The Office Wardrobe: What’s Appropriate, What’s Not?

By Sarah Bourassa, Communications Assistant

Two men stand talking to each other by a desk in an office. One is wearing dress slacks, a V neck sweater and nice dress shoes. The other is carrying a briefcase. There is only one problem with this office scene: The man with the briefcase is not wearing any clothes.

“Yes, we eliminated the dress code, but I see you didn’t fully understand,” his coworker tells him.

The above scene, which is a cartoon from CartoonStock, brings up the complicated issue of dress codes in the workplace. Do offices need strict dress codes? Or do dress codes infringe on people’s personal styles and comfort?

“If you don’t have something in writing, then you’re going to have trouble because there’s always going to be someone pushing the limits,” said Shane Hager, JVA’s business development and client services coordinator. “But I think there still needs to be an openness to people’s cultures and beliefs.”

Joyce Miller, JVA’s office manager, thinks employees should be neat, clean and well-groomed because it creates a professional environment and shows respect to clients. When employees are hired, they are expected to follow the dress codes, and therefore, employees have the obligation to follow them.

Rocco Carlitti, the vice president of CTIA—The Wireless Association, found that a professional but casual dress code may help increase the productivity of its employees, according to an NBC article.

Hager said that generally “a happy employee is a comfortable employee, and a comfortable employee is a productive employee.”

Many offices, including JVA Consulting, have adapted a business-casual dress code. But what exactly does this mean?

Fashion experts in a recent Rocky Mountain News article give general guidelines for dressing in business-casual attire, specifically in these hot summer months. They recommend sleeveless dresses and tops for women (as long as they aren’t low cut and don’t reveal too much skin) and polo shirts for men. Flip-flops are inappropriate for the workplace, and sandals are unacceptable in most conservative environments, they say.

JVA Consulting’s business-casual dress code prohibits jeans, shorts, skirts above the knees, sweats, leggings and flip-flops.

But business-casual attire is not necessarily fitting for all organizations.

“It depends on what message the organization is trying to send out,” said Jackie Vanderburg, a JVA intern.

Hager thinks the dress code should be specific to the organization’s clientele. For example, it would be inappropriate for organizations that work with homeless people to wear suits and ties. And for advocacy groups that don’t have clients in their office, is it really necessary for them to have a restrictive dress code?

Deirdre Moynihan, the development director of the nonprofit organization Moving to End Sexual Assault, faced the dress-code dilemma in her office and decided to create a dress-code survey that addressed what is appropriate to wear in the workplace. The survey included over 60 photographs of shoes, jeans, pants, capris, tops, skirts and dresses and was sent to staff, donors, volunteers and foundation founders. Overall, the survey found that it was best for the group’s dress code to err more on the conservative side. It has decided to implement a dress code based on the survey results but that will also give people some flexibility with what they want to wear.

“You can still maintain your personal style without dressing inappropriately and being sloppy,” Moynihan said.

What do you think? How necessary are dress codes? Do they infringe on people’s comfort and personal styles? What dress code does your organization have?

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One Response to The Office Wardrobe: What’s Appropriate, What’s Not?

  1. Pingback: Top Nonprofit Street blog posts of 2009 « JVA's Nonprofit Street

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