What to Wear … to Work

dress_codeI remember when … when you had to dress up (dresses, suits, skirts, blazers, panty hose, heels) to go to work. Heck, I remember when you dressed up to go to church, an even get on an airplane. Now what was pretty straight forward has become muddled. Business casual or business professional? What is the difference? When should you wear which one? When should you just go completely casual? We’re navigating a minefield of dress options and it can be damn confusing.

Back in the day, men were told to wear ties, button-down shirts and belts. Women wore dresses, skirts, low heels or flats and panty hose. People polished their shoes and used a dying industry called a dry cleaner.

Over the weekend, a friend who had lost weight invited me over to look at some clothes she was giving away. The problem is that she works in a business professional environment while maintaining traditional ‘old school’ business sensibility. While she had a stack of professional skirts, dresses, blouses and dress pants, I have no use for them. I work in a business casual/casual environment. Her wardrobe requires dry cleaning. Me? I don’t even iron? I wear jeans every day and can wear sneakers and t-shirts every Monday and Friday.

I have a few dresses I wore when I was interviewing and now when I’m training a class. Things have really changed.

So, what are we talking about? Let’s define some terms:

Professional Dress: Not what you’d usually wear on your own time. It almost always means suits (for men and women). Jackets, skirts, panty hose and sensible heels are flats are expected for women. Neutral colors and conservative footwear for all is expected. Words like ironing and dry cleaning are used.  https://careerservices.princeton.edu/node/1279

Business Professional: Business professional is like professional dress, but does not necessarily mean you should break out your best shoes and suit. Women can wear a skirt or pants suit with heels while men may wear a blazer or suit jacket, button down shirt, suit pants, a tie and dress shoes.http://smallbusiness.chron.com/four-different-types-business-attire-23396.html

Women in office clothes. Beautiful woman in business clothes. Vector illustration
Women in office clothes. Beautiful woman in business clothes. Vector illustration

Business Casual: Women typically wear a collared shirt or sweater with dress pants and dress shoes or boots. Conservative dresses and skirts are also acceptable attire. A man’s option for business casual includes a polo shirt, collared shirt or sweater. Khaki or dress pants along with dress shoes make up his business casual outfit.

Casual: Jeans are acceptable. Depending on a company’s specific policies, t-shirts and tennis shoes can be worn (at my company, jeans can be worn daily but sneakers and t-shirts can only be worn on Mondays and Fridays.

* When it comes to a dress code, see your office manual for the particulars, including things like length of skirts, tattoos, …

Five or six years ago I was in a business professional environment. I had the skirts and the dress pants. However, when I lost that job, I spent time contracting and working from home. Automatically, dress code became obsolete. I wore what I wanted, usually jeans. Others who have worked from home opted to work in their PJs or sweats.

For me, I had to at least dress a little so I could have that ‘going to work’ feeling. But, for some people that isn’t a priority. Plus, I still must walk the dog and I wouldn’t want to terrify people.

When it comes to dress code, there seems to be a definite generation gap. There are those of us who remember dressing to go to work or to church or to take a plane ride, are a little more open to following a dress code (but there are some exceptions!). However, a lot of the millennials have come up in a world where formal business attire and even business casual are foreign.

Having gone from one extreme to another, I must say that I’m more a fan of the casual. I think I own about 2 pairs of dress pants now! It’s more comfortable. So, it isn’t surprising that airplane standards have relaxed (but propping your feet up on the arm rest while sitting next to me on the plane will always be unacceptable). It isn’t surprising that churches have become more welcoming by changing the dress code.

The issue comes when people push the dress code envelope and no one pushes back. I facilitate the new hire orientation at my job. I take my time explaining the dress code, especially skirt length and shoes. Yet, daily I see super short skirts and flip flops (also not allowed). Since there is no one there to push back, the dress code will continue to be disrespected. I understand that male supervisors may have difficulty having these kinds of discussions with female employees but still, something should be done.

It is wild but in another generation formal dress will be a thing of the past. Dry cleaners and irons could very well go the way of the encyclopedia, the VCR and panty hose. And while I love my jeans, I also enjoy getting dressed up sometimes … to celebrate a wedding, to have a fancy night out, to put my best foot forward at a job interview and to show my respects at a funeral. Yet, I fear dressing up for any reason is becoming passé.

So, what do you think, have you seen the changes in dress code for yourself? Which version do you prefer? Share some date code horror stories!


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