What’s ‘Appropriate’ Office Attire?
Have Americans taken casual wear at the office too far? Most Americans seem to think so.
Melissa Korn, WSJ At Work blog (“What Not to Wear To Work“):
A new survey shows U.S. adults expressing more outrage at scantily-clad co-workers this year than they did last year.
The report, commissioned by temporary staffing firm Adecco and based on interviews with more than 1,000 U.S. adults, found that 72% of Americans believe strapless or backless tops and dresses are “inappropriate for the workplace,” up from 66% (strapless) and 64% (backless) in June of last year.
Showing a little skin below the knee by wearing shorts, flip-flops or open-toed shoes is also a bigger no-no this year. Fifty-nine percent of respondents say shorts are inappropriate at the office, up from 55% last year. Meanwhile, 76% said flip-flops aren’t appropriate attire, up from 71%, and the percentage that disapproved of open-toed shoes in general increased to 35% from 31%.
Mini-skirts, while still meeting with disapproval by 69% of respondents, are slightly more acceptable this year than last year, when 70% said they were inappropriate.
Let’s stipulate that tiny fluctuations in such a poll don’t tell us much about trends. Still, the overall numbers are interesting.
Office cultures vary considerably, so what’s “appropriate” varies as well. I wear a business suit to work almost every day, sometimes wearing a sport coat and tie to change things up. That’s pretty standard for men in my office. Younger staffers tend not to wear a jacket, but the males wear long sleeved shirts and ties. At my late wife’s office, by contrast, shorts, t-shirts, and flip-flops are pretty standard.
Women tend to have a lot more flexibility. Even at my office, which is pretty formal by modern American standards, there’s huge variation in what the women wear. While men are in shirts and ties year-round, the women tend to dress seasonably, with substantial differences by age. Those in their 40s and 50s, who are more senior on the org chart as well, tend to wear pants suits and the like. Those in their 20s and 30s, though, wear pretty much whatever they want. No shorts and t-shirts, of course, but sundresses, miniskirts, flip-flops, and the like are commonplace. Additionally, while the men tend to simply wear something to work and leave in the same outfit, the women often have changes of clothes and an array of shoes to change into depending on what’s happening that day. So, they may start the day in flip-flops and wind up wearing three different pairs of dress shoes over the course of the next eight hours.
Are flip-flops unacceptable? It really depends on the nature of the work, the culture of the profession and region, and the age and appearance of the person wearing them. (Let’s just say that those over 30 and men, generally, ought to refrain.)
Ditto shorts. If your job doesn’t require interacting with customers, or includes a lot of physical toil, there’s no obvious reason why you need to wear long pants in the summertime.
As for me, I’ve never worn the minimum I could get away with to the office. When I was an Army officer and wore BDU’s to work every day, they were pressed and the boots polished. When I was teaching college, I wore a jacket and tie even though I could have worn jeans and a t-shirt and most of my peers wore khakis and polos. In DC, it’s almost impossible to over-dress, since business suits and cuff links are commonplace, especially for the over-30 set.
Frankly, none of this is all that hard. Look around the office and figure out what people are wearing. If it’s a typical office environment, emulate those a rung or two up the ladder from you in formality. If a large number of your peers are wearing shorts and flip-flops, it’s probably acceptable; if your boss is doing the same, it’s certainly acceptable. If, on the other hand, most everyone is wearing khakis and polos—or, certainly, coats and ties—it’s not.