Casual dress is sometimes too casual

Q:  Our company struggles with dress code issues.  Most employees dress appropriately, but we have some employees who dress for a night out and some who dress in flimsy little camisoles (even in cold weather) and think that is appropriate clothing for an office.  I consider a camisole an undergarment.  We don’t have an HR function or an employee handbook.  Supervisors are not sure how to approach the issue.  How do deal with this as we grow?

A:  Many companies have evolved from suits and ties to business casual.  Business casual can be interpreted many different ways by many different people.  Additionally, business casual can even vary from employer to employer.  One employer may view golf shirts as appropriate while others view golf shirts as too casual.

Guidelines can be helpful because they set expectations for what is acceptable and what is not.  A written document or policy can also be beneficial because it minimizes confusion if all are reading the same set of guidelines.  Although a written policy will likely minimize confusion it may not eliminate your concerns entirely.

My son, Dan Sinacole, is a student at Hopkinton High School.  His school has established guidelines based on what they call the “Six Bs.”   The Six Bs summarizes what body parts or clothing should be given an extra look before a student walks into the school.  The Six Bs includes bellies, butts, breasts, bras, boxers and backs. Some of our clients have adopted the Six Bs because it doesn’t outlaw one piece of clothing but it is an easy checklist to think about as you are planning your outfit for a work day.  Dan says that the school dress code should be “common sense” yet he also agreed that some students (and people in general) struggle with common sense.

The 6 Bs might be effective in some companies but other companies might have even stronger dress codes.  Some employers still require professional dress, including suits, ties, dresses, etc.  Law firms, in particular, are often still fairly formal in their dress codes.

I think what is most common today is most offices is a business casual dress code.  However, in some industries, when face-to-face client contact is required, the dress code might have to revert back to more formal business attire.

When I coach candidates and employees on career issues, I suggest that they consider dressing at the level to which they aspire.  In short, dress like a manager if you hope to become a manager some day.  How you dress in the workplace matters.  You don’t want to be that employee that is known for inappropriate dress.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Boston.com Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.

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