It’s hot, and that’s a signal to many of us that it’s time to drop the jacket, undo the tie and get a little more comfortable at the office.
But don’t get too relaxed.
Just because it’s hotter isn’t an excuse to start wearing flip-flops, showing off cleavage or walking around the office with bare arms. It not only shows poor judgement about what’s appropriate at work, but it can affect your career by broadcasting that either you don’t care how you look or you don’t know any better.
Fashion faux pas: A miniskirt is as bad as wearing a tie with a short-sleeved shirt.
“People think about comfort, they don’t plan,” says corporate and personal image consultant Helen Perry—they don’t spend time on the weekends paying attention to their workday wardrobes, such as polishing shoes or taking their clothes to the dry- cleaner. “It takes a commitment to be well-dressed every day,” she adds.
Don’t make it too casual
It’s not just the clothing. It’s also the beach-like accessories that show up at the office during the summer, such as big earrings and fun shoes, says Wendy Boswell,
associate professor of management at the Mays Business School at Texas A&M University.
“It’s always surprising to me when people don’t notice that they’re dressing more casually,” says Boswell, who recommends taking cues from the attire of supervisors and managers.
Pamela McConathy, who owns the Foresight Communications Group, a public relations firm in Houston, agrees—and goes a step further. “In most cases, you need to take your cues from the company culture in which you are working,” she says. “Then, dress a step above that. You won’t go wrong.”
Men should never wear a tie with a short-sleeved shirt. “It screams outdated nerd,” Perry says. Ditto for athletic shoes and sandals.
Looking professional doesn’t have to cost a lot, adds Perry, who recommends shopping at discount stores that sell professional clothes.
Also remember, there’s a difference between being stylish and professional, Boswell adds, a point that eludes some young employees who dress more to imitate celebrities than to fit in at their first job.
Unfortunately, women have a lot more ways to shoot themselves in the foot during the summer than men. In conservative workplaces, women need a jacket, even if it’s a soft cardigan—a third piece, Perry says. A jacket is a power accoutrement and gives the wearer a finished look.
“The more skin, the less power,” Perry says, referring to too-plunging necklines or too-short skirts for women. She’s been hearing complaints lately from executives at conservative suit-and-tie companies that female employees are shedding their jackets and walking around in sleeveless blouses. The effect is too revealing in a formal office culture.
Boswell recalls the Ally McBeal short-short skirts worn by the television lawyer that became a fashion statement and popped up at some work events, including hers. “It was a style, but it’s still a really short skirt,” says Boswell, adding that it’s not a good idea to show too much leg.
Regulate the dress code
So what do you do if you’ve got employees coming to work in see-through clothes or something similarly inappropriate? Or disrobing once they get there?
While some managers would use the opportunity to create a dress code, human resources consultant Kathleen Kelley suggests calling the offending employee in and explaining why the outfit doesn’t work.
“You won’t be able to regulate the world,” Kelley says. But you can remind employees that if you’d wear it at the beach, it probably doesn’t belong at the office.
©2010/THE NEW YORK TIMES
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