In today’s diversified mix of Google-fied offices, financial and legal service firms, clinics, and now even shared office spaces, dress codes have become a confusing mix of what is appropriate to wear and what isn’t.
Also, throw into the mix gender specific dress codes being prohibited in certain places (New York being one) Employers are no longer permitted to request that skirts be a specific length, heels be a certain height or make up be worn. Whilst businesses may not have a designated uniform in place, there may be certain parameters that they would like adhered to, whether they are allowed to publicize such preferences or not, so it’s always best to err on the side of caution, especially when starting a new job.
It can be a bit of a minefield for everyone, in every industry as the gap between what used to be just formal and casual opens up into a broad range of dress codes for different types of workspace.
Take a look at some tips for these industry categories and mix them with your best judgement.
High-Corporate, Formal, and Professional Workspaces
These offices tend to revolve around high-finance, legal services, and highly professional agencies that have a reputation to protect and defend. As such, close attention should be paid to not being too casual. Note that being overly colorful, or flashy is not normally prized in these environments unless they are designer or creative-based; class is.
For men proper business attire includes suits, sports jackets, collared business shirts tucked-in, and formal dress shoes until spotted otherwise; suit pants are generally required. For women business slacks and skirt suits with female sports jackets and non-flashy blazers are a winning combination until trends in your office are noticed and adapted too. Blouses are always safe options if you’re unsure of tops to wear. Wear heels or professional flat shoes.
Corporate and Business Casual Workspaces
Business Casual is king of most offices today. It is a safe bet to go with this type of clothing when starting your job at a company that is not projecting an ultra-professional image and wants to be more friendly and approachable in image. Business casual workplaces generally allow for more experimentation and colorful clothing but do have some ground rules about what is appropriate.
For men this means that collared shirts should be worn over non-collared, and although polos can make the cut, sneakers, shorts, jeans, and t-shirts will project an unprofessional image in this environment. Wear slacks or corduroys, if not suit trousers. Keep your shoes or loafers more professional until you’re comfortable with something more casual.
Women should follow much the same rules and mix and match professional and casual elements as they wish. Jeans and any revealing clothing are not appropriate in this environment and can be seen as disrespectful to clients and company alike. Try to show class and taste in what you wear and do not wear flip flops or sandals.
Shared Offices and Less-Formal Workspaces
Many companies, especially tech and innovation based companies, increasingly try to show an open culture to the world through casual dress codes. This often means different things for different companies and it does not mean you can wear whatever you like.
When most companies say casual, they mean common sense. Men should not wear shorts and women should not get too outlandish in fashion choices. T-shirts and V-necks can be acceptable in many work spaces, but wear collared until you notice it is ok otherwise. Do not wear flip flops or offensive clothing. Especially if you are representing a company in a shared space, you should take care that although given more freedom in choice, you are also choosing your level of respect and should maintain good dress even if others do not.
Informal Workspaces and Freelance
In many small companies or coworking spaces, the idea of dress codes seemingly breakdown altogether. Hot-desking and lack of a set workspace seems to negate the need for set work attire, and while these do more and more allow for informal clothes, still think about what you wear.
Whether as a remote employee or a freelancer, people do still often judge us and base part of our reputation on what we wear. Although liberated from conventional rules of dress, looking like you got of bed and threw something on is not advisable for men or women looking to gain respect in such an environment. Shorts, flip-flops, and T-shirts maybe allowable, but put some thought into what you buy and what you wear to better define your own sense of casual professionalism you want to project to others
Final Words of Advice
The easiest way to find out about what dress code is allowable is just to ask. Otherwise look around the office for a general idea during your interview and casually drop the topic into the conversation if you can. It never hurts to dress better your first week (even more so your first day) and to tone it down as you adapt.