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Dress for success – Tips to help guide your employees

April 3, 2015

By Joe Marr
Originally published in Focus Magazine

What am I S’posed to Wear?

It used to be easy, figuring out what was and what wasn’t appropriate to wear on the job. Not anymore. It’s even hard to figure out what is “in” and what is “out” with fashion in general. We used to be such lemmings! Everyone knew not to wear a narrow tie when wide ones were “in” and not to wear skirts above the knee when “middies” were the rage. But alas, today, life is not so simple. Anyone notice that when it comes to fashion and what we wear to work now, pretty much anything goes? Wide, narrow, long, short, plaids, solids, stripes, prints, hemps, leathers…help!

Fashion is Not the Issue

Obviously I have no clue about fashion, so for the sake of this story I’m just going to stick to what most employers will agree is appropriate attire for the workforce today.

To lay this out for you I’ll suggest some simple rules of thumb that you can share with your employees.

Casual Business Attire is Not for the Beach

What is business casual? First off, it’s clothing that doesn’t have Pac-Sun, Speedo or Hang Ten logos on it, and coconut-shell buttons may be another disqualifier. Here’s what the people at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) say:

Business casual for Fridays is defined as follows:

Casual shirts: All shirts with collars, business casual crewneck or V-neck shirts, blouses, golf and polo shirts.

Examples of inappropriate shirts include T-shirts, shirts with inappropriate slogans, tank tops, muscle shirts, camouflage and crop tops. In specified circumstances, T-shirts may be approved and provided for specific events only.

Pants: Casual slacks and trousers and jeans without holes, frays, etc. Examples of inappropriate pants include shorts (except for walking-length shorts), camouflage and pants worn below the waist or hip line.

Footwear: Casual slip-on or tie shoes, dress sandals with heel straps and athletic shoes if approved by the business. Examples of inappropriate footwear include floppy sandals, flip-flops and construction or hunting boots.

What Not to Wear, by Jersey Shore and the Kardashians

There are plenty of “what not to wear” models we can turn to. For example, if you’re trying to capture that “Snooky” or “Kim K” look, don’t wear it to work. And looking like a Hugh Hefner trophy is distracting and may only lead people to underestimate your depth and substantial qualities. If you’re striving to emulate The Situation with that new outfit, no one really wants to see your biceps and “Mom” tattoo, so leave it in the closet till Friday night. Oh, and on a side note, if your cologne enters the room before you do, take it down a few notches because your co-workers’ eyes are watering. A bottle should last you a year or more.

I’m Glad the Concert was Awesome, but Wear the T-Shirt When Gardening

Customers really don’t want to know who you voted for, what Central American folk-hero you follow or that Kid Rock gives the most bangin’ concerts, and that you have the t-Shirt to prove it. Save it for the next concert, rally or day in the garden.

Back Off on All That Black…Michigan Has Enough Cloudy Days!

Going gothic might have been cool in high school but employers are looking for upbeat employees, so going to work decked-out a la “Johnny Cash with an attitude” is likely to inhibit your ascent up the feeding chain. If you wear it to work, the boring people (like your boss) might not even notice your work.

Consider this – if you look just like the boring people, your hard work will bring the drama! Save your all-black outfits for weekends and Play Dead concerts.

Wear What They Wore

In the end analysis, here’s a bitter pill – just wear what your elders wore or would wear to work. For boomers, reflect on what Mom and Dad wore or would have been comfortable wearing as business casual (you know they wouldn’t have sported holey jeans or studs and rhinestones). For Gen X’ers and Millennials, you might want to use your grandparents or Ward Cleaver (Google him) as models because we know your parents don’t have a clue. — SBAM

Joe Marr is a member of the SBAM Leadership Council, a public speaker, sales and management  consultant and trainer, producer of the Lifelong Soft Skills e-Learning program and owns Sandler Training at 501 Avis Drive in Ann Arbor. To reach him call: (734) 677-4829 or go to: or

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