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Appropriate vs Inappropriate clothing in the workplace


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All companies want their staff to project a professional, business-like image at all times. This includes personal image as well as personal dress.  I am often asked to sit in client’s reception areas and take note of the dress code of the staff as they come and go and  believe me, more often than not, it is not a pretty sight! Friday ‘dress down’ days are cause for serious concern. If your clothing says ‘weekend’ so does your brain and that’s why Fridays are the most unproductive days of the week!

It’s all very well to say that there is a global trend towards dressing up in business, but what exactly is appropriate for work, and , even more important, not appropriate?

If you want to project confidence and elegance, dark shades are always the safest.For men I would recommend a well-structured suit which is solid in colour (with or without stripes). Make sure that it is comfortable and that it fits well. Wear this suit with a long-sleeved shirt. Traditional dress such as a long-sleeved “Madiba” shirt should be buttoned at the collar and worn with suit pants.Shirts should button right through and when adding a tie, keep it simple with either a solid colour or a smaller, repetitive design. Belts should match your shoes and must always be worn if your trousers have belt loops. If you match your belt buckle to your watch you are really styling!. Chinos are also acceptable for less formal companies or for Fridays, but remember that if the chinos turn-ups this will tend to make your legs look shorter, so rather go for chinos with no turn-ups if you want your legs to look longer.Woolworths stocks chinos with three different leg lengths and also advertise ‘non-iron’ chinos (just tumble-dry and hang back in your cupboard). Edgars also stock extra length chinos. Not sure of the correct length for your pants? They should touch the floor at the back without shoes, or, if wearing shoes they should cover the back of the shoe (not the heel).

Wear socks that match your trousers and in formal business (you should always dress smartly if you meet with clients and suppliers) shoe soles can be made of lesther or rubber but not too chunky as this means the lifestyle of the shoe is incorrect for the lifestyle of the outfit or suit.Ties should always be waist length and accessories should be kept to a minimum. Always make sure you have a good watch and pen and that shoes and briefcases are not scuffed.

For the businesswomen, remember to keep it simple and therefore effective. Invest in three good jackets that are comfortable, well-structured and the correct length for you. Classic skirts and dresses ( lengths of skirts should not be more than 4-6 cms above the knee) and smart pants are advisable. Have fewer bottoms and many more tops – that way you will be able to mix and match more. Traditional dress can also be worn but again must look smart.

When wearing layers make sure they are co-ordinated and be subtle in your use of pattern and colour.Make sure clothing isn’t too tight or too loose – if clothing is too loose you look sloppy, and if you look sloppy people assume that your work is sloppy! Tops can be short or long-sleeved, but if your upper arms are on the full side it is best to cover them with a sleeve. A sleeveless shift dress worn with a jacket is a perfect summer option. Pencil skirts and skirts cut on the bias are perfect for work and trousers can be straight, flared, bootleg or turnups and ¾ ‘tailored’ pants are acceptable in some industries. Again, as for men, belts and shoes should match. There are many different options for shoes – closed court, closed toe and sling-back and sandal (some companies don’t allow open shoes).

Now that we have an idea of what is appropriate to wear – what is more difficult for most people is identifying what not to wear! Some companies do not allow jeans at all, and for those who do, I would opt for darker, smarter jeans which can be dressed up (light jeans can not be dressed up). Men should not be wearing vests or any sleeveless shirts. Cargo pants (for men or women) should be avoided along with shorts, leggings, jogging and gym wear, tracksuits, baggy drawstring pants and bermuda shorts.

Specifically for the ladies the no-no’s are: revealing clothing (especially exposed underwear!), very tight clothing (remember a short, tight skirt will ride up by 2-3cms when you sit down). Sundresses, halternecks, cropped or tank tops and shoestring tops should only be worn with a jacket, provided the jacket is not taken off. Moral of the story – don’t wear them!

Cotton t-shirts, sweatshirts, ‘hoodies’ and bulky multicoloured knits should be avoided for work, along with slip-slops, takkies, trainers and slip ons.What goes without saying is that anything faded, tattered, stained, creased, torn or cut-off should not be worn at all as well as anything in excess – copious amounts of fur, head to toe animal print, printed slogans or large logos and, it goes without saying VISIBLE tattoos.

Jane Shonfeld is a Corporate Image Specialist who does “Investment Dressing” workshops and presentations  around the country that are tailor-made for your company.

Date Posted: 2007-09-04
Listed under these Business Listing Categories: Business services & consultants, Entertainment, Personal Services,

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