Casual office dress codes can be tough to internalize, especially for women. Men’s fashion, for better or worse, is much more cut and dry than fashion designed for women. What one office considers casual might be very formal for another office, and vice versa.
Once women have a more easily understood grasp on what kind of clothing they need for this realm, fashion designers will be able to create a target market, and women at all income levels will have more comfortable work clothes
Especially when you are moving to a new office, deciding how to dress can be awkward and uncomfortable. Here are a few tips to get you started in the right direction.
Talk to other employees
Professional dress code is fairly consistent across an industry; companies that allow for creative dress tend to be consistent in their acceptance of most clothing. It’s everything in the middle that can be murky, especially for women.
When you’re trying to understand the casual dress code in a new office, it’s a good idea to talk to current employees. Finding out how other women in the office approach casual days will be helpful. Does casual translate pretty directly to slightly less formal pantsuits and long skirts, or is more flexibility embraced?
Study the company policy
Many companies offer very specific dress code guidelines, including what sorts of materials and tailoring are acceptable, while other companies offer very general guidelines.
If your company offers a specific dress code with examples, following the specific dress code is the best way for most women to be comfortable in the work place. Casual bottoms are often items like khakis or conservative length skirts in dark or neutral colors. Casual tops are often blouses and button tops, although tops can often be where a little more judgment is required. Women can often wear blouses and sweaters that are a little bit more patterned or fun when the dress code is more casual.
If your company doesn’t offer a specific dress code, then it’s a good idea to talk to other employees and suggest that a more detailed dress code be implemented.
Err towards conservative
In general, any kind of professional clothing is going to have more conservative tailoring than items that are for playtime. Longer skirts, higher necklines, and longer sleeves are often closely tied to a professional look for women. Even when you’re taking your dress down towards casual, making sure that your clothing follows these rules is often the difference between looking like business casual and looking like you forgot to change after a night out.
Take regional differences into account
If you are moving from one section of the country to another, that may dramatically change what is acceptable for business dress codes. While an office in the Midwest might expect everyone to come to work in a suit and call that business casual, an office in New England might be quite satisfied with khakis and a knit shirt, as long as the shirt is a solid color or basic pattern, clean, and conservatively tailored.
This is especially true if you manage a team and move from one location to another. You might come into a new office and find a completely different dress code than you’re used to. Trying to change that all at once will likely cause some pretty dramatic frustrations between you and your new team.
Don’t forget jewelry or accessories
It’s often said that accessories make an outfit, and dressing an outfit up or down is no exception. For many women, having different jewelry for a business outfit and a casual outfit is necessary. Necklaces, bracelets and any hair ornaments are dramatically different, depending on the overall look that is being created.
Again, jewelry has implications in different areas, so talk to people in your specific industry or region before committing to a particular outfit.
Why does dress code matter?
There are studies showing that the older an employee is, the more likely they are to be concerned about keeping dress code as professional as possible, while Millennials are more likely to be comfortable working in whatever clothes they’re wearing.
While a common perception is that professional dress inspires a professional workspace, that perception seems to be fading with time. It may be that in another few generations, there is no real dress code in the workplace, beyond simply being dressed.
For now, however, women are still working to create the universal understanding of what casual dress for them should look like in the business environment. By working together with their industry, other women entrepreneurs and professionals in their region, and other women across the country, a more universal and approachable standard can be created.