Workplace fashion has undergone a lot of changes over the last several decades. Watch just one episode of Mad Men, and you’ll be awestruck by the impeccably tailored silhouettes of everyone from secretaries to marketing execs. Times have changed, and workplace fashion options have become as diverse as the current career choices.
Workplace Fashion for Women at Work
The small business environment presents a lot of opportunities for women to diversify their wardrobe. Perhaps your boss works in pajamas at your tech startup, or maybe Armani is the uniform of choice at your small law firm. No matter what the predominant fashion is in your office, you’ll want to blend in while standing out in all the right ways.
The tech industry has had a huge influence on workplace fashion. Employees who sit behind computers, and only interact with clients via email or Skype don’t need to get all dressed up. Ratty jeans and sneakers, or even shorts and flip-flops have become de rigueur at a lot of tech firms. As long as they’re presentable from the waist up for the webcam, the emphasis can remain on the deliverables they’re producing, and not what they’re wearing.
Outside of career fields that require some sort of uniform, such as plumbers and exterminators, many workplaces have given up stuffy business attire in favor of business casual. This can do a lot for morale. If employees are comfortable, they’re more productive. But there are a couple of things to keep in mind. In some businesses, the customer almost expects the employees to dress casually. At a car dealership, for example, a salesperson may be outside all day helping customers, or even crawling around inside cars showing off their features. Khakis and polo shirts make sense, especially when the weather’s warm. No one wants to deal with a sweaty salesperson decked out in polyester.
Even office-based businesses can go the business casual route if they don’t see clients face to face. On those days when a client may be in-house for a meeting, give the employees a heads up to dress appropriately. Business casual attire can even be presented as a perk when hiring. A lot of people will appreciate being able to wear everyday clothes, not just for comfort, but because it can save them money if they don’t have to buy a second, business wardrobe. Just make sure you spell out the rules—no torn jeans, no sneakers, etc.
The main thing is to figure out what’s right for you. If you like to wear a suit to work every day, but you don’t mind if your employees dress more casually, let them know they don’t have to emulate your wardrobe. By the same token, if you want your employees to be productive and remain professional, don’t come to work in ratty shorts and a paint-splattered T-shirt. Decide what kind of dress code you want, and then stick with it. Once that’s out of the way, you can focus on getting the job done.
Shawn Hessinger is the community manager of BizSugar, an online community of small business owners.