Post by Jane K. Stimmler, contributing Women On Business writer
As women, we often find it tough to establish authority and leadership in the workplace – so why throw it all away with one “casual Friday” mistake?
Dress down or “casual” days are a great idea – at least in theory. They allow employees to be a bit more comfortable and give latitude in what is acceptable attire in the workplace. On the other hand, I’ve seen so many women make poor judgments about their casual appearance that I have to wonder whether the idea is really an employee benefit. There have been a few times when I’ve been so surprised by a usually professional colleague’s appearance on a Friday that my jaw dropped. All in the name of “casual!”
Let’s face it – image is important and 55% of the impression you make is the visual, not the vocal or the verbal. Whether you are going out to an important client meeting or working in your office on a hot summer afternoon, your appearance should always be professional. You never know who might drop by, or which contact or prospect you might see as you’re running a lunchtime errand. Call me crazy – but when you’re “working,” I believe you should look that way. I’m sure there are exceptions to this rule – for example, if you’re holed up alone somewhere working on a project. But by and large, I find it a good guiding principle.
In Breaking Into the Boys’ Club 2009, we advise women to take advantage of a “dress down” code if the company has one, but be careful not to carry the informality too far. Women who aspire to get ahead in their organizations should dress a notch higher than their peers. This sets an example for employees and makes an impression on those higher up. Wear casual pants, not jeans or capris, and keep a neutral suit jacket, scarf or fancy sweater in your office to dress up your outfit. Even on “dress down” days, it is wise to look professional enough to attend an impromptu meeting if the need arises. There was an episode of the HBO comedy Curb Your Enthusiasm in which one of the characters went to see his attorney dressed in a suit. When he saw that the lawyer was in casual garb, he fired him saying “My legal business is far too important to give to someone who looks like that.”
By looking professional every day, you set an example and show those around you that you care about your appearance. It’s easy to fall in the trap of “casual” – but this Friday, take the time to give it a second thought as you get dressed. And OFF with those flip flops!
How do you usually handle casual days at the office?