Dress codes in the workforce are forever changing. I’ve worked in professional settings for over two decades, and I’ve seen many different trends based on corporate cultures, fashion trends, and industries. I’m often asked the following questions in Q&A sessions on professional dress in the workplace:
Can I dye my hair purple for an office job?
What do you mean that I can’t wear electric pink eyeliner to work?
Both questions concern concern professional appearance in the workplace. While the rules for professional dress in the workplace have changed, when determining whether or not your appearance will help or hinder you, ask yourself these questions:
What is considered good conduct at my company? My industry? In other industries that we serve as clients?
I cannot stress this enough, if you’re not dressing similarly to your peers and/or supervisors on the job, it will create long term issues with the company and potential clients. A woman who worked in a top marketing agency had a meeting with her boss. He was generally happy with her performance, with the exception of one area-her attire. The agency was criticized by various clients, but not for being dressed unprofessionally. The employee was criticized for not wearing designer clothing by clients like her peers. The clients were concerned about her ability to represent luxury brands if she didn’t use or represent “high end” herself. Needless to say, she purchased a few luxury items, and now stresses the importance of representing a brand to workers.
When clients ask about Manic Panic hair or cobalt blue eyeshadow, I always ask them to consider their workplace culture and industry. Certain industries like blogging, fashion, beauty, graphic design, or the arts, either choice is acceptable or even encouraged in order to stand out in a crowded market place. However, even individuals who work in creative industries will typically tone down their look when they meet corporate sponsors or clients.
What are my professional aspirations? Will my appearance help or hinder those goals?
How you dress on the job should be largely based on your professional aspirations. If you want to become a partner in a law firm, higher end Brooks Brothers or Theory suits are a must. If you want to be head of purchasing for Kate Spade, wearing clothes from their clothing line and other top designers signals a strong understanding of the importance of business and individuality. When in doubt about an outfit, ask yourself whether or not your supervisor or company director could introduce yourself to an important client, mentor, or industry leader in your outfit. If the answer is no, you shouldn’t wear it.
Will people remember my professional performance, or my appearance?
Many employees are not conscious of the image they cultivate at companies. While we can’t control all of the politics at a company, you can control your image. When in doubt, do you want to be remembered more for your accomplishments or for your immaculate fashion sense? Put forth your best effort in both arenas to secure your professional legacy.