Is Wearing Summer Business Casual Damaging Your Image?

Naughty teen with expressive faceIt’s hard to believe that we’re half way through summer! As consultants who work in different corporations or agencies almost every day and we’ve noticed that many people have taken business casual to the extreme in the way they dress for work. What you wear can send out mixed messages.

Cover the Cleavage

We’ve been lucky so far on the East Coast, but the Southwest has been experiencing stifling heat waves this summer. This brings challenges about what to wear. Sure it’s a scorcher out there but that doesn’t mean women can wear tight, low-cut T-shirts that reveal too much. No matter the temperature, short shorts have no place at work – ever! No one will be taken seriously dressing in shorts or tank tops in a corporate environment.

We’ve been surprised and disappointed to see that many women are dressing down to the point that during a recent training session we felt we had to say something.

A beautiful young woman took me aside and confided, “You’ve helped me to overcome my little girl mannerisms and to feel more confident and in control. But I recently got a powerful new boss and when I’m with him, I revert back to being a little girl. What can I do?”

We pointed out that she was sending mixed messageSerious office worker at his desk, looking at cameras by wearing little black shorts with a black top showing too much cleavage. Her long brown hair was twisted behind one ear and cascading down one shoulder. The hairstyle was much too seductive and drew attention to her well endowed figure.

She was also wearing cheap flip-flops which are always inappropriate for the office. She didn’t convey the professional image required to have her boss, and others in the company, perceive her as a rising young executive.

She was standing out, but for all the wrong reasons. It was also a sign of disrespect to her boss, who grew up in a generation that dressed in suits and ties before business casual became the norm during the Internet era.

Wash Your Hair

Men aren’t immune to this new trend towards what has become “sloppy casual.” Recently, we were conducting a presentation training at a hip new technology company. In walked one of the directors, a man in his mid-40s. His long, dirty hair fell to his shoulders.

He was unshaven. His clothes were so wrinkled that he looked like an unmade bed. His shoes and belt should have made it to the dumpster long ago.

His offices weren’t any better, with files and debris strewn everywhere. It was a real turn off. We suggested that this might not be the kind of impression he wanted to convey to clients and prospects, not to mention staff.

Reshape Your Image 

It isn’t too late to restock your summer wardrobe with appropriate clothing. Stores are having sales in preparation for the Fall season, so you’ll also get good deals.

Long skirts are “in.” Fashionable sleeveless dresses and skirts are always in style. Be wary of tight knits that can be too revealing. Dressy sandals and “peep toes” can complement your outfit (but, again, no sloppy flip-flops). Some of the places we work actually ban sandals, sling back and open toe shoes! If you’re going on an interview, it’s important to know the dress code in advance and adhere to it.

It’s easy for men to achieve a professional look in a crisp, clean shirt and pressed pants. You don’t need a tie but you do need a shine on your shoes and a decent belt with a simple but elegant buckle.

As you plan your fall wardrobe, take inventory of what you own. Donate the clothes you’ll never fit into again to charities like Dress for Success which provides clothing and career counseling to underserved women entering the work force, or Career Gear, that does the same for men.

Or, consider donating your out-of-date clothing to a thrift shop or Goodwill. Then step into one of your new outfits. You will feel like a million bucks and convey confidence. You will look like the professional you are!

Browse fashion collections on-line, in the fashion magazines or in the stores and visit your favorite boutiques to learn what’s in style. Select mix-and-match jackets and pants to stretch your budget. Buy several colorful scarves or ties to add variety. Get those bangs that fall in your eyes trimmed.

You’re guaranteed to be complimented on your refreshed look as now you stand out for all the right reasons. Remember that it is a good idea to dress for the job you want and not the job you have!

4 comments to Is Wearing Summer Business Casual Damaging Your Image?

  • Elizabeth Lim

    Thank you, someone had to say it. What’s with these women who come in the office dressed in tight, short skirts, are you going clubbing was always my question.

    And yes, enough of the peek-a-boo, leave all that at home, lets get some work done.

    As shocking as it was for some to believe, some don’t wash their hair, and that dirty hair smell, or the I’ve been sleeping for three days and now I’m at work is gross. Thank you for saying, but you you always do!

  • Thanks very much, Elizabeth. LOL at your dirty hair comment. I agree completely as that is a major turn off. Appreciate your taking the time to comment.

  • The idea that there are places where we dress our best and put our best foot forward seems to be waning in certain places. But is it really? If you look at the most successful folks around they are not only a class act in what they say and do but also in how they present themselves. Dressing impeccably and being well groomed is a sign of respect of others as well as yourself.

  • Hi Nora-
    You make an important point about how you dress shows respect for others. We have a friend we love but he does not care about his appearance and when he joined us for dinner out wearing jeans that looked like he had just finished painting his house and with very dirty hair, we were insulted! And yes, we told him so!

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