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Dress Codes: How Do They Affect Your Business?

(Photo by Stefan Gosatti/Getty Images)

Most places I’ve worked, in the past 40 years or so, had some guidelines regarding what was, and was not, acceptable workplace attire. There was a time when the “leisure suit” was acceptable dress. Plaid shirts and striped ties were often seen on men in the 60’s. I seriously doubt that my mother ever owned a single pair of pants before 1980. Anything other than a skirt or dress was unacceptable. TV during that timeline also reflected what was acceptable dress. “Leave It To Beaver’s” mom, June, was always in a dress and “Ward” was always in a coat and tie. “I Love Lucy” was always in a dress, Desi, was usually in open collars with a sport coat.

In June of 2012, Office Pulse conducted a survey of 4,000 white-collar professionals to get to the bottom of how dress affects the workplace. Here are some of their findings on various topics of appearance.

Cleavage

How much is too much and what affect does low cut blouses or tops have on workplace performance. Forty-five percent of respondents to the survey reported seeing cleavage in their workplace. Of that number, 45% of senior managers found cleavage acceptable in the work place while 87% of senior managers found it distracting. Since those two numbers add up to more than 100% I suppose it shows that while half of the managers are enjoying the view 87% admit it’s distracting as well.

Bare Legs

It seems women still wear clothing that exposes at least some of the lower leg area. Forty-nine percent of respondents reported seeing bare legs in their workplace. Fifty-eight percent of those over 50 years of age found bare legs acceptable (probably for the reasons stated above), while 72% of men admitted being distracted by bare legs.

Tattoos

If you have visible tattoos, you can watch my kids, walk my dogs, stock my warehouse, answer the phone, do my accounting, but not interact with customers. As a senior citizen, I grew up in a time when the only people who had tattoos were sailors and hardcore criminals.

The Office Plus survey found, not surprisingly, that 45% of those surveyed observed tattoos in the workplace. Also not surprising, 67% of those aged 35 to 49 found them acceptable in the workplace while 61% found them distracting.

Women in Short Skirts

I must confess that I sent more than one-woman home to change when I was a personnel manager of a retail chain. Only 29% reported seeing short skirts in the workplace. Twenty-one percent of mid/junior managers found them acceptable while 76% of Senior Managers requested they rethink their wardrobes.

Golf Attire in the Workplace

Golf attire could be everything from polo shirts with the little horse on them to plaid shorts, white shoes, etc. It’s a thin line between really casual and still professional when it comes to this kind of dress. Fifty-three percent reported seeing golf attire in their workplace and an equal number of women found that acceptable. Sixteen percent of Jr. managers found golf clothing distracting. Maybe that’s because they couldn’t get a tee time.

Women In Spaghetti Straps

This is another fashion style that runs the gamut from acceptable to distracting. Only 19% of workers reported seeing spaghetti straps in the workplace. Twenty-four percent of men found them acceptable while 61% of Jr. managers thought they were a bad idea.

Men in Shorts

I’m picturing the UPS deliveryman, in brown shorts and knee socks, making his rounds during the summer months. Are shorts acceptable in the workplace? Doing radio you can wear pretty much anything. On my Saturday show, when the main offices are closed, I dress very casually. When I’m on during the week, I dress more professionally because there are paying customers in the building and I am representing the station.

Thirty-one percent witnessed shorts in their workplaces. Sixteen percent of men thought shorts were acceptable while 52% of women found them distracting. I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Tight Clothing

There is tight fitting and then there is form fitting. One is attractive the other is not. Thirty-two percent of respondents reported seeing tight clothing in the workplace. Only 28% of those over 50 found tight fitting clothing acceptable and 85% of women found tight clothing distracting.

See Through Clothing

Not uncommon in the business world, and not unattractive on the right person. Fourteen percent said they have seen see through clothing at their offices. Nineteen percent of women found it acceptable, while 91% of women found it distracting.

Some Final Thoughts on Dress Code

I mentioned earlier about being a personnel manager. When people would describe an outfit they were considering wearing to work I would tell them if you have to ask me, it may not be a wise decision. Most of us know what’s appropriate and what’s going to be distracting.

If you feel comfortable presenting yourself to business clients or customers then you are probably dressed appropriately. Keep in mind, that if you are a woman, your strictest critic is going to be other women. They will take notice of how you are dressed, so put your best foot forward. During business hours, Dress for Success — not the local bar.

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