poll and stay tuned for the results in next week’s ChallengeBlog post …________________________________________

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