When the weather turns warm, many people want to dress more casually in the office. The biggest complaint I hear is that employees sometimes cross the line between casual and inappropriate attire. In doing so, they project an image that is at odds with their employer—a sure way to gain disapproval. Inappropriate dress tells management you are not ready for a more professional position.
No matter what the season, you want to be perceived as a consummate professional, worthy of promotion. Your choice in clothing will affect how others perceive you. If you would wear something to a club, it’s probably not suited for the business environment. Clothes that are fashionable or seen on TV are not necessarily good choices for business casual. If it’s something you would wear on a Saturday, then save it for the weekend.
Does your appearance send the right message at work? Could you attend a meeting at a moment’s notice and not be concerned about your image that day? Maintain a professional image by avoiding these pitfalls:
Clothing that reveals. The more we show, the less credible we appear. When you show cleavage or your skirt is too short, you send the message that you want colleagues to perceive you as sexy rather than professional. Skirts should not be shorter than three inches above the knee. Otherwise, they are too short when you sit down. A sheer blouse without proper coverage underneath is another no-no. If you choose to wear a sheer blouse, put on a nude camisole underneath. Tight clothing, skimpy attire and midriff-revealing styles are viewed as unprofessional.
Visible undergarments. Bra straps should never show. If you are wearing a sleeveless blouse, make sure they are hidden. Many women think that clear bra straps are OK. They’re not. A bra strap is a bra strap no matter what color it is.
Tattoos and piercings. Tongue rings, eyebrow rings, nose piercings, multiple ear piercings and tattoos on the lower back can be distracting and even sexy. That does not work at work.
Sandals, mules and flip-flops. Do your shoes say you are dressed for business? Just because your company allows sandals does not mean you can wear footwear that you’d wear to a cocktail party or the beach.
Ties with short-sleeved shirts. Always wear a long-sleeved dress shirt if you are going to wear a tie. You may roll up the sleeves if you like. If you are wearing a casual shirt, tuck it in. Undershirts and chest hair should not show.
Errors in footwear. White socks are fine at a sporting event, golf tournament or company picnic, but never at work. Your socks should match your pants or your shoes. Similarly, unpolished shoes, sneakers and work boots project an unprofessional image.
Poor hygiene. Businesspeople automatically assume that if you do not attend to the fine points of hygiene, you will not pay attention to the little details that are so important to clients. Therefore, do not go to work with stained clothing, bad breath, body odors, dandruff, unkempt or dirty hair, dirty fingernails or an unshaven face. Be sure to regularly trim mustaches, nose and ear hair.
Wrinkled clothing. My definition of permanent press is “the wrinkles are permanent-until you press them.” Don’t assume you can take a shirt or pair of slacks out of the dryer and wear them to work without pressing them first. You will look sloppy and unkempt. Khakis and business casual slacks with a crease down the front can appear professional in a relaxed environment.
Your appearance makes a statement, either positive or negative. You get to decide each morning how others will perceive you. Therefore, avoiding faux pas at work is an essential part of your business toolkit. Steer clear of the professional image pitfalls and enhance your chances of getting ahead.