I guess I may be somewhat “old school” when it comes to what I wear to the office. I can’t seem to get past the idea that the office is where I work and practice my profession. I still think of the office as the place of business and I feel like I perform better when I have my business uniform and game face on. I can remember back when that meant that you wore business attire to the place of business. I am in no way advocating that we all revert to wearing suits and ties as our business uniforms to the office, but I do think we need to rethink what we do wear to the office.
I think the only way to approach this topic is to be a little bit tongue in cheek, and attempt to inject a little humor into the discussion about it. I don’t want to sound or be judgmental. Different people have different tastes in attire. I am sure there must have been many good reasons for some of the outfits that are now to be seen in the office. However I do believe that as business professionals, working for the most part in office environments where customers can and do have a tendency to visit, that we should try to be attired at least as professionally as the average department store sales associate.
I understand the idea of casual attire and how being more comfortable may improve productivity and employee satisfaction, and I to some extent I agree with these concepts. I think the key attribute to remember here is that it is not just “casual attire”; it is “Business casual attire”. You are not at home, or shopping, or running errands, or even working in the yard. You are in a place of business, your business.
It is in the spirit of this approach that I will try to give a few examples and suggestions regarding some of the office attire I have been witness to, and some possible suggestions:
- Tee shirts. I have never seen anyone working in a department store wearing a tee shirt. People who work at gas stations and McDonald restaurants do not wear tee shirts to work. Unless you are a professional body builder, or report to Marlon Brando in “The Wild One” I can’t see that a tee shirt of any color, regardless of how clean and well ironed it is or how funny the comment stenciled across the front and/or back of it is, would be acceptable attire in the office. I take that back. I guess a tee shirt would be acceptable if they are worn underneath your professional office attire shirt. I think a pretty good rule of thumb here is that if it doesn’t have a collar, don’t wear it to the office.
- Men’s Sandals. Let’s face a fact here guys. At the admitted risk of sounding somewhat sexist, most men do not have especially attractive feet. Particularly when they are hanging out the bottom of a long pair of pants. Now I have seen some men who have either been told, or perhaps have the self awareness regarding the attractiveness of their feet that have covered them up with socks when they decide to wear their sandals to the office. Really? Long pants, socks and sandals? I understand that sandals are comfortable. I have a pair or two myself. If comfort is the key, you need to go out and buy a comfortable pair of adult shoes. A reasonable rule here is that open toed foot attire is generally neither a professional nor a good idea for men in the office.
- Baseball Caps. Yes, baseball caps. Unless you are a professional baseball player, or Larry the Cable Guy, you should probably not wear a baseball cap to your office. With today’s new hair styles it doesn’t seem to really matter if you are having a bad hair day or not, so there is no reason to cover it up with a baseball cap.
- Sneakers, running shoes, or athletic shoes. I know it must sound as though I have some sort of a foot fetish. I don’t. I believe this type of foot attire is only acceptable if you work in an environment where it can reasonably be expected that either a basketball game or a marathon race will spontaneously erupt, and as part of your job description you will be required to either play point guard on the basketball team, or be the rabbit that sets the pace for the first several laps of the race. Otherwise plan on wearing a casual dress shoes.
- Blue jeans. Yes, they are comfortable. Yes, they are ubiquitous. No, I personally do not think they belong in the office. When you go to the dentist or the doctor’s office are they wearing blue jeans? How would you feel if you walked into the doctor or the dentist’s office and they were wearing blue jeans? When was the last time you saw a sales associate at a department store wearing blue jeans? There are some environments where jeans may be an acceptable type of attire (lab environments, maintenance, etc.) but the office environment is probably not one of them.
I don’t really know what the guidelines for office attire are, or what they should be. I have only rendered my opinion on some the items that I have seen in the past on a relatively regular basis. The idea here is that as I have said, the office is a place of business. Some behaviors and some attire that may be acceptable in other places may not be acceptable in the office. People can truly wear whatever they like to the office as long as it is within the rules as spelled out by the appropriate organization. I try to be a professional when I am in the office. I can’t help but feel that dressing a little more professionally helps to put me in that mind set as well. The only comment I can really make along this line is that when you are choosing your uniform of the day for the office, ask yourself if you have ever seen your reporting superior wearing similar types of attire. If the answer is “no” then you might want to think twice before putting it on and going into the office.