Three from one

Q. What is really business casual?
When are sandals and sleeveless dresses or blouses acceptable in the workplace?
How do you handle a co-worker who continues to stare at you after you have answered their question as if you are going to say something else?

S. D., Cary, NC

A: Question 1: As with all dress codes, casual dress can mean different things at different companies. One standard that helps define appropriateness of clothing is asking yourself, “If I have to meet with the CEO am I appropriately dressed?” For instance, in Dress Smart Men (Warner Books) Gross and Stone say that when dressing business casual, a jacket is optional when wearing it with a collared shirt, but mandatory when wearing a tee shirt. Even though it’s optional if you are dressing casually, a meeting with the CEO may require that you include a jacket. Typically, shorts are not acceptable. Similarly, casual dress for women is company specific. Some things to be wary of even when dressing casually include flip-flops, spaghetti straps, spandex, short skirts, shorts and bare midriffs.
Question 2: Not only do dress codes vary markedly from workplace to workplace, they also can vary according to the time of year or even which day of the week it is: regular dress day or a casual Friday. In general, sandals, and sleeveless dresses and blouses are casual dress that is more often acceptable on a dress-down day or as part of a company’s summer attire policy. Most important of all, the appropriateness rests with the decision makers at the company. And the responsibility for establishing a clear dress code also rests with them.
Question 3: The key is to address the situation and not let it become about your frustration with your co-worker. Responding to the stare by saying, “Harry, why are you staring at me? I don’t like it” isn’t going to solve the problem. More likely, the conversation will quickly become about your attitude. Instead, focus on the fact that he appears to want more from you: “Harry, did I answer your question?” Or “Harry, it seems like you’re not sure about my answer. Did you want to follow up with another question?”

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