Fashion Faux Pas Can Cause Workplace Slip-Up

By Kathy Gurchiek Jul 8, 2008
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Employees hoping to move up in their organizations may want to rethink their workplace fashion choices, especially as summer temperatures climb.

Visible undergarments and tank tops rank overwhelmingly as the worst summer workplace fashion offenses, receiving 61 percent of 7,039 votes cast in a recent online survey at Monster.com by its U.S. users. Making up the other top workplace fashion offenses: flip flops (29 percent), shorts (7 percent) and T-shirts (3 percent).

While some organizations relax dress codes during the summer, there are choices such as Chino trousers; relaxed button-down shirts; and linen, polo or knitted shirts made out of breathable fabrics that can serve as workplace staples, Monster points out.

And in a separate poll, CareerBuilder.com found that 41 percent of 2,765 U.S. employers it surveyed said workers who dress well or professionally tend to be promoted more often than others at their organizations.

“Even though we are seeing a trend of more relaxed dress codes in the office, especially in summer, it doesn’t mean that professionalism should go out the window,” said Rosemary Haefner, vice president of HR for CareerBuilder.com, in a press release.

More than one-third of employers have sent employees home for dressing inappropriately, and some organizations ban certain items of clothing and footwear, CareerBuilder.com found in its survey, conducted in February and March 2008. On the “do not wear” list:

  • Flip flops, 64 percent.
  • Mini-skirts, 49 percent.
  • Jeans, 28 percent.

“How you dress can play an important role in how others perceive you at work, and dressing professionally can help you project a motivated and dedicated image,” Haefner said.

There might be generational issues that require some intervention. As HR Magazine reported in its January 2008 issue, millennials might be uneducated about such basics as what constitutes proper attire.

Not dressing appropriately could have international repercussions for an organization, as some countries perceive casual dress in the workplace as a sign of disrespect, according to a SHRM Online report.

The connection between workplace attire and promotion depends on the industry, CareerBuilder.com points out.

In the financial services industry, for example, 55 percent of employers in that sector said employees who dress professionally tend to be promoted more often than others. Information technology and manufacturing: Not so much. Only 37 percent and 34 percent, respectively, said employees in those sectors tend to be promoted more often because of their attire.

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News. She can be reached at kgurchiek@shrm.org.

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