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With a New Year upon us, perhaps you’ve been assessing your workplace attire. Maybe you’re wondering how not to dress too casually.

Back in the day, men wore suits and ties to work and women wore dresses.

But, in today’s offices, workplace attire runs the gamut of ‘business’ to ‘business casual’ to ‘casual’. Each company and organization generally have their own attire guidelines. And, different parts of the country even have distinct guidelines depending on the culture of the workplace and type of industry.

So, in today’s more casual office environments, how do you present yourself in a professional manner and not appear frumpy or too casual? After all, people do make judgments about a person’s professional appearance. It’s part of each person’s brand and also reflects on the company or organization for which they work.

So, before we talk about how to NOT dress too casually, let’s break down some common ‘attire’ categories.

Business Attire – Most professionals realize that if their company has a ‘business attire’ dress code, that generally means suit and tie for men and a conservative dress or skirt suit or pant suit for women.  In brief, it means a “Wall Street” look. That’s the easy part.

Business Casual – Many companies today have a ‘business casual’ culture.  But this is the category that can be the most confusing. For instance, how do you dress in ‘business casual’ attire but not appear as a business casualty?

First, keep the emphasis on business, not the casual part.

For instance, business casual clothing for men may include dress slacks, Docker’s type slacks, woven long sleeve shirts, polo-type collared shirts, company-branded logo items and light-weight sweaters. Dark denim “nice” jeans (without distressing) can be part of the mix when appropriate, such as on a Casual Friday. And, to take the business casual concept up a notch, attire may include a blazer, or a suit worn with an open-collar dress shirt.

Likewise, for women, business casual includes numerous options, including the following: dresses, woven shirts worn with slacks or skirts, sweater twin sets, a variety of tops as well as blazers. Dark denim “nice” jeans on a Casual Friday can look professional with a white long-sleeved shirt and blazer.

But here’s the thing. Business casual is a gray area that invites blunders if clothing is not chosen carefully. Therefore, men should avoid wearing anything too wrinkled or too casual for their job or  position. Faux pas for women include anything too tight, too short, or shows too much skin. Leggings are generally not acceptable workplace attire and if you must wear that cute spaghetti strap dress, be sure to toss on a cardigan during work hours.

Casual Attire – As a rule, this type of attire does not generally make the cut for work. ‘Casual attire’ includes anything you might wear to the beach, to clean the garage or attend a sporting event. Leave those items in the closet for those occasions. That may include sweatshirts, printed t-shirts, leggings, yoga-type clothing, baseball caps…well, you get the idea.

To summarize, these are all general attire guidelines. And, there are, of course, exceptions. Every business and every industry have a specific culture and acceptable guidelines for what represents their brand and image. For example, employees who work in certain retail outlets such as Tulsa’s QuikTrip locations, may wear khaki shorts in summer months.

Lastly, when planning new additions to your office wardrobe, these workplace attire guidelines will ensure that you won’t arrive as a ‘business casualty’ as I mentioned earlier. You will send the message that you respect yourself and others…and that reflects well on your company, too.

You may also like to read 4 Steps to Propel Your Professional Presence.

Rachel Wagner is a licensed business etiquette consultant, trainer and speaker. As an authority on etiquette and protocol issues facing today’s global business arena, she shares engaging and interactive content with corporate clients from a variety of industries across the United States. She is the etiquette expert for Fox23 in Tulsa and has been quoted or featured in local and national media outlets including Forbes, Money and the Washington Post.

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