Office dress code dilemmas for the summer

12 June 2012 -


Agatha Sutcliffe gives us the lowdown on the quandaries of choosing suitable attire for the supposedly sweltering season

So the sun has stuck its neck out for about 10 working days of this “summer” 2012 so far. But that was enough for the summertime working wardrobe to rear its ugly head before the June monsoon put it on hold?

It may be raining now, but summer will surely come back at some stage. So is it so hard to get dressing for the workplace right when the mercury rises? And why does it fill us all with such panic? Something marvellous happens when the sun shines over this little island, as a nation we seem to celebrate by discarding all sartorial sense and fully embracing the opportunity to bare our limbs, either that or we continue to ignore all weather warnings and struggle through the day with the same 70 deniers we have been wearing all winter.

What makes dressing for the office so difficult is not just our temperamental weather, but the many variations on the rules. What is considered appropriate work attire is always going to be different for a newly graduated media player versus a top banker or corporate CEO. Dress code doesn’t just differ between sectors, but changes with the different levels of responsibility and the different age ranges represented within the workplace too. Many Generation X and Y employees are no longer content to wear different ‘uniforms’ for work and play. For many of us the way we dress is a form of self-expression and quashing this can dampen creativity and consequently overall productivity. Ideally, you want employees to be comfortable and unrestricted yet professional and appropriate.

On an ethical level ‘appropriate’ dress for the office is a slippery subject. What some consider fashionable or acceptable, others may find offensive. Bare legs above the knee, over exposure of the décolletage and feet on show (particularly if you are a man – in fact if you are male please don’t ever wear a sandal in the office) are established workwear controversy; deeper issues are encountered when we consider expression of religious and cultural beliefs through clothing; and potential hierarchies established by competitive fashion-slavery and flashing the cash.

In a recent article, Sir Richard Branson declared his disregard for sartorial top trumps in favour of individual expression. “Suits and ties in an office are just another type of uniform,” he said. “But in an arena where uniforms no longer serve any useful purpose. At one time they probably showed that the wearer was, at the very least, able to purchase and maintain a fairly expensive piece of fabric. Now, however, in an individualised, interconnected culture, your achievements speak for themselves. The suit and tie is an anachronism.”

Whether you agree that the suit and tie is dead, Branson’s message about the importance of judging potential (and current) employees on their ability to do the job and personal achievement rather than an ability to look good in their workwear is a positive one for all.

As long as someone presents their self well and takes pride in their appearance then they should be allowed to express their individuality through their choice of outfit. And I suppose that is the crux of the issue: 9 times out of 10 if you are taking pride in your appearance you will be representing yourself and your company properly. Read the dress code, think about what kind of meetings and external facing business you have to do that day and don’t leave the house wearing an outfit that you feel uncomfortable or self-conscious wearing. If you don’t think it works, it probably doesn’t.

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