As Dr. Phil says, no matter how thin you make a pancake, it still has two sides.
The good news/bad news of this pancake is that men have now joined women in dressing dilemmas and dressing faux pas. Women in the workplace used to be the sole target of inappropriate dress. Men got a pass.
Today, men can dress as inappropriately in the workplace as women may be tempted to dress. Wouldn’t it be great if both elevated their dress rather than subjugated good taste to what is poolside appropriate?
The bottom line is that you can’t decide whether or not you are dressed appropriately.
Your bosses decide. The person who signs the paycheck needs to have the ability to decide what is appropriate in their workplace. If your client virtually signs your paycheck, then they decide. Somehow people’s knowledge and savvy are just supposed to increase as they ascend the ladder of success.
You need to have a conversation with your team members and you need to have that conversation early and often. You as the team member or employee can request answers to the dress code. This is how you use communication to advance your career. If you have to ask yourself if something works as office dress, the answer is no.
The standard unwritten rule is that you dress one step above your audience, not ten steps.
Which translated into our everyday world means not an Armani suit when your boss is wearing heaven forbid, Dockers. If Armani is one side of that thin pancake, casual dress is the other side. A tank top, a halter top, a strapless top is one step above what?
Summer is a season not a dress code. What happens to common sense when summer comes to the office? Summer does not invite or excuse anything that would not be accepted in the middle of winter. That includes too much skin, too many tattoos and too often, flip-flops.
I would expand the rules to forbid golf and Polo shirts. Because if you are wearing a Polo shirt, how can you upgrade it a notch or two when your boss or best client walks in wearing a sport coat? You can’t roll up the sleeves of a golf shirt, you can’t loosen a tie. What tie?
The most effective strategy is to dress in layers.
Yes, even in the summer. If you dress in layers you have options. You can always take off a layer to be more casual. But if you come to the office in a golf shirt, there is no way to step up your game. If you had come in a long sleeve shirt and jacket, you would have had many options.
You could always take off your jacket, roll up your sleeves and you are good to go. If women wear a jacket with nothing underneath it, how can they take it off to look more causal?
Men and women need to look at themselves in an honest mirror from head to foot. Your body is like the music in the car idling next to you at the stoplight. Just because that driver likes Lil’ Kim, do I have to listen to it? Just because you like to expose skin, does that mean I have to look at it in the workplace?
This dilemma may look like a Generation Battle in the workplace.
Gen Y and X, the two younger generations, may dress even more casual. The important factor to keep in mind is that their bosses and clients will most often be from older generations. One’s audience drives communication even when it is non-verbal/visual communication. So the older generations decide dress code not the newest in the door.
It is a challenge to legislate good taste.
One person can wear open toed shoes, with a pedicure of course. Another person with chipped polish, not so good. Dress is a way for you to standout. It is not about dress. It is about your ability to make good decisions. To be strategic rather than tactical, even in your clothes. Just because the weather gets above 80 degrees does not mean you stop protecting your value. Summer is a season, not a dress code.