By Duncan Heath
Most people may think that the hardest work-related attire decision they will face is what to wear to their interview. Do you go super smart, or perhaps try to match the casual feel of the company by dressing down a little?
As more and more companies are taking an increasingly relaxed approach to staff dress code, it can be hard to judge how smart to appear, but this article is not about interview style. This article takes a look at what you should be wearing during your everyday work and how this will be interpreted by your colleges and employers.
By the way, just to state my opinion on interview dress code whilst I’m on the topic, I think you can never dress too smartly, but you might very easily dress too casual.
The first thing to address when talking about everyday job attire is that certain jobs are obviously immune from this discussion. Fireman, costume characters at theme parks, deep sea divers and others have little choice about what they wear, so this doesn’t really apply to such people. This article is aimed more at those jobs that provide a certain degree of freedom to staff dress code, such as office jobs, teaching jobs, or retail jobs perhaps.
The other thing to point out is that when it comes to people’s motivations to choosing what they wear at work, there are too many to possibly address in one place. For example, you might wear something because you want to attract the attention of someone you work with, or because you are trying to conceal a developing bump. Because there are so many possible influencing factors, I will focus on arguably the two most important –
• Enjoyment of your work
• Perceptions of colleges and employers
Fashion vs Function
It is true that we live in an increasingly more liberal and accepting world and that you can certainly get away with more personal fashion choice in the workplace these days. However, one thing employers will not look kindly on is people who favour fashion over function, and hinder their work as a result.
For example, if your job is to walk the streets of a large city each day handing out promotional material and you choose to wear high heels because you want to look good, this is not likely to go down well with the company you work for. There is a very high chance you will damage your feet and there is no doubt this footwear choice will impede your productivity. If it influences how well you can do your job, always choose function over fashion.
Work and Pleasure – Blurring the Boundaries
One of the biggest concerns that employers have when allowing their staff to dress more casually is that it will blur the boundaries between work time and leisure time. If you turn up to your desk job wearing board shorts and a pair of flip-flops for example, you might feel more comfortable, but there is an increased chance of you being in ‘leisure mode’ rather than ‘work mode’.
This is a difficult balance to get right as most employers appreciate that staff can often get more job enjoyment from not having to deck themselves out in formal attire each day, not to mention the money they save on buying smart clothes. At the end of the day it’s important to understand what your employer expects you to wear and whether you can still clearly define work and play in your own mind. Get these two elements right and you’re laughing.
What Does Smart Suggest?
Something else to consider is how your dress influences the opinions of those around you. Perhaps you don’t care what others think, but chances are there are people in your workplace whose opinion does matter – the person who pays your wages for example. Now they may not have a problem with what you wear and you might be well judged by those around you as well, but a career is often not about maintaining status quo.
Most people want to progress up the ladder and this makes what you wear very important. Dressing smartly in a more casual environment will not only make you stand out (in a good way), but will also signal your intentions within a company.
As you go up the chain of command in any company, normally dress gets more formal. Interns dress more smartly than cleaners, executives dress more smartly than interns, managers dress more smartly than executives, and so on and so forth. By choosing to dress more smartly than you strictly need to, you are both overtly and often subconsciously suggesting you are ambitious and looking to move up in the company. Just something to think about.
Duncan Heath is a manager at a surf clothing website in the UK. His company have a relaxed approach to dress allowing things like Havaianas flip flops and DC hoodies, but staff are always encouraged to look respectable for meetings.