answering dress code questions


When you get into top management slots in businesses you begin having to discuss some of the most random things … most of which you would assume would be just common sense.

But. I will tell you that the discussion you have with employees is absolutely nothing compared to those same discussions in the Executive meeting. All these senior executive types start talking about serious crap like “did you see what Evelyn wore to the office the other day” and getting their proverbial panties in a wad.


And then, of course, you have the head honchos who look around and sagely say “well, I worked my way through the business and it was because I wore “x” all the time and people took me seriously and that was the secret to my success.”

<note: just a thought for them – not that maybe they may have actually said something smart or done something right on occasion?>.


It is typically at this stage of the executive meeting where things start spiraling completely out of control. Because, while no one had anything constructive to suggest when the discussion was about … say … the strategic direction of the company … all of a sudden everyone has an opinion on dress code. And then, of course, there are the brown nosers who line up behind the leader and shout “yeah, we wore that too and that’s why we got promoted and clients loved us.”


It was in meetings like this I was torn between becoming a human bobble head and becoming sea sick or simply falling into a coma as all useable oxygen was sucked out of the room.


All that said … I am going to share below what is a typical management outline of company Dress Code doublespeak non clear direction and my interpretation.


Q.        What does “business appropriate” mean?

      A.        We have chosen “business appropriate” as the preferred way of describing our dress standard.   This acknowledges that the work you do should guide your choice of dress rather than having a formal dress code.  Some individuals have incorrectly interpreted business appropriate as casual dress.  (For example, wearing weekend attire to work.)


–          WTF.  I believe they are saying formal wear (black tie) is preferred versus formal sandal wear. If I were creative (and wanted to get fired) I could argue business appropriate means appropriate for business I work on … for example  … if I work on Chiquita I am permitted to wear a fruit headdress any time I want .. Valvoline I can wear a cool mechanic shirt with my name sewn on the front  … accountants are permitted to wear their formal green visor.  Lastly. “Incorrectly interpreted business appropriate as casual dress.”


Basically … while oddly crafted … they are trying to tell you “don’t ever be casual at work.”



Q.        How do I know what is appropriate dress if there are no specific guidelines?

A.        We have not created an all inclusive list of appropriate attire.  Instead, we rely on employees to use common sense to wear what is appropriate for the type of work that they do. While jeans, shorts, mini-skirts, clothes that expose mid-sections, sweat suits, spandex (or other tight fitting clothing), flip flops, and tennis shoes are certainly acceptable weekend casual wear, they do not convey a professional business image and would not be appropriate to wear in business situations.

If there are important business reasons for an employee to dress formally, such as attending meetings with outside clients who dress in more business formal attire, then formal business attire would be appropriate on those occasions.



–          Ok. To be clear. I didn’t make this crap up. This is actual company policy.


They are saying … well … we trust you as long as it isn’t jeans, shorts, sweatsuits, spandex <hmmmmm …. I wonder if spandex underwear is okay?>, tennis shoes, etc.

Once again. We <the company> won’t list actual appropriate attire … but, given this list, all I can end up with is to wear a suit or something formal.


Q.        Who decides whether my dress is appropriate?  How is it reinforced?


A.   We expect each employee to dress in a way that reflects the company’s professional creative and trendy image, shows respect for others and is appropriate for the business they will do that day.  So, as long as those principles are met, each individual will decide what appropriately meets those criteria. And, most employees have a good sense of what is and isn’t appropriate for the work they do.

In the rare situations when the principles are not adhered to or are in question, each employee’s manager is expected to address the inappropriate attire, just as they would any other type of inappropriate conduct in their departments.  Since dress always involves a subjective element, managers should use common sense in handling dress standard issues and talk things out in a  professional, constructive way.


–          Well. Let’s see. Lots of references to common sense but basically you are at the mercy of your manager. And it pays to remember that shit rolls down hill so your manager’s manager is actually the one you are watching for “attire guidance.”  


And while I do love a contradiction … how the hell do I maintain a ‘creative & trendy image’ but I cannot wear jeans, sandals or bare my mid riff <which is really unfortunate because I have a sweet beer belly button tattoo>?  Does this mean I have to wear some goofy tie with Marvin the Martian on it … or worse … a bow tie?



Q.        Will it be seen as a performance issue if I wear clothes that are too casual <something I thought was appropriate, but my manager does not>?


A.        Use your best judgment on what to wear to convey a professional image.  If there is an issue, your manager should deal with it quickly, honestly and openly to help clarify what business appropriate attire might look like for the work you do.  This should not be seen as a long-term performance issue unless it happens repeatedly despite getting advice and counsel.


–          So. After reading the answer given by the company <and decoding it> … the real answer to the question is “Yes. Casual clothes will be seen as a performance issue.”

<additional decoding> As in “you will no longer be performing here if you wear those fucking jeans <or loin cloth> one more time.”



Q. Can my manager dictate that my department wears only formal business attire?
A.      This will need to be discussed between the manager and his/her department.  If there are important business reasons for a department to dress formally every day, such as they meet daily with outside clients who dress more business formal, then this may be appropriate.


–          In other words … “Yes. The manager can dictate it.”

But I love the way they throw you a false bone.

Once again don’t worry about your manager. If he/she has their shit together they will be slyly suggesting that they believe everyone should be able to dress however they want. Don’t be fooled by listening to them. Look to the corner office. Unfortunately no matter how cool they say they want the office culture to be if they wear suits every day and wear argyle vests or knitted sweaters with cats on them on “casual Fridays”  … well  … that is the “common sense” attire direction.




I am done.

Let me be clear on this.

Dress codes bring out the worst in senior management.

It is an Office episode <but in real offices>.

Sadly so.



One last thought. THIS I am clear on. Do not appear on casual Fridays like this <see below>. Even wearing a suit won’t keep you from getting fired.

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Written by Bruce