Show off your professional, fashionable personality while still dressing appropriately for work.
Whether you're walking down the street, shopping at the mall, or going out on the town for a night of fun, you'll likely notice someone who's dressed provocatively -- that someone might even be you. In the culture we live in, dressing provocatively is a common practice and is considered the norm in many instances. However, as I discuss in my upcoming book The New Hire Survival Guide, to be taken seriously at the office and maintain professionalism in the workplace, you want to dress in such a way that people's attention is in no way below your neckline. After all, it's much easier to discuss business when someone's making eye contact with you instead of being distracted by whatever's going on below your face.
And this is geared towards men just as much as it is to women. For women, cleavage and thighs aren't cool in most professions that require you to work at a desk and in an office. For men, I do not want to know how much chest hair is under that button down shirt, nor do I want to see the buttons popping off of your shirt because it's too tight (that goes for women, too). At the end of the day, all should wear wrinkle-free and clean attire that's appropriate for their specific work environment.
By sharing this information, my goal is not to make anyone self-conscious about their appearance or what they wear. Rather, my goal is to share that what you choose to wear in the workplace has an impact--good or bad. I, or someone I know, has had to counsel employees--both male and female--on this topic. From wearing tops with plunging necklines to unattended body odor, I've seen employees truly be clueless as to professionalism in the workplace and related concerns discussed within this article, and as such, they had to be coached on why these scenarios were attracting attention.
When deciding what to wear in the workplace, consider the following insights and tips.
How do you want to be perceived?
When you're deciding what to wear to work, think about the type of impression you want to make. Do you want to maintain professionalism in the workplace, which means you'll be taken more seriously by others, or do you want to appear sloppy or overly sexy, which means you might be perceived as unprofessional or won't be taken seriously? More on perception in the next section.
On the flipside, you can't always control how someone else will perceive you, and we each have our definitions or perceptions of what is too sexy, sloppy, and so on. With that said, by at least being mindful of all of this information, you can make an informed decision when choosing what you want to represent when you show up at the office.
Perception Is in the eye of the beholder.
Perception is in the eye of the beholder, and how you choose to dress can make individuals of either gender uncomfortable. This point might be the most important point in this article for me. When Image & TV Expert, Speaker, and Author Sarah Shah asked an audience about attire and image in the workplace, a male in the group shared that, given the hypersensitivity to workplace sexual harassment, it can be uncomfortable when a female wears something as simple as a sheath dress. Sarah explains, “When talking about provocative clothing, it's not the wearer's definition of provocative that matters; rather, it's the viewer's definition that will affect his or her behavior and attitude toward you.”
With concerns over sexual harassment claims in the workplace increasing, it can be challenging for others when males or females dress in such a way that provokes attention. It's human nature to notice someone who's wardrobe provokes attention because it is out of alignment with what's typical at the office; people look for that exact reason -- the person is dressed inappropriately! This doesn't mean the individual is trying to imply anything at all sexually with their "looking;" it means they're human and in many cases are trying to look the other way to avoid you noticing their surprise or shock.
Fashion ads don't always convey "business."
When you're looking for examples of appropriate business attire, use caution when looking at fashion ads, which can take it a bit too far when it comes to what they convey as "business" clothing. A good rule of thumb for women is to avoid wearing tight or very form-fitting clothing, skirts that fall more than 2 inches above the knee, and shorts in general. For men, overly relaxed jeans or slacks, sandals, shorts, and tight-fitting clothing should be avoided.
Know your company's policy.
Some organizations have a Dress Code policy or some policy that speaks to appropriate or inappropriate attire. Find it, read it, and keep it in mind when choosing your professional wardrobe.
Beware of casual fridays.
Some organizations offer Casual Fridays as an employee benefit or incentive. It's a cool perk. However, I've seen employees lose the privilege of Casual Fridays because some employees took it a little too far and did not manitain professionalism in the workplace through their attire. Casual Friday does not imply it's OK to wear gym clothes, flip flops, shorts, holy jeans, or sloppy shirts to work. If you're fortunate enough to have Casual Fridays, or the option to wear casual clothing to work, your safest bet is to wear nice jeans, a business casual shirt, and appropriate shoes.
Double check yourself in the mirror.
On more than one occasion, I've walked out of the bathroom only to notice later that my skirt was tucked into my pantyhose in the back, or some other mishap was occurring with my wardrobe, makeup or hair. Though it was funny after the fact, I felt rather embarrassed at the moment. Taking a second look in the mirror before you walk out the door in the mornings or out of the bathroom throughout the day can help to keep your attire from attracting the wrong (or embarrassing) kind of attention. Be mindful of hair and makeup application, as well; natural and professional looks often work best at the office.
Good grooming matters.
I wish I could say this goes without saying (and for most, it does), but good grooming does matter. Regular bathing and wearing deodorant is super helpful when you're going to be around other people. Believe it or not, I've had to counsel employees on wearing deodorant and being mindful of how their cubicle or office space smelt.
Again, in sharing this information with you, in no way am I trying to make you self-conscious. Trust me; I'm someone who understands what it can be like to be self-conscious about her appearance in the workplace (and in general). My hope is that this content will plant some seeds to help you maintain professionalism in the workplace in such a way that you can feel empowered and self-aware. I also think it's important to show off your personal style, so I'm not saying to be stiff or someone you're not when selecting your business attire. I'm simply implying that it's good to remember what you desire to represent and the nuances of perception when choosing how you want to dress and groom for work.
Leave the tight fitting clothing for the gym and the short skirts and shorts for a night on the town; keep the chest hair out of view and the sandals for the beach; use a steamer or iron when needed and don't forget the deodorant. Otherwise, show off your professional, fashionable personality!
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