Dressing for Success – Office Attire Do’s & Don’ts

May 4, 2012

Not all companies have a formal dress code written into company policy and with a variety of companies moving to a more informal company culture, it may be difficult as an employee to know what is considered appropriate (and probably more important, what is inappropriate) work attire at the office.

Here are a few tips to help you dress for success regardless of whether or not your company has guidelines for dress code or not.


  • DO take time each morning to be deliberate in your appearance. Nothing sends the wrong message to not only your customers, but to your employer and fellow employees, than when you look like you just rolled out of bed in the morning.  From wrinkled shirts, mismatched socks to the “bed-head” hairdo.  All of this can send the message that says, “I don’t want to be here.” And to your customers, it can send the wrong message entirely about your company.  So, set your alarm a little earlier.  Prepare what you’re going to wear the night before.  Decide if a shower in the morning or at night makes more sense.  Whatever you do, PLAN AHEAD.
  • DO stick with neutral colors. It is better to be safe than sorry and most companies would prefer employees to stick with relatively neutral and conservative colors.  This includes blacks, grays, whites, khaki or tan colors, browns, and blues.  If you want to play with some colors to your outfit that might be outside of these seemingly boring colors, you can play it safe by adding vibrant-colored accessories, such as necklaces, ties, earrings, watches or bracelet to your ensemble.
  • DO choose to be more formal than over-casual. If your company doesn’t have a formal dress code, you are better dressing more formal than the other employees rather than more casual.  You want to be taken seriously and most people would never be unhappy with you for being more formal than the norm, but you could get yourself in trouble for being too casual. And, of course, you should research the company culture.  If you work at a casual business where everyone is wearing khaki shorts and tank tops, it probably isn’t wise to walk in wearing a 3-piece suit.  On the other hand, it is equally ill-advised to walk into a company with a more corporate-like culture and assume you have a Casual Friday that consists of jeans and flip-flops.
  • DO think about safety.  Your company may or may not have a formal dress code about footwear, particular open-toed heels or sandals, but if you’re in a job position that may require moving equipment – – even something as simple as setting up for seminars and setting up conference rooms – – you should consider your safety first and avoid open-toed shoes whenever possible.  You can hurt yourself having your toes exposed, whether from the risk of dropping something onto your foot or even running into something.  Another thing to consider is how tall your heels are and whether or not you do a great deal walking or going up and down stairs.


  • DON’T dress too provocatively. One of the biggest DON’T for many women is dressing too provocatively.  Not only does it present a potential sexual harassment liability to an employer, but it can be extremely distracting and disruptive to the workplace.  If you have to constantly pull down your shirt to cover a midriff, pull up your top or continually close up your jacket to cover your cleavage, or constantly pull down your skirt to keep it from showing too much leg, then you’re probably not wearing the right kind of clothes at the workplace.  Play it safe with clothes that cover all skin showing in your mid-section and skirts that are no shorter than 2-3 inches above your knee.
  • DON’T flaunt your tattoos and piercings.  Unless you’re in the business of a tattoo or piercing store or where these types of body art are not only welcomed, but encouraged, you should be sure to have your tattoos and any piercings beyond your ears covered up.  If you have tattoos or body piercings, you may wish to discuss with your HR director what is deemed acceptable under the company standard before proceeding.
  • DON’T go too crazy with the hair dye. Like with the conservative and neutral colors, you should keep your hair color and hairdo relatively conservative and professional.  Stay away from any unnatural hair colors, such as blues, greens and purples.

Company cultures vary from business to business, but the best rule of thumb is, “Better safe than sorry.”  So, when in doubt, you’re probably better off sticking with the more conservative and professional option and asking someone before acting.  In the end, remember that you have not only your fellow colleagues looking at you, but your customers as well.  You want to make a good impression on them and be a positive, professional representation of your company.

This post is brought to you by the good folks at Dale Carnegie Training of Central & Southern New Jersey, leaders in the area of education and training of the nation’s leaders in the areas of team member engagement, customer service, leadership development, and sales and presentation training. We would love to connect with you on Facebook and Twitter.

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