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What is business casual dress for an office?

Q: I look around my office every summer and I am appalled by what others consider business casual. Skimpy camisoles and very short shorts or skirts for women. Tank tops for men and cargo shorts that look they could use a good washing. Is this really business casual. Where is the business in the casual?

A: Almost every spring or summer, our office receives an inquiry about a dress code issue. The temperature creeps into the 80-degree range and employees break out their beach wear. You are right beach wear is not typically office wear.

Every office is different though. Some workplaces are ok with tank tops, shorts and flip flops. While other office environments would frown upon these choices.


One of my recommendations is to collect some data, not in an MBA-way, but in a more informal way. How does your manager dress? How does your manager’s manager dress on warm days? Are shorts acceptable? Is a t-shirt acceptable? I have some clients who have had employees post signs that say “This is a no flip-flop zone” because of the noise that a flip-flop makes when a colleague walks by their cubicle. I find that most companies are ok with flip flops but discourage camisoles as tops and very short shorts.
One question I often recommend employees ask themselves is how would you feel if a client walked in that day and asked to meet with you. Would you feel confident in your wardrobe choices or would you go scampering for a sweater? Honestly I know some professionals who bring another set of clothes into the workplace just to make sure that they are not put into an awkward situation with a client or someone from their corporate office making a visit.
One piece of advice I heard many years ago is to dress where you want to be in your career, not where you are now. Makes some sense.
by Pattie Hunt Sinacole

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