Shorts, tanks, flip-flops…yikes!

It’s a glorious sunny summer day and predicted to be quite warm, so Sherry puts on her flowing, cool halter-neck dress and her fanciest sandals and heads off to the office. Meanwhile, James is putting on his blue-green striped shorts, matching blue shirt and sandals, while Carmelita pulls out her favorite summery beige miniskirt and orange and yellow striped tank top with those great bright yellow sunny high-healed sandals. Lin, meanwhile, feels quite daring as he puts on his light blue Dockers and white polo shirt , and Kanisha wears her tan suit, white blouse and open-toed heels. And, they all work in the same office!

Summer is here (yes, it really is…) and so are the annual questions of appropriate workplace attire that come with it. Most workplaces today don’t have dress codes that are very useful for actually determining what the expectations are – they tend to say things like, “Dress should be appropriate and professional” – like you couldn’t have figured that out?

So, how do you know what’s ok to wear to the office and what’s not? Here are five key guidelines to help you:

1. Consider the message: what do you want your boss, co-workers, customers or clients to think when they see you? Send a message that’s as universally professional as possible, yet not stuffy – be comfortable, casual, appropriate to the setting.

2. Office casual oes not mean clothing that you’d wear to the beach, for yard work, to the dance club, for exercise or sport.

3. Too much skin in the form of excessive cleavage, or exposed back, chest or stomach is a no-no – as is clothing that shows bra or underwear.

4. Avoid words and pictures on clothing that may in any way be offensive. Generally, sports team, university or fashion brand names are acceptable if the print or logo isn’t too large.

5. Ensure that all clothing is neat, clean, pressed and in good repair – that means no unhemmed pants or skirts and no tears.

Finally, check with your supervisor or human resources before coming to work wearing any of these – even in summer in a casual office: shorts (even longer /Bermuda shorts), jeans, tank tops, leggings, short/mini skirts, Hawaiian shirts, and t-shirts if worn without a jacket (they’re generally acceptable under a jacket).

So, what about our employees? Sherry might be able to get away with the dress if she has a sweater over it and pins the high slit. If James has confirmed that shorts are ok, and that sandals without socks are acceptable, he’s fine if he tucks in that shirt – but he needs to confirm both of those before wearing that outfit to work. Carmelita’s outfit is likely inappropriate: the skirt is too short, the tank to too revealing. The shoes might or might not be acceptable, depending on how racy they are. Lin may feel unorthodox – but he’s just fine. As for Kanisha – she might even be overdressed if this office encourages casual attire during the summer!

What’s been your experience with office dress codes in summer? Have you ever had to talk with an employee about the appropriateness of their attire?  Let us know!  ~Daphne Schneider

One response to “Shorts, tanks, flip-flops…yikes!

  1. Great article.

    Back in my software days, I remember a co-worker wearing the tiniest, short shorts and a sports bra to work. I suppose she was proud of her very trim physique and wanted to show it off.

    The weird thing was that I was quite comfortable at the local nude beach. But in the office context I felt embarrassed to even look at her.

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