Monday, November 2, 2015

Updating the Business Casual Dress Code

A business casual dress code can mean vastly different things to different people. Not too long ago, employees wouldn't think twice about wearing their most formal and professional-looking clothes to the office no matter where they worked. These days though, employers are much more relaxed about what they allow employees to wear, and changes in styles of clothing, accessories, and tattoos have had a big impact on how younger generations dress for the workplace. As a result, the term “business casual” can mean a whole host of different things. While it’s great that restrictions have been relaxed and attitudes shifted so people have the opportunity to be more expressive with their appearance, it’s important to know where to draw the line. Let’s take a look at some things you should consider so you can make sure you don’t stand out in a bad way at the office.

What does a business casual dress code actually mean?

Unfortunately for employees, the vast majority of companies describe their dress code as "business casual," but the term means different things to different people. We've all heard those stories of people showing up for their first day of work with what turned out to be completely inappropriate attire and feeling it took them months to recover from the shame. It becomes especially difficult if you’re someone who has tattoos, piercings, or anything else that might be considered outside the "norm."

When it comes to clothing, more casual or expressive styles popular in recent years outside of the workplace have permeated into it. Trends like skinny jeans and hoodies have had an impact on what people now wear to work. While it’s acceptable to add some of these elements to your work wardrobe, you need to be sure not to cross the line. Ensure whatever you wear covers enough skin and isn’t likely to cause a distraction for your colleagues.

Hair, beards, piercings, and tattoos

A company’s ideas about a business casual dress code often extends beyond the clothes you wear. You also need to think about other parts of your appearance including hair, body piercings, facial hair for men, and tattoos. If you have a hairstyle that is unusual-- perhaps it’s partly shaved or has vibrant streaks of color-- you’ll want to make sure it doesn’t become a distraction to your colleagues or any customers you may come into contact with.

If you are a man who likes to sport a beard, make sure it is well kept. In this day and age, beards can be long, but try to ensure yours has clean lines and is consistently trimmed so that it appears even. Like unusual hairstyles, scraggly beards and beards that are dyed unnatural colors will likely become an unwanted distraction.

Body piercings and tattoos have also become increasingly common. One study by the Pew Research found that around 40% of people aged 18-29-- the generation commonly referred to as "millennials"-- have at least one tattoo. Attitudes vary among employers as to whether piercings and tattoos are acceptable in the workplace-- though they are trending toward being more acceptable as their popularity increases. If you do have tattoos, make sure any tattoos you have that are visible don’t display any profanity or nudity and couldn’t possibly be considered offensive in some other way. Also remember: some workplaces allow employees to have piercings or tattoos on certain parts of the body, but not others, such as the face or the neck. If you have a tattoo like this or are considering getting one, it’s something you’ll want to keep in mind.

What to wear to a job interview

Perhaps the biggest and most nerve-wracking time you worry about dressing appropriately is when you have a job interview. First impressions are important, and you want to make a good one. Potential employers will definitely be looking at how you present yourself to get a sense of how well you understand the culture and expectations of the company and the industry.

Chances are, though, you don’t yet have a great sense of the culture at a company and what the acceptable dress is. In this case, it’s a good idea to dress in a slightly more conservative style. While your interview attire can certainly have a modern, updated look, be sure to take into account your interviewer's expectations for the role. Depending on the industry you’re applying for, a suit and tie for men and a pant suit for women may be expected. While situations vary, this is one instance when showing up in jeans and a hoodie likely won’t do you any favors.

If you do have an extreme hairstyle, tattoos, or piercings, you have a decision to make. Either you can wear them as you would ordinarily, or you can tone them down if you think they might be frowned upon. If you go with the second option, consider too whether you want to ask questions about the company’s dress policy or reveal that you will be dressing a certain way if you get the job.

Try to strike the right balance

The modern dress code can be a difficult thing to navigate for younger employees. With different attitudes and values surrounding dress and personal appearance, you want to make sure your own view of how you present yourself doesn’t conflict with your employer’s. If it does, it could have negative consequences for how you’re treated and even slow your career. It’s a good idea to take note of what your fellow employees are wearing-- especially those who have been working there for a while. They’ve taken the time to carefully hone their wardrobe to fit exactly what’s expected of them. If you have any specific tattoos or piercings you feel may be a point of contention with a future or current employer, be sure to sit down with an HR representative and ask.

Over time, you’ll get a clearer sense of what is acceptable and what isn’t. Try to view how you dress as just another job skill you learn. Wearing the appropriate clothing whatever the context can go a long way to ensuring you are seen in a positive light by potential employers, colleagues, and superiors.

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