A word about workplace dress

The move now is toward more casual dress in the workplace. I get it. People want to be comfortable. In an office environment, with everyone in cubes (or as one of my co-workers calls it her “booth”), and customers rarely present, the need to “dress up” for work is  hard to understand. In fact, in my workplace, a notoriously conservative environment where the CEO wears a suit and tie to work everyday and the dress code required stockings for women up until 2 or 3 years ago, a startling announcement came out today.

Jeans day every Friday!

The employees were ecstatic.  My management team, not so much.  Even I winced at the announcement.  Just one month ago, after a special jeans day awarded to the company for one reason or another, I had had enough.  One of my employees was in demin capris and flip-flops.  Another was in an old t-shirt with holes in the neck.  Yet another clearly interpreted “jeans” day as a fall-out-of-bed-and-go-straight-to-work day.  The final straw was the employee in sneakers that looked fresh from a full days work in the garden. I snapped.

Now, I should clarify, I do not wear jeans on jeans day.  I do feel somewhat guilty about that.  As a leader in the area, I should participate and show that I am not somehow “too important” to wear jeans.  And I would….if I looked decent in jeans.  Frankly, I am not nearly as comfortable in jeans as I am in my normal work clothes!  I just cannot seem to make the whole jeans-look work.

So, when I snapped, I sent an email to my leadership team that went something like this:

“Dear team – Quick reminder – Please ensure the staff is aware that jeans day does not mean t-shirt, sneaker, or flip-flop day.  Thanks, Melinda”

I sent the email out.  My leadership team, feeling much like I did, forwarded my email directly to their associates.  Bad move.  As is usually the case, those to whom the email was intended assumed it was about others and the those who were dressed just fine felt they were the target of the email.  That communication snafu is a subject for another day.  Suffice it to say, I started to feel rather guilty about my snap reaction. I got over it, because here is the lesson:

Perception matters.

Everyone in my department works very hard and they all do excellent work.  I want other people in the company to know this and to never doubt it.  If they see people walking around in torn-up clothes with dirty sneakers or flip-flops, they start to associate that look with their work.  The brain looks for every excuse to make short-cuts, and that is an easy one.  Messy appearance = messy work.  I know it is unfair, it should not be that way, we all wish it were different. It isn’t.

So on jeans day/casual day, use it as a day to show off your style.  Find a nice blazer, a stylish shirt, some incredible shoes.  Use the day to improve your personal brand, not destroy it. Be unique.  Be original.  Be you – the best version of you.

Happy Thursday, and keep it positive and smile!


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