Business attire has changed significantly over the years, especially in the last 20 years. Too many people have forgotten why proper business attire is important.
Some companies prefer to allow and even encourage employees to dress freely or casually for comfort. This tends to work well in more creative work environments.
However, other companies will typically encourage and/or require a more defined and professional dress code to maintain a professional image of themselves and the business, where employees routinely interact on a daily basis with prospects, clients and business partners.
Conflicts arise when employees prefer to dress comfortably or in the most recent styles rather than realize the importance for them to present themselves in a more professional or conservative manner.
The major reason why dressing in proper business attire is important for every business professional is because it presents a visual image and sends a message that the employees are professional.
Another reason why dressing in proper business attire is important in the business world is because you never know when you will be required to meet with someone from outside your company. Your image to this outsider will be the image remembered of your company. In business dealings this image and message needs to be professional. In reality, that image could indirectly mean the difference between securing a new deal, contract or sale and losing the opportunity to make that deal.
The importance of a dress code for professionalism varies somewhat by industry. However, the correlation between the two is generally strong. Appearance ranked second only to communication skills when respondents named qualities most often associated with professionalism, according to a 2010 national poll conducted by the Center for Professional Excellence at York College of Pennsylvania.
Matthew Randall, executive director of the CPE, said, “How an individual dresses for work can be a powerful extension of his personal brand. Clothes, accessories and even the footwear an employee chooses to wear help to reinforce or diminish his skills and qualities in the eyes of his employer, co-workers and clients.”
Although a one-size-fits-all or universal dress code may not be achievable or realistic, some universal guidelines are possible and could include the following:
Be modest. It is most important to get attention for great work rather than gaining attention for wearing the latest fashion fad or in appropriate leisure wear or sportswear found outside the office at a sports event, party or beach.
Beware of casual Fridays. Casual Fridays have the potential to turn into real fashion disasters. It is important to remember that the workweek has not ended on Thursday and that the images and messages sent on Friday must be consistent with each of the previous days of the week.
Be comfortable. This applies to the fit of your attire and the comfort of the shoes you wear. Comfort needs to trump fashion in the choices made.
Be mindful that basic etiquette must accompany appropriate attire. Appropriate attire must be combined with basic business and professional etiquette. The two are intertwined and integrated when presenting a professional image of yourself and your company. First impressions and overall judgments about people are formed by the way they dress. Since the way someone dresses affects the perception of a company’s customers or business partners, it is important to maintain a standard of dress that creates a positive impression.
Be sure to strive to achieve an appropriate balance of employer rights and individual freedom. Some employers experience resistance from employees who believe they have the right to groom themselves and dress in a way that suits their personality. Basically, this is true in the context of what they do outside of the employer’s operation. While individuals have a right to express themselves, so businesses have a similar right in the workplace, since the way employees dress definitely sends intended or unintended messages to clients, customers and prospects. A commitment to strive to achieve an appropriate balance is very important.
Whatever else we think about dressing for success, we need to be reminded that first impressions are everything, and we only get one chance to make a positive first impression. n
Glenn Ebersole is strategic vice president of business development and marketing at Hollenbach Construction Inc., Douglass Township, Montgomery County.