Corporate Office environments can be tricky to navigate! When I entered the workforce years ago the work uniform for professionals was pretty simple, a suit and tie, nice shoes and a Cross brand pen. And it wasn’t much different for women. A knee length skirt and conservative blouse. Shoes with a wedge or heel less than 2″ high. Optional wold be a conservative dress or two piece suit with understated blouses.
That was it. We all knew it. It’s what we saw around the office. It’s what we were coached on by our parents or career services counselors. Any deviation from the norm was looked down upon. Shoot, back then you might even be called into Human Resources for such an offense!
In the 1970s US companies began relaxing dress codes Fridays as kind of an offshoot of “Aloha Fridays” in Hawaii. By the 1990s this custom became the rage and was formalized as “Casual Friday”. Now one day a week employees could abandon their stodgy dress and don a more relaxed, self expressive wardrobe. This proved to be great for many people, but not for someone like me who had invested a ton of money in suits, dress shirts and ties instead of cargo pants, golf shirts and boat shoes, this was a problem.
Back then a guy had 5 – 7 suits, about 30 ties and four pair of dress shoes (in different colors) to vary his daily outfits. Tie bars, tie chains, collar stays and cuff links helped were even more accessories to help you stand out in the board room or strolling office hallways.
Now we had to figure out this “dress down” thing. And if you had working parents like me and most of my friends, there was no place to turn to for this kind of fashion guidance. For a long time I just refused to participate.
One day I decided to give it a shot. How hard could this all be? Based on what I was seeing, I could put together a fresh Friday outfit and join the crowd. So I put on my fresh dark blue Adidas tracksuit with three bright white stripes down the arms and legs. Underneath the jacket I had an official NBA Team t-shirt. And I finished the look off with a pair of freshly cleaned leather white on white Addidas low cut sneakers. Looking in the mirror that morning I said to myself; “Now this is dress casual!” As I walked out the door I knew I would make an impression.
Without going into too much detail, I can confirm for you that I did make quite the impression! Just not the one I wanted to make. It was quite an uncomfortable Casual Friday in the office that week.
Epic fail! I just didn’t know what to wear and I was too embarrassed to ask. After that Friday I stuck to the Conservative business uniform. Eventually Eventually I learned that a nice pair of jeans, a pair of loafers, a white button-down shirt and a blazer was more of an acceptable look than an Adidas tracksuit.
In the current business culture it seems that dress casual is the norm for every day – not just Friday. However, there are times when professionals should step their game up to match the situation at hand. Unfortunately, being out of practice, most professionals fail miserably pulling off Business Professional in the same way that I failed to pull up Business Casual. The image of Mark Zuckerberg heading into testify before Congress in jeans and a t-shit send shock-waves throughout the nation spawning an intense narrative about appropriate attire to fit the occasion. Many of the old guard were appalled and felt that he lacked respect for a government institution. On the other side many of the younger set seemed to not notice his attire at all until the news outlets pointed it out.
What I have noticed over the last 5 to 10 years is that times when business business professional is expected have created some embarrassing moments. We spent a lot of time in social media communicating. And even though we are inking six figure deals this way, there are times when we need to come from behind the screen and meet with a potential client, investor, or influencer face to face. The question is what will YOU look like when you get there?
Offering advice in this blog post on what to wear would not be of much use since every person’s look is unique. What I would suggest though – and suggest strongly – is to take a moment and ask a more senior professional what might be appropriate to wear or what might be an expected look for that next big meeting.
Good luck! Dress for success. Let me know how it goes…
The Meeting Coach