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Professionalism & Etiquette – Dress and Office Appearance

Cite this article as: Jason Mance Gordon, "Professionalism & Etiquette – Dress and Office Appearance," in The Business Professor, updated December 11, 2019, last accessed April 8, 2020, https://thebusinessprofessor.com/knowledge-base/professionalism-etiquette-dress-and-office-appearance/.

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Dress & Office Appearance

How you dress is still a major part of your brand.
Traditional companies tend to fall into two categories: Business Attire and Business Casual Attire.

Business attire generally means wearing a dark-colored suit, oxford-style shirt (men), blouse (women), tie (men), shoes with a hard heal (men and women), etc.

Business casual generally means a slack and oxford shirt (or Polo shirt in some organizations) for mean, maybe a blazer, maybe a less-formal suit or dress (women), with no tie. It generally still means wearing shoes with a heel, but there are more style options than leather shoes that tend to accompany business attire.

Casual wear generally means khakis (maybe jeans) and a polo shirt. It is rarely appropriate to wear a t-shirt to work. During cooler months, it may be acceptable to wear an appropriate sweatshirt, such as one showing your college logo. I do not recommend ever wearing a hoodie – as there is a negative perception about formality associated.

The emergence of startup companies with founders who dress casually has created some misunderstanding about what is expected in the workplace. Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg are (or were) well-known for dressing far more casually than is generally expected in the traditional office environment.

My primary advice is, to create a positive professional brand, you always want to dress in accordance with the office standard. The best practice, however, is to err on the side of formality. You simply want to avoid ever appearing as though you did not meet the expectations for professionalism in office attire.

Going Beyond Your Daily Dress

Other things that fall into the same category as office appearance include:

  • Jewelry – Do not wear lots of jewelry. It can look either juvenile or pretentious, and neither are valuable traits. Generally limit it to no more than 2 rings (women), 1 earring per ear (women only), 1 necklace (women only). Men are pretty limited to a watch, wedding band, and (possibly) a college ring.
  • Fingernails – They should be clean and trimmed. Very long nails do not look professional. Any nail polish should be a neutral color (not too bright). They should never be multi-colored, sparkled, or very long.
  • Perfume/Cologne – A little bit is fine, but not so strong that it can be smelled by someone more than 2 feet away. Even then, the smell should be very faint.
  • Hats – There are very limited hat options for men or women that are acceptable with professional attire. For example, a fancy cowboy hat is only acceptable if that is your everyday attire or you are in the Southern Midwest of the United States. A baseball cap is only acceptable when playing the company softball game; but, flat-brimmed hats look juvenile and carry a negative association.
  • Cell Phone – Avoid non-professional cell phone covers. The cover on the phone should be for protection and utility purposes. Anything flashy, bright, or sparkly looks juvenile and is poorly received.
  • Briefcase – Make certain your bag or briefcase gives off the appearance of professionalism. An old backpack with sewn-on stickers from college is not professional in nature. You simply want your bag to match your professional appearance.
  • Vehicle – Your vehicle should project a professional appearance. It does not need to be a new or very fancy vehicle. Basically, it just needs to be clean (inside and outside) and presentable. Remove loud or obnoxious bumper stickers. No dangly ornament hanging from the rear-view mirror. Very dark tinted windows, particularly on the front windshield, driver, or passenger side windows, carries a negative impression. Do not put flashy aftermarket rims on the vehicle. It is seen as juvenile and carries a negative association. The same goes for racing-related, aftermarket add-ons, like spoilers, racing stripes, loud mufflers, lowering or raising up the vehicle, hydraulics, etc.

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