Your company has recently decided to
abandon its Anything Goes approach toward workplace dress in favor of Business
Casual. While you know what this means for you and your closet full of clothes,
employees are likely in the dark about the proposal—particularly its impact on
their comfort level and fashion budgets.
Before too many rumors get rolling, commit to explaining the new clothing
covenant to worried workers.
It’s little wonder that employees flounder in the face of Business Casual
dressing, particularly if the only light managers can shed concerns what not to
wear. Hauling in the specifics about what is welcome at your company may help
dissolve this problem.
If your company has a dress code, update it with an eye toward detail to reflect
the new, more casual mode of dress. Delete items no longer required on workers’
bodies, such as pantyhose or ties, and add elements that are now welcome, such
as khakis and loafers.
If your company eschews dress codes, consider lobbying for a policy to lend
credence to the new look—and help employees negotiate their ways and wardrobes
Sherry Maysonave, image consultant and author of Casual Power: How to
Power Up Your Nonverbal Communication and Dress Down for Success, echoes
the importance of specifics: "What has shocked many companies is that they
cannot leave the interpretation of dress codes open to employees. If anything,
business casual requires a more definite dress code—right down to specific
fabrics, garments, necklines and hemlines."
Marketing Coordinator for Macy’s West Carolina Pleytez concurs, noting the ebb
and flow of corporate wardrobe consulting clients: "Companies come to our
program desperate to communicate guidelines that are new or changing and to make
sure there aren’t any gray areas." As it turns out, the consultants’
busiest season is summer, when the onslaught of sandals, tank tops and short
skirts puts open ended or laissez faire policies to the test—often with
Sharing the Secret
Communicating to confused employees what is and what isn’t Business Casual is
most, if not all, of your battle. First, pick your weapon. Perhaps an
explanation in the employee handbook of the dressing policy—including dos and
don’ts—will suffice. If that feels insufficient, or if you’re still beset
by employee questions, schedule a lunchtime seminar and create handouts rife
with visual examples. Or, get fancy: Bring in the experts, such as workplace
image consultants, trainers or buyers from a local department store, to stage a
If you choose to do the enlightening, begin by stressing that assembling a
collection of polished, practical business attire need not be an expensive
ordeal. Encourage employees to stretch the basics they already have—or invest
in them if they’re starting from scratch.
Pass along these business casual basics.
Begin with starter pieces. Zoom in on basics such as a navy suit or a
pair of khakis in good condition.
Mix and match. Pair these basics with a variety of tops, such as
sweaters, knits and shells for women, sweaters, vests and light jackets for men.
For footwear, recommend flats or boots for women, Oxfords or Monk Straps for
men. Says Jennifer Brown, Personal Shopper for Macy’s West: "Just because
you have a suit doesn’t mean that you just have one outfit."
Add finishing touches. Use a light final touch: gold hoops or pearl studs
for women; a leather or cloth band watch, not a sport watch, for both guys and
gals. Beware the urge to pile on the accessories, since they can make a smart
looking outfit veer into the flashy, outdated or cheap. "The fewer
accessories, the better," says Brown. "And keep them simple."
When Business Casual Is
Casual dress, often applauded as the Great Equalizer for the workplace, gets
trickier when employees need to convey authority or command a room—jobs
traditionally given a boost by the aptly named Power Tie or Power Suit.
Consultant Sherry Maysonave offered a few specific clothing guidelines
for men and women giving a presentation or heading up a division in a Business
Guidelines for Women
· Wear a jacket. "It’s
a power essential, says Maysonave. If you eschew jackets, choose a structured
cardigan that looks like a jacket.
· Lean toward a more
tailored look, avoiding khakis, which often appear too casual and aren’t
always attractive on overweight women.
· Opt for sheer hose or
· Choose simple, polished
Guidelines for Men
· Wear a jacket.
· Choose a shirt with long
sleeves—not golf sleeves or polo shirts—and a collar.
· Lean toward dressier dress
· Use a leather belt.
· Wear socks and polished
Erin Douglass is Content Editor for HR One and a Contributing Writer to the